139. Health Care

“Next!”

Doctor’d gone on
House calls to the migrants–
Cursing, but he went.
His desk, Louise
Minded, for two bits:
“Doctor’s out
Today. What’s your
Problem?”

Mostly, dust
Pneumonia. Last spring’s
Spate of storms:
Panting, hacking
That pierced people’s lungs.
They glanced down
Reluctant at their kerchiefs,
Watched for gummy
Mud–or worse, vermilion.
Louise nodded:
“Take these Red Cross
Masks.” Tossed them
With abandon–
Whole box just
Arrived, and they came
Free. “Wear them
In next storm.”
“Red Cross” acted
Like a charm–folks
Left the desk nodding,
Impressed and grateful.
Lousy cheesecloth
Masks, she thought,
Laughing to
Herself, and tossing
More.

“Next!”
Louise frowned:
Farmer with black
Eyepatch. She
Disliked eye cases,
Above all. No room
There for error, with
An eye. Better piece
Together bones or
Skin, that tore and
Snapped and split, but
Knit back up–
Knit up freakish
Maybe, but they’d
Heal. Hell,
Leg might stick out
Sidewise, Louise thought–
Scar might raise up
Warty, red, or
Chalky. But who
Cared? The patient
Walked.

“Eye’s too
Finicky,” she muttered,
Lifting up the patch.
To the startled
Farmer: “Jesus Christmas!
Sometime when
The wind’s down, give it air!”
Farmers out in
Fields as well as
Wives and children
Who stayed out too long,
Could grow sores, small
Ulcers on the eye. “Why
On earth’d you wait
To come?” She knew
The answer, knew
Averted eyes, shame-faced:
“Hard to pay.”
“Use a clean patch,
Then, at least!”
“We got nothing
Clean.” I know, I
Know.

Last week, though,
She had wandered
Through the doctor’s
Rooms. Found his linen
Cabinet–extra
Sheets! She’d snipped
Gaily with his scissors, paring
Pillow covers down
To perfect strips. So
Now she had new
Patches: “Here’s
A patch. Be careful.
They’re expensive.”
“Oh, yes, nurse.”

Yes, nurse.
“Next! Next case!”
She sighed when she
Saw it: rotten
Teeth. Teeth! She
Shook her head–
Teeth, not meant to
Take what was their
Fate. Louise
Peered in, gripped
The tongue depressor. Teeth,
Not made for their
Fate–nor eyes–lungs–
Never built to stand
The dirt, heat, wear–
Shoddy craftsmanship, designed
To fail.
She exhaled:
Farmer’s breath sure
Reeked. “Say ‘ah’–
We’re no dentists
Here,” she warned.
Doc would pull them, though.
She was musing:
Show me a man’s
Teeth–no, his kids’
Teeth–I’ll know how
Much he makes.
These folks waited
Till the mouth was
Crumbling–black with
Throbbing stubs,
Gums like welts–
Then too wild to
Care they couldn’t pay,
They trooped to
The office. Roots that
Ought to hold were
Swollen wicks–she
Ordered, “Open wide!”–
Sucked infection
Deep into the jaw.

Here her patient
Jumped–Louise jerked
Back. She glanced
Heavenward. “Nice
Handiwork!”
She said.

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