Saturday, October 11, 2008

Chapter 16 - Cleaning Up a Dirty Abortion

September 1948

Not many things spiced up the conversation of the boys hanging around the post office as much as a pretty girl, especially one that was brand new to the cove.

Harold Reed had seen her when she’d asked for directions to Deer Lick Hollow. Harold worked at Martin’s Gas Station out on Black Fort Highway. “She’s the purdiest thang I ever seen in my whole life,” he said to his buddies, “and I tell you she is built like a brick shithouse. She asked me if I knowed where Deer Lick Holler was, and I swear to God, my mouth wouldn’t work. Hot damn!” he said stomping his foot on the sidewalk. “She was drivin’ a red convertible with white leather upholstery.” Harold flopped down on the bench and held his chest like he was having a heart attack. “Whew doggie!”

Elroy Hopper leaned over and spit tobacco juice on the holly bush behind him. “How come she’s askin’ about Deer Lick?”

“Damned if I know,” said Harold.

Billy Case came out of the post office looking cocky. “Okay I got the scoop,” he said. “Preacher Moss says she come in here.”

Preacher Moss was also the postmaster. He’d said, “She’s Jerry Banks niece. Her name is Becky Banks.”

Solomon walked up with a package balanced on his shoulder. Ma was sending it back to a supplier in Maine. “Morning fellas,” he said. They were so engrossed in their discussion that they didn’t hear him. Their guffaws almost drowned out the sound of a passing dump truck.

Solomon went inside. Preacher Moss was sorting mail behind the counter. “Morning, Solomon,” he said.

“Morning Preacher, Ma wants to send this back to Herb Growers in Maine. How much money you need?”

Preacher Moss put the package on his scale. “That’s twenty-four cents, Solomon,” he said taking stamps out of the drawer. “Are those bench jockeys still out there talking about the new girl?”

“I don’t know what they’re talking about, but they’re rowdier than Saturday night at the pool hall,” Solomon laughed.

“Well, she is a pretty little thing. That’s for sure,” Preacher Moss said.

“Who is?” Solomon asked.

“Jerry Banks niece,” he said. “She’s staying with him. I invited her to church. She would definitely increase the attendance of men in church,” the preacher cackled.

Solomon smiled and stepped outside to watch Harold’s performance.

He was demonstrating how the new girl walked. He put one hand on his head and one on his hip as he strutted in a circle. “Rooster Cove’s never seen nothing like her,” he said. “She’s got prudy red hair she wears real sexy.” He put a finger to his temple, “What’s my wife call that hairdo? Oh yeah...she calls it the fuck-me-look!”

“Ooooweee!” Billy Case hollered.

“Yeah, them red curls,” Harold continued, “they’s hangin’ over one eye, and when she got into that red convertible, she slung ‘um back. And I tell you...she’s got some mighty fine melons.” He held his hands in front of his chest like he was holding two cantaloupes.

Solomon grinned and shook his head, “You ain’t right, Harold.”

“I’d be right if she’d let me sample them melons,” Harold howled at himself.

As soon as Solomon walked in the house, Ma said, “Son, there’s a sandwich on the table. Eat it quick. We got to git over to Pearl McGee’s. She sent word that Ruby’s havin’ a miscarriage and burning up with fever.”

Solomon poured a glass of milk. “I’ll bet Pearl’s done one of her abortions on her.”

“Yeah, that’s what I figure,” Ma said. “Get up the doctoring stuff ye’ll need.”

Solomon shoved the last bite of his sandwich into his mouth as he walked out of the kitchen. He packed disinfectant, bundles of sterile instruments for a D & C, hypodermic syringes and needles, antibiotic, and some lidocaine he’d ordered before Dr. Wall died. He checked the light on his surgical headlamp and put in a few extra batteries. Ma added an armful of clean towels and sheets.

“Is that it?” she asked.

“I think so,” Solomon said carrying the box out to the truck.

Rooster Cove’s main drag dead ended at the old logging road into Deer Lick Hollow. Jerry Banks’ cabin sat where the logging road turned into a path. Solomon parked his truck behind the tomato red convertible.

“Whose car is that?” Ma asked.

“It belongs to Jerry’s niece,” Solomon answered.

“I’ve never met her,” Ma said.

“Me either,” he said.

Solomon got the heaviest things out of the truck and gave Ma a few light ones. It was a quarter mile hike up to Pearl’s house. He wasn’t sure how much longer Ma would feel like hiking in the mountains.

“Are you going to be okay?” he asked.

She nodded yes as she grabbed her walking stick out of the back of the truck.

The smell of putrefying blood hit Solomon in the face when he walked through the door. Warm blood always made him want to heave, but the addition of death and decay in the hot cabin made him hold his breath until he felt dizzy.

Ma followed him in. She caught a whiff and walked back out on the porch. She took a deep breath and went back into the cabin leaving the front door open.

In a back bedroom, Ruby lay on a four poster bed that sagged in the middle. She was buried under mounds of quilts. The room was dark. The only window in it backed up to the mountain, and a curtain was drawn over it. Solomon pulled back the curtain and raised the window. He hoped to create a cross draft.

Ma said, “Pearl, clean off the kitchen table and wash it down with lye soap. Wash out some of them pots and boil water in that big one.” She pointed to a big blue-spackled enamel pot.

Solomon pulled the quilts away from Ruby’s face and touched her cheeks and forehead with the back of his hand. She was burning hot. Her eyes had sunk back in their sockets, and her skin was dry and flaky. She’s dehydrated, he thought reaching for her wrist. Her pulse was bounding.

“Where do you hurt, Ruby?” he asked.

“Got a powerful hurt in my female parts,” she answered, “but I hurt all over though.” Her breathing was labored and wet sounding. It reminded him of death rattles. She was worse off than he’d expected her to be. She needed to be in a hospital.

“I ain’t goin’ to no hospital, Solomon,” she said.

Solomon smiled at her. “You reading my mind, Ruby?”

She managed a weak smile. “Just tellin’ ye that to start.”

Ma Patsy came in with a wet wash rag and a basin of soapy water. She wiped Ruby’s face and neck with the wet rag.

“That feels good,” Ruby said.

I figured it would,” Ma said to her.

“Let me get some of these quilts off,” Solomon said as he peeled them away. These were some of Widow Pearl’s older quilts. She’d made one a year ever since she was a girl. When Solomon pulled back the last one, the stench made his eyes water. He clamped his teeth together and held his breath like that might protect him from the warm fetid cloud. He could see that the bedding under Ruby was soiled with bloody pus and rags were pressed between her legs.

Ruby looked embarrassed. “I’m sorry. I know I stank.”

Ma Patsy said, “Don’t you worry about that, hon.” She reached for Ruby’s shoulder and pulled her towards the edge of the bed. “Come on over here. Let’s get you out of this mess.” Ruby scooted over to the edge of the bed leaving the bloody rags in the middle. Ma whispered to Solomon, “Go hep Pearl. I’ll git Ruby cleaned up.”

Pearl was busy cleaning the table and boiling water. Solomon went out and sat on the front porch steps. He took a deep breath of fresh air. The sun had already gone behind the mountain. Dark comes early in the hollows. He hadn’t been back out here since that night four months ago when he’d brought Ruby home from the bootlegger’s joint. This was where he’d first seen the silken ribbons connecting everyone.

Ma hollered, “Pearl, I chunked those bloody sheets out the back winder. Ye might want to do something with ‘um before some animal carries ‘um off.”

Pearl had water boiling on the cook stove. Solomon didn’t really need it. His instruments were already sterile, but he could toss the dirty ones into it after he’d finished with them. He pumped water into a basin in the kitchen sink. He took his watch off, put it in his pocket, and washed his hands.

He opened a pack of sterile sheets and spread two of them out on the table. He opened a bundle of towels and folded three together to make a cushion for Ruby’s hips. He placed it at the end of the table. It would elevate her pelvis and rotate it into a better position for the procedure.

He ripped open the bags of sterile surgical instruments and laid them on a towel on a small table that he’d pulled up to the kitchen table. He set up the portable stirrups Pa Shiver had made for Ma to use on house calls. They were older than Solomon, but they still did the trick. He put his low stool at the end of the table.

“Pearl,” Solomon asked, “how far along was Ruby’s pregnancy?”

“Three months maybe,” she answered. She wouldn’t look at him. She had a jagged scar on her right cheek from a dog bite when she was ten years old. If she was upset, the scar turned red…like it was now.

“Pearl, I’m not judging you,” he said.

“Solomon, ye know I hepped a lots a girls that wuz in trouble.” Tears welled up in her eyes.

“Nothin’ like this ever happened. That’s a God’s truth. You know I hain’t never hurt none a my girls.”

“I know that Pearl.” He knew she meant well. “Will you show me what you used?”

She reached into her apron pocket and pulled out a piece of heavy duty wire about six inches long. One end was curled into a loop. The other end was rounded. “See, it ain’t even sharp.”

“Yes, I see. How long has it been since you used it on Ruby?” he asked.

“Two days,” she answered.

“I want to give you something to use that’s safer than the wire,” he said pulling a small amber bottle out of his shirt pocket. He opened it and let her look inside. It looked like a thin twig about two inches long. There was a small disc on one end with a string attached at the disc. He put the top back on the bottle and handed it to her.

She grinned as she held the little bottle up to the light of a kerosene lantern. “Well, I’ll be.”

“Keep it in the bottle so it stays clean,” he said. “It’s called laminaria. It’s been used to induce abortions for thousands of years. It’s dried seaweed. You insert it into the cervix up to the disc and leave the string hanging out. It gradually absorbs water and swells up. It’s a painless way to dilate a cervix. Let it stay a day or so, and then pull it out by the string. When you dilate a woman’s cervix, it starts contractions, and whatever’s inside is expelled. Now don’t use it if a woman’s past her tenth week,” he cautioned. “The further along a pregnancy is, the more a woman bleeds.”

“I understand,” she said. “I shorely do apreeshate this.” She smiled so big her dentures clicked.

“You’re welcome, Pearl. It can only be used once,” he said. “Let me know when you need another.”

Solomon unpacked the hypodermic syringes and took two little vials out of his bag. One contained penicillin powder, and the other had distilled water. He drew up the water into the glass chamber and injected it into the vial with the penicillin powder. Then he shook it until he had a milky suspension. He pulled it back into the glass chamber of the hypodermic. He dipped gauze into alcohol and wrapped it around the needle. In a second hypodermic with an extra long needle, he drew up lidocaine.

Solomon walked into the bedroom where Ma had managed to clean up both Ruby and the bed. He was holding up the hypodermic with penicillin. Ruby grimaced.

“You need this, hon.” Ma helped her roll over and exposed her hip. Solomon swiped the muscle above Ruby’s buttock with alcohol. Then he stabbed the needle into her injecting the life-saving penicillin.

Solomon held Ruby’s arm and slowly walked her to the kitchen.

“Pull up your gown and sit here at the end of the table,” he said patting the towels.

She sat on the table first with one hip and then the other. Using her hands, she scooted back.

“That’s good,” he said. “I need you to lie back and put your feet in these stirrups.”

“Damn good thing I’m not modest,” she said.

Solomon didn’t respond to her comment. He held one of her hands and put his other hand between her shoulder blades. “Relax and let me help you.” He knew she was hurting even though she still joked about things. She relaxed and let him do it for her.

Solomon adjusted the stirrups to a comfortable height for her. “Hon, scoot down towards the end of the table,” he said. She tried, but it was too painful. He pulled her hips towards him. “All the way to the end,” he said moving the towels to increase the angle of her hips for surgery. Then he draped her legs with sterile sheets.

He strapped the surgical headlamp on and turned on the light. He moved the reflector so that it would shine directly on Ruby’s bottom. He sat down on his stool and pulled on a pair of gloves.

Foul bloody discharge oozed out of her. Solomon picked up the large rubber bulb with a long glass nozzle. It was filled with an iodine solution. He pushed the nozzle high into Ruby’s vagina and squeezed forcing the reddish-brown solution into her. As it washed out of her, he caught it in a small kidney shaped basin that he held against her. The pungent smell of iodine and the nauseating smell of blood and pus caught in the back of his throat. He heaved as his eyes watered.

Solomon doubted he’d ever get over his reaction to smells. He could look at absolutely anything without any reaction, but smells got to him every time. He stood up to insert his right index and middle fingers into Ruby. He pushed against her cervix as he palpated her abdomen with his left hand.

Ruby sucked in her breath, “Oh God that hurts.”

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I need to know the size and position of your uterus. A uterus can tilt forward or backwards. Yours tilts backwards.”

“Is that bad?” she asked.

“No, it’s fine. I just needed to know before I start the D & C.”

He sat down and painted Ruby’s perineum with iodine. He spread her labia and carefully inserted the steel speculum into her. He locked it in position for a clear view of her cervix, a donut-shaped muscle at the entrance of her uterus. The iodine had stained it reddish-brown.

Solomon picked up the hypodermic containing the lidocaine. “Ruby, you’re going to feel a stick,” he said just before he pushed the needle into the tight surface of her cervix. It formed a dimple, and then it popped through. Ruby squeezed the edge of the table until her knuckles turned white. Her toes curled under, and her legs trembled uncontrollably. Solomon nodded to Ma and Pearl, “Rub her legs to relax them.” Pearl looked pale. She was staring at the long needle. “Pearl, don’t look at it,” he said.

Solomon stuck Ruby’s cervix several times. “Are you alright?” he asked.

She said, “I…I guess so.”

Solomon waited for her cervix to numb, and then he carefully passed his tenaculum through the hole in the speculum. He grasped Ruby’s cervix with it and locked it so it wouldn’t slip. The instrument had pinchers like a lobster claw. He pulled it forward and up which brought the cervix into position to access its opening. He inserted a uterine sound to measure the depth of her uterus.

Ma Patsy grinned admiring Solomon’s proficiency with the surgical instruments. Pearl was astonished with the whole procedure.

Solomon looked up at Ruby as he inserted the first dilator. He said, “You’ll feel some pressure now, and you’ll have some cramping like when you have your period.”

“Okay,” she nodded.

Solomon inserted larger and larger dilators until finally he said, “I can start scraping inside your uterus now. While I’m scraping, I’ll be listening for a gritty sound. That’s how I’ll know when everything’s cleaned off,” he said. “I need everybody to be real quiet so I can hear what I’m doing.”

During the procedure, you could have heard a pin drop. It became a meditation for Solomon as he placed the products of conception into the basin one by one. A tiny hand held on to an ankle. Solomon knew that it was a random electrical response of the fetal muscles, but he felt a jolt in his stomach as he removed it. He could see that the sight of it bothered Pearl. She’d never seen her handiwork from this perspective.

When he finished, he chunked the last of the instruments into the water and pressed a maternity pad against Ruby. “I’ll leave enough of these pads to get you through a few days,” he said, “and I’ll be back out here tomorrow afternoon to give you another shot of penicillin.” He glanced at Ma, and she helped him slide Ruby up the table. They were so used to working together that they appeared to read each other’s mind. In unison they pulled the sheet up. Solomon said, “There now, you can relax your legs.”

He took the pot of dirty instruments and needles out back and drained the water off being careful not to lose anything. Pearl and Ruby talked while Solomon and Ma Patsy packed up. When they had finished, Solomon said, “Ruby, I need to see how much you’re bleeding before we get you off the table.” He lifted the sheet and peeled back the pad. There was a bloodstain about the size of a silver dollar on it. “That looks good.”

“Are you flirtin’ with me, Solomon?” Ruby flashed a mischievous smile at him.

“I’m sorry,” he blushed, “I didn’t’ think about how that sounded.”

“I’m just joshin’ ye,” Ruby said. She sat up laughing and swung her legs off the table. A wave of nausea and dizziness swept over her. “Ooooh,” she moaned.

“Wait a minute,” Solomon said reaching for her, “I’ll carry you to your bed. Then he whispered to Pearl, “If she gets to bleeding heavy, send somebody to get me.”

Ruby shut her eyes and grunted when he picked her up. “That tenderness should ease up tomorrow,” he told her. When he laid her on the bed, he touched her cheek and said, “I’ll see you tomorrow evening.”

The hike back to the truck made Ma pant. Solomon slowed his pace. Through the trees, they could see that lights were still on in Jerry’s cabin. Unlike Widow Pearl, Jerry had electric power. Twelve bar blues floated over the hillside from a record player. On a bedroom shade, the silhouette of a curvaceous woman undulated to the music.

Ma said, “Jerry’s niece must like to dance.”

Solomon stumbled over a rock. “Well, she’s got my attention,” he said.

“Yeah, I noticed,” Ma said laughing.

Copyright © 2008 by Robbin Renee Bridges
Coping with Grief through Afterlife Communication

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