The baby looks a hundred years, with sagging skin across the face: sunken eyes and fontanel, breathing at too slow a rate. She hasn't got a clue whats wrong: a birth defect or rare disease; she takes the baby from the mom as if she holds a hand grenade. With the baby on the table, she unwraps the musty woolen shawl; the skin hangs down like melted wax: a dying little baby girl. Her eyes are dry and glazed as if she hasn't blinked since she was born; doesn't cry or make a fuss, just stares and slowly gasps for air. In Baltimore there'd be a dozen nurses working frantically: X-ray techs and lab reports and respiratory therapists. All she'd have to do is give the orders to the nursing staff: stand and watch and make sure that the blood gets sent off fast enough. Mary hasn't slept in days, her thinking isn't very clear: this baby is dehydrated, should get some fluids into her. Shes thinking meningitis, maybe H. flu septicemia: spinal tap and blood cultures; X-ray and a white cell count. She needs an IV right away, she'd like to put her on a vent; she puts an ear against her chest to listen to what noise she makes. She wants to know how long its been, how old this ancient baby is; she needs to get the babys weight to calculate the fluid drip. At last she hears the whistling of Tamding coming back this way; he steps in through the door and rattles something off in Kullui. She asks him for an IV drip; he only shrugs and wags his head. Its obvious he doesn't understand a word that Doctor Mary says. At last she hears another set of footsteps from across the yard - she sees a floating nurses cap come sailing past the window frame.
The nurse who comes in through the door is not a day past seventeen: long black hair done in a braid, a ribbon tied-up in a bow. She says her name is Chidda and she'll try to help the best she can; the other nurses are at home, they weren't expecting her so soon. She says shes only worked a month, just graduated nursing school - that Doctor Vikram said he thinks that one day she'll be pretty good. But Mary doesn't have the time, this baby is about to die; already diagnosed the nurses tendency to rattle on.
"I'm Doctor Mary Davis," she says, cutting off the chattering; starts listing off the things she'll need: an IV and a catheter. Shes calculating in her head the dosages that she should give; she needs antibiotics that will cross the blood/brain barrier. This infants running out of time, each breath could be her final gasp, and Mary isn't sure about the doses shes remembering. The nurse just stands in horror when she sees the withered infant girl, so Mary gets the feeling that this nurse won't do her any good. She starts into the list again, anxious that the work begin - mimes the way she'd try to stick a needle in the babys vein. "If you can't help, I understand. Just find somebody else who can!"
The nurse then turns around and leaves, comes back in with an IV tray; puts it down then backs away, not volunteering for the job. Mary hasn't started IVs since she finished Internship; shes used to having IV techs and nurses with experience. She quickly asks for sterile gloves, a swab or two of Betadine; she'll need a couple culture jars, plus red and purple vacuum tubes. Marys nervous she won't find a vein before the baby dies; asks then for a tourniquet to strap around the babys thigh. Shes slapping at the leg to see if she can raise a purple vein - baby so lethargic that the slapping doesn't make her cry. She looks up at the nurse to see if she has brought the things she needs; nurse is still just standing staring at the walnut tree outside.
"I'm sorry," Chidda says this time, "but everybody else is gone."
The nurse sounds like shes going to cry - she says that she is all alone; when Doctor Vikram left he said that they should close the hospital. They can't get any X-rays since the tech has gone to Chandigarh, off to search for parts to fix the broken autoclave machine. They can't do any cultures since they haven't got a micro lab; she thinks the spinal needles are still waiting to be sterilized.
Reprinted from Himalayan Dhaba by Craig Danner by permission of Dutton, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © Craig Danner, 2002. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced without permission.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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