Chapter 3: Blacktop surgeon
I stayed long enough to assist Larry with the autopsy, which was pretty much the same as what I had found. I left him with a tissue sample for comparison, and when he had to leave for the funeral, I left for home. It was almost midnight, and the quarter moon was casting a glow on the empty road ahead of me.
I stayed away from Lake Superior and the weekend traffic, using roads farther inland instead, maybe thirty minutes from home. Normally, I enjoyed the road and the night, but tonight my brain just wouldn’t turn off. I had the radio off and the windows down, enjoying the warm evening. I crested a hill, below me I could see the road winding down to a creek before continuing up the other side. Motorcycles were coming my way, a dozen or so of them. This was pretty common, the North Shore area was a popular summer route for biker runs.
We were going to meet somewhere near the creek, and I had my hand out the window, ready to wave as they passed.
None of us saw the deer bolting into the road near the bridge until it was too late. I locked up my brakes, steering towards the narrow shoulder as I prayed to Luna I would stop in time. I did, but not the way I wanted. The right front tire dug into the soft ground, pulling it off its rim, catching and spinning the truck around to a stop. The first deer passed in front, but the second tried to pass just as the first riders were passing. I heard a thud, then a screech and the sounds of brakes as the dual line of bikers tried to stop.
I hit the hazard flashers and jumped out of the truck. Three bikes were on their sides, five had steered past and were turning around, and the rest had stopped in time. Reaching into the back seat, I grabbed my emergency medical case and pulled it out. “I’M A DOCTOR, WHO IS HURT?”
The men quickly checked the downed bikers, two were standing up. I could smell blood, I could see the road rash, but the one who wasn’t moving was the one I was already moving towards. “OVER HERE, DOC.” I set the bag down next to a big guy, he was in his forties, beard and hair going grey.
He was trying to sit up, but I quickly pushed him down. “Don’t move, let me examine you,” I said as I broke the case open. I had a helmet light, I quickly pulled it on so I could see what I was doing. Putting on rubber gloves, I introduced myself and asked him if it was all right to treat him. He said yes, rasping his breath, blood-tinged spit rolling out his mouth. Checking him from head to toe, his pupils were unequal but reactive, and I could feel the bump on the back of his head. He had a broken arm, some good road rash, and an antler tine that had broken off in his chest below his collarbone. I couldn’t tell how deep it went, but I couldn’t remove it here. “Who’s in charge here?”
“I am,” a tall man with a long beard, rubber bands holding it together, said as he approached.
“OK, I need you to send someone to call 911.”
“I’ll go,” a younger, lanky man said.
“Fine, there’s a town about five miles ahead. Tell them Dr. DelMara,” I grabbed my card and handed it to him, “has a patient with a puncture wound to his left chest and a head injury. I need an air ambulance to take him to the trauma center in Duluth. You know where we are?” He nodded. “Make sure they send the helicopter. Get out of here.” He ran off, another man joining him. They started their Harleys and burned rubber as they were taking off down the road.
“You-“ I pointed at another guy, “In the back seat of my truck is an oxygen canister. Get it.”
Another man came up. “I was a medic, I’ll take care of the other two. No serious injuries,” he said. He started looking through my kit, taking some supplies he walked back to the two men who were sitting in the headlights of the other bikes.
“Get a couple bikes up here, shine the headlights on him,” I told the leader. He shouted out orders and soon I could see a lot better.
I ripped open a large patch bandage, it was plastic backed. I used gauze to pack the wound as best I could, then put the bandage over it. The adhesive was only on the outside, and it would keep the wound from sucking any more air into his chest cavity. I checked his chest, his left lung had partially collapsed, there wasn’t much I could do about it immediately. I pulled out a splint and used it to immobilize his forearm. He didn’t move.
Looking up, I saw he had passed out. Not good with a head injury.
The oxygen arrived, I put the mask on him and set the flow. I pulled out the portable monitor, setting up the cuff for blood pressure on his good arm, along with the heart monitor pads and the pulseox monitor for his finger. I took a deep breath; he was stable for now. “Watch him,” I said. I went over to the other two, getting a quick report from the medic. A quick exam confirmed they were all right. “Can you ride?”
“Hell yeah,” one said, “It’s just a little road rash. How is Hammer?”
“It’s not good, but he’s stable for now,” I said. I went back to my patient, checking him again his oxygen levels had improved, and his breathing wasn’t as strained. I had a chest tube ready, but as long as he wasn’t deteriorating, I could avoid more blacktop surgery. I checked his other injuries, cleaning them with alcohol and covering them with gauze wraps.
“Anything else we can do, Doc?”
I thought for a moment. “Yeah, uh… Viper.” It was on his cut, he was the President of the Northwoods Riders Motorcycle Club. “The helicopter will need a landing spot; flat, open and no power lines. I need you to find one and surround it with motorcycles to mark it. I have flares under my passenger seat, we’ll need those to guide it in.”
“I’ll take care of it. Is he going to make it?”
“It could be serious, he has a head injury. When are you guys going to learn to wear helmets?” Motorcycles were called “donorcycles” in some of the hospitals I had trained at, for good reason.
“Kind of screws up the views and the sights,” he said. “I’ll get your tire changed as well.”
“No hurry, I’m going with him,” I said. “We’re going to be going to St. Lukes, northern Duluth.”
I continued to monitor Hammer’s condition, and it was getting worse. I checked his pupils again; the left side was unequal and not reactive. I was glad I asked for the air ambulance, it might not be fast enough with a normal one. The symptoms were of an intracranial bleed, basically a vessel leaking blood into his skull and causing the pressure on the brain tissue to increase. Left untreated, it could result in permanent damage, even death. I didn’t have the machines to monitor that pressure, and he didn’t have much time if I was right. “Viper, there’s a couple blankets in the back of my truck, I need them. And grab my toolbox.”
I didn’t like this, but it wasn’t like I carried this equipment around. Taking the folded blankets, I had the guys roll him onto his good side. I used a razor to shave the hair from the area that was swollen, then cleaned it with a pad. Using a scalpel, I made an incision, draining the excess blood. Viper came back, carrying my toolbox. “There is a small DeWalt drill in there, grab it and put a quarter inch bit in it.”
“You need this?” He held the drill up. “For him?”
“Yep, I need to drill through his skull and relieve the pressure. Bits are in that black box there.” A minute later, I had doused the bit in alcohol and was placing the wood bit against his skull. “I need help here, hold his head really still. I can’t apply much pressure, or I could break through and shove this hallway into his brain,” I said.
This wasn’t the way I had seen this done, but it was effective. The bit had spurs on the outside and a flat bottom, and by carefully controlling speed and pressure I had made the required hole. I got lucky; I could see the blood draining. I set the drill down and changed gloves before using gauze and a wrap to hold it in place.
I could hear the helicopter but didn’t say anything until the other guys noticed. “Snake used to be Army, he’s got the flares and will guide it down,” he said. I just kept working on Hammer as they landed.
A few minutes later, the EMT’s were next to me with their gurney. Working together, we got him strapped in place. “I’m going with them,” I told Viper, tossing him my keys.
“We’ll take care of your stuff,” he said. “See you at the hospital.”
I pulled on a spare helmet after we loaded so I could talk to the crew and the hospital. I’d only been down there a couple times, visiting patients from the clinics I worked at, so they knew me. It was a short flight, and after turning over to the neurosurgeon and thoracic surgeons who were waiting, I was looking around for water and a change of clothing.
The guys arrived about forty-five minutes later, rushing into the waiting room. “How is he, Doc?”
“He’s in surgery. The neurosurgeon is done, he stopped the bleeder. They are removing the antler now.”
Snake had made a coffee run, and I gratefully took the tall coffee and the muffin he offered. We waited another hour as I got to know the guys, and they got me to talk a little about myself. President Viper had been married, a former Marine and Vietnam combat vet. Most of the guys in his club were vets, the younger ones had been in the Iraq war. If you weren’t a veteran, you were a brother of one. The group was very tight, and clearly Hammer was loved by them. He was the Master at Arms, responsible for discipline in the club. The VP was the medic, he had served in the late 70’s at stateside hospitals. He was, of course, nicknamed Doc.
After hearing that Hammer was going to pull through, the guys relaxed. “Pres, I got a half-dozen rooms reserved at the hotel a few blocks from here,” he said. “That’s all they have.”
Viper looked around at his club members. “Two brothers stay here with Hammer, we’ll do eight-hour shifts,” he said. He looked at me. “Doc, we can offer you a room or we can take you back home. Snake looked at your truck, the tie rod broke and he had to call for a tow truck.”
Shit. I really needed to get back to the Pack. If we had two cases, who knew what was happening next. “I have to get home, I can’t stay here,” I said.
“Whatever you need from us, you have,” Viper said. “We are in your debt for saving our friend.”
I blushed a little. “That’s my job, it’s what I’m trained for.”
“We know,” Doc said, “but you still have it. Boss, I’ll stay here with the prospect until morning.”
“Dagger, Gasket with me. The rest of you get to the hotel.” I followed them down the elevator, their Harleys were parked in a line near the entrance. “You can ride with me, Doc.”
“You have a helmet for me?”
“None of us do,” he said. “Helmets are for rice burners, cuts are for Harleys.”
I needed the ride, so I got on behind him. “I’ve never ridden,” I told him.
“Just hold on to me and lean when I do,” he said. He started his big Harley and pulled out, the other two falling in line behind him. It was the most enjoyable trip I’d had in a long time; I loved the freedom, the speed as we covered the miles quickly. There was a guest house at the edge of our territory we could get to without getting close to the main Pack, so I gave him directions there. It was nearly sunrise when we got there.
There were no fresh scents, so no one was using it. The key was in its normal place, so I opened it up and let them in. “I’m going to take a shower and go to bed, and you guys should get a few hours sleep before you head back,” I said. “There’s a bathroom down the hall, towels in the closet inside. There are two beds in this room, and one of you can take this couch.”
“Thank you, Vivian,” Viper said. “We’ll let ourselves out, you get your sleep.”
I went into the bedroom and called the Alpha, letting him know what happened and that I had humans staying with me for a short time. He said he would keep the Pack away, and asked me to come see him once I had some sleep.
I was asleep before my pillow warmed up. When I woke, there was a note from Viper along with his card. Who would have thought that this big biker owned a computer company in St. Paul? He thanked me again and told me I was always welcome to visit them if I went down to the cities. I smiled and put the note in my pocket, before going to talk to the Alpha.