The Self Sufficient Hermit


I was shocked. One minute I'm enjoying my lunch and a minute later I have dead and dying all around me. I have a guy on the other end of the Motorola telling me that I'm going to be doing doctor stuff like setting broken bones too. Out of the clear... okay, maybe not the clear blue sky, but they did drop out of the sky.

I drove back to the wreckage after having loaded up some blankets and pillows. I had a couple of jackets for the women too. I drove as fast as I dared in the conditions, knowing that time was working against me now. I pulled up close to where Paul was lying, hoping to get up near him so any movement of him would be limited. The women were by him, talking. I could see that both of them had been crying too.

"Thank God you're back. Did you call 911? Help is on the way... right?" Her highness was looking a bit unnerved.

"Lady, in this part of Alaska, 911 is you and me." I gruffly replied. "The weather is too bad, even the Coast Guard isn't coming out in it. We got upwards of one hundred mile an hour gusts and forty foot seas on the inside passage... nothing goes in that... nothing at all. This is a rare storm, but we do get them once in a long while."

"But what about Paul and Janice... they're hurt and need a doctor's attention."

"I know that. Look, I have a radio back at the cabin. I talked to the Coast Guard and they have a doctor that will help me and you work on Paul and Janice. It's the best we can do."

"That's not good enough." She angrily began "You're not a doctor nor have I had any training. You... "

"Lady, WE ARE IT! Give me a hand. We need to get Paul up on the trailer... keep his head aligned to his body while I slide him up." I was fed up and getting cold. I was sure they were too.

She looked shocked. I'm sure my brusque attitude wasn't helping but we needed to get Paul on the trailer and in to my cabin soon. The weather was getting worse minute by minute. It would be dark soon too. The last thing I wanted to be doing after dark was wandering around outside in this storm arguing with some Hollywood type about anything.

We got Paul back to the cabin. Stripping his wet clothes off, I put him in my bed since it was the best choice at the time. I had one other bed, a king sized one, that I had bought when I thought I was going to be married. Since that hadn't happened, I just left it where it was and lived out of the other bedroom.

We had never broken it in, but the thought of what it had been intended for bothered me. Call me cheap, but I didn't want to part with it since it had cost quite a bit of money. I could never get what I paid for it, so I ended up keeping the damned thing. I figured the two women could sleep on that and I'd take the couch in the living room. I got them all lined out and then called the Chief on the radio.

"Hey Chief. The doc handy at the moment? We got the injured man to my cabin and we need to talk. He's about out of it. His eyes are more even now though."

"Yeah, He's right here. Run down his vitals for him... you know... temperature, pulse, skin condition... cold and clammy, or hot and dry... listen to his heart and describe that too while you're at it."

"Uh... okay, it will be a bit though, hang on."

Janice's voice was calm and professional. "Tell the doctor his pulse is weak... thready. Mostly it's around 40. He's cold and clammy, probably a bit hypothermic. He has swelling on his right side just above his hip, and a laceration on his head... left frontal quadrant, above the ear. Not too deep, but it is a fairly good sized lump, about the size of an egg. His breathing sounds interrupted on inhale, and it's weak as well."

Janice sounded like a nurse describing a patient's vitals. I was stunned speechless at first, I hurried to explain things to the doctor. Things slowly settled down. Paul was in serious trouble, but we had nothing much we could do except watch and wait. It was going to be a long night.

The doctor started explaining how I was going to set Janice's arm and splint it once he determined it was a simple fracture. I made him go over it three times before I finally felt good with it... and even then I was no where near comfortable with it. Hard to explain, but setting someone's broken bone sounded dangerous for me to be trying for the first time... with the one person that had the knowledge on the other end of a radio. I also knew that the weather could cause help to end up a week out, and her arm needed attention soon. The doctor was afraid of the bone trying to knit while out of position which would cause problems down the road for Janice. We had no choice.

The problem was that they didn't know if they'd make it out in the following days and her arm needed to splinted. The way the break was it would have to be aligned back as close as possible first, which left me in an unheard of position... being a doctor.

Janice however made it simple. She just swallowed down shots of the whiskey I had and then looked into my eyes.

"You have to do it. It hurts bad now... but once you get it set the pain level will drop quite a bit. You can do this. I was a Certified Nurses Assistant for a while before I left to be a personal assistant. The doctor is right there on the other end of the radio... I'm here... all you have to do is set the bone and then splint it. It appears to be a straight forward simple fracture. It will be okay."

"I've never done this before. I'm not a medic. I could mess things up here..."

"You'll do fine. Trust me... you can do this."

I don't know how I did it. To this day I can't remember it all, but I managed to set her arm without killing her or making it worse... and the splinting went well too. Of course, Janice gave lots of good advice just before she passed out on me so between us we got her fixed up. I know that in the civilized world we'd never attempt to set a broken bone, leaving it for the professionals, but then, where we were wasn't exactly modern suburbia either.

"Lucy, you'd better let J.W. look at your head. That's a pretty bad cut, needs something on it." Janice had been back with us for about ten minutes when she noticed Lucy bleeding from her head wound still. She had steadfastly refused my help.

"NO. I'm fine. I'll be okay." Lucy replied while giving me the evil eye.

"Look, my arm is broke so I can't help you. I'm sorry about that but you need that cut bandaged. It's still bleeding and hasn't quit. You're losing blood, and that's not a good thing. Quit pouting and let J.W. bandage your head." Janice snapped. I could see the alcohol had given her a bit of courage to be talking to her boss the way she was.

Lucy looked at me with those big deep blue eyes and something I just couldn't quite put my finger on but it wasn't a look I was used to, that was for sure. I didn't really want to touch her at all since she seemed to be thinking that she was better than me at best and more than a little afraid of me too. Besides, I had two other people, far more seriously hurt.

Janice looked at me and started in.

"Look, J. W., you have to do something for her. She's losing blood from that wound, and it hasn't slowed down. Even if you have to hold her down, get something on that cut and stop the bleeding. I'll try to help with what I can, but you have to do this too."

"Damn... she's going to scream bloody murder and you know she hates me. She don't want me touching her I can SEE that. Hey... where'd you learn my name? I never introduced myself."

"At the store, that guy and his wife told us about you. Trust me she doesn't hate you. Matter of fact, I think it's just the opposite. She's just not saying it."

"JANICE! I do not. He's a jerk... a... a... dirty... bum."

Lucy was angry that Janice was working on me to doctor her. She was holding one of my last good towels to her head, and I could see it was all bloody. Janice was right, Lucy needed that wound covered and the bleeding stopped. "First of all, I'm not a bum. If you weren't such a stuck up little bitch, sold on yourself to the point of ignoring real people, you'd have seen that. Secondly, you need that wound taken care of. Of course, we can just wait until you pass out, do you want that? Do you want this dirty bum working on you while you're passed out? I might take advantage of you that's what dirty bums do you know..."

"STOP IT YOU TWO! Lucy, get over here and lay down... J.W., you get the first aid stuff and get right back here, NOW."

Janice, while hurting, still had an edge to her that I respected her for. She was in control that was obvious. Lucy moved over to the couch and lay down; I got the first aid kit and went over by her. Janice sat on a chair near Lucy and waited.

I touched Lucy's head. She shrank away from me. That frustrated me. How was I supposed to help her if she was so afraid of me? I hadn't done anything to her for her to be afraid of me. At least, I thought anyway.

"Look, hold still lady. I won't hurt you. We need to clean your wound and cover it up. Just hold still."

She still flinched as I began to work on her, and though it bothered me, I tried to not let it show. I was as gentle with her as I could be. Pretty soon I had her head cleaned up and bandaged. It wasn't a pretty job, but it was functional enough. When I finished Lucy started to sit up but Janice held her down by touching her shoulder.

"You stay lying down. J.W. will get you a blanket and pillow, and you can rest right there."

"Uh... I figured you two would sleep in the main bedroom on the king sized bed and that I'd sleep on the couch. I think Lucy can make it there all right, or, I could carry her there..."

"NO. Lucy needs to rest right where she is. Can't you see that she's all done in? I can sleep in this chair and you take the bed."

"BULLSHIT lady, pardon my French... you two will take the bed. I'll carry her in and then you two can sleep better right there. It's a king sized bed, there's more than enough room for both of you."

I had put my foot down. It was my house after all, so my house, my rules.

Later that night I found Janice standing over me as I lay on the damned bed. Yeah... that bed. I lost that argument as well. She bent down and kissed my forehead. One armed, she moved the blanket around as it had almost fallen off me.

"Hey, you don't have to do that. What was the kiss for anyway?"

"All I had to pay you for your help today. You saved our lives."

"No, I didn't. I helped you, but Paul still isn't out of the woods, and Lucy is sleeping a bit too hard. You should be sleeping too, that arm has to hurt."

"It's all right. I took some Tylenol you had... and I had another couple of shots of that rot gut. Can't really sleep with the arm like it is."

"Hey, that's not rot gut..."

"Yes it is. I'll bet that whole gallon cost you about what? Fourteen dollars?"

"Yeah, well that's not the point, that there is good whiskey."

"No, it's not. You've never had good whiskey I'll bet, judging by your taste anyway. Besides, that doesn't matter really. What does matter is that you're not the ogre that some of us thought you were. You actually tried to help us the best you could. That says something."

"Yeah, that says that I can't mind my own business at all."

"Damn, you are a real ass, you know that?"

"I'm sorry Janice, today has been a very long day. You need to be resting with Lucy, and I need to sleep some before morning. Hopefully help will be able to get here in the morning."

"Help is already here in the form of you."

"I'm not much."

"You're a God send, trust me."

The second day was quiet except for the storm raging outside. I called into the Coast Guard station and talked to the Chief and the Doctor. They weren't flying yet, nor was the cutter able to come out either.

I built a fire in the fireplace and adjusted the damper so the heat would be held in near the fan system I'd installed. It kept the place pretty well warm most of the time. Lucy was sleeping as I made my way to the kitchen. Standing in front of the stove I heard someone come up behind me.

"What are you doing?"

Turning I saw Janice with her arm in the makeshift sling.

"Making breakfast, you think you'll like some eggs, bacon, hotcakes and toast?"

"How do you run a toaster out here with no electricity?"

"I have a generator out back. I have a toaster, a microwave, a TV, and even internet too."

"TV? You have cable all the way out here?"

"Nope. Satellite only. I'm not as backwoods as you may think."

"I can see that."

"How's your arm this morning? I have some Tylenol or Advil if you need it."

"I'm okay. I took some Advil a little bit ago. Eggs and bacon and hotcakes sound good. Can I help somehow?"

"You can help by just sitting there at the table and visiting with me. You shouldn't be up and around with your arm like that."

"First of all, it's my arm not my leg... so being up and around can't hurt that all that much. Secondly, I feel a need to help somehow. I owe you..."

"You don't owe me anything Janice. You're hurt and you need to rest. Any doctor would tell you that, I know. You sit or I'll pick you up and carry you to the bedroom and force you to lie down."

"That sounds just like the macho Neanderthal jerk you are."

The new voice came from behind me as I stood facing Janice. Lucy had woke up and slipped up overhearing me talk to Janice.

"What? She's supposed to be resting damnit. I'm not a jerk like you may think anyway. You sure have a chip on your shoulder about me..."

"Yeah, well, no more than you have about me."

"YOU TWO... knock it off. Lucy lets you and I go check on Paul okay? Leave J.W. to cook breakfast."

"I'm not hungry. Anything he'd cook would probably kill me anyway."

"Lucy, that's not fair and you know it. I think you need to apologize to J.W. right now."

Lucy looked at me with contempt and something else. I was unnerved by the 'something else' and just turned away to tend to the bacon that was frying away in the cast iron frying pan.

I spoke over my shoulder, off handed like.

"It's all right, she don't need to apologize to me."

"Yes... I do. I'm sorry J.W.." Lucy softly spoke.

"All right."

I was smug, I'll admit it. I was also still angry with her too. Her response was instant and harsh.

"WHAT? That's it? All right? That's all? That's all you have to say?"

Her eyes were on fire, sparking and flaming as she let loose on me. Stunned I stood there not sure of what to say. Janice stepped in, getting Lucy's attention.

"Lucy... stop. Let it go. He accepted your apology, let it go."

"He accepted my apology, but what about the way he's been treating me? He's been impossible. Just impossible."

She stamped her foot as if she were stamping me out of existence. I was suddenly taken with just how pretty she was when she was angry.

"Come talk to me Lucy, leave J.W. alone okay?"

"Fine. What... ever."

They left me alone then, and checked on Paul. I'd worried about him all night long, and probably unbeknownst to them, I'd gotten up and checked on him several times through the night. He was holding his own, but I'd have felt lots better if the Coast Guard had been able to come get him.

After breakfast I took a walk outside to my shop. I wasn't aware of anyone following me until I heard the door open behind me. The wind nearly sucked the fire out of the wood stove when she opened the door.

"Wow, you have quite a place here."

She was being nice for the first time. It unsettled me.

"It's where I earn my living." I replied.

"You make these?" Her face showed that she was impressed... or maybe shocked.

She was looking at my most recent dinner table. I'd just finished giving it its last coat of varnish a couple of days before. I had to admit it looked very good sitting there in the shop. I'd carved the table top edging and leg patterns with grape leaves and vines. There were two others covered in plastic right behind it that had similar carving too.

"Yeah. They're made from Sitka spruce, yellow and red cedar that I pick up from drift on the beach."

"Those big ugly old logs become something this beautiful?"

"Yeah. I guess so. I cut the logs down into planking, dry it out and then I work the lumber down to the right size for the tables or whatever else I'm building."

"What else do you build?"

"I've done cabinetry, bed frames, chairs, dinner and end tables and the like. Mostly for people that have log homes. The stuff I make fits log homes real well."

"I can see why. You're a craftsman, that's obvious."

I was becoming more and more unsettled. She was being nice, almost too nice. I was blushing too. I wasn't used to praise like this. Lucy was scaring me in ways I couldn't explain.

"I've had practice I suppose."

"I'd say. You do this all by hand?"

"Yeah, for the most part. I do have a big band saw with a deck to saw logs out back that cuts the logs into plank and then I have some power tools in here for working the wood farther down, but mostly I do it like someone in the eighteen hundreds would have done it."

"Wow. You have a wonderful talent. You really do. You're hands are so different too. They look so hard, yet they're so soft at the same time."

She took one of my hands in hers and turned it over, tracing my fingers with one of hers I suddenly felt some stirrings deep inside that I hadn't felt for a long time.

"Uh... I really need to go check the generator. I'm going to run it for a while today, charge up the batteries and stuff."

Abruptly pulling my hand away I stepped back. Lucy looked almost disappointed, yet she didn't move to take my hand back in hers. Stepping around her, I walked out and went to the generator shack.

I was sweating and my heart was racing. She did things to me deep inside and those things bothered me more than I liked. I had to regain control of my emotions before I did something stupid. 'Besides' I thought, 'why would she be interested in me? I have nothing like she was used to. Nothing.'

The rest of the day I'd catch Lucy looking at me with a look that I just couldn't place. She would start conversations with me about things that made me uncomfortable. Unnerved, I'd go find something to do when I'd see her looking at me or talking to me that way. Janice seemed to find something amusing about it all, each time smiling and even laughing a few times at my discomfort.

That night I did put my foot down and forced them to share the king sized bed. I changed the sheets especially for them, and then as they settled down for the night I fixed up the couch.

The morning of the third day broke with the storm still howling quite a bit. The wind was blowing as hard as the day before and I could see the ocean waves breaking on the shore. Calling into the Coast Guard station brought bad news. They couldn't fly out and 'rescue' Paul and the women yet. I wasn't relieved to hear that.

I spent about ten minutes with the doctor talking about my patients and him giving me some advice and things to watch out for. I was really wishing the whole time that they could just come get these folks off my hands.

That morning both women raided my clothes closet and dresser for clothes. I obliged them since they had nothing else to wear. Janice looked cute in my over-sized shirt and jeans while Lucy wore similar clothes that seemed to fit her better. Of course, Lucy was almost my height while Janice was about six inches shorter.

During the course of the day Lucy started hanging around me close. At first I waited for her cutting comments, but when those didn't materialize I became nervous. One would have thought I'd feel better about the lack of smart assed acerbic comments, but I found the new persona to be even more unsettling.

I went out and tied off a few logs that were nearly getting sucked off the beach in the rollers. After having worked hours to get them beached in the first place, the last thing I wanted was to have to go get them all over again.

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