The Price of Success
Hannah lay in pain on the bed and Jessie had now become the doctor's assistant. Frankie unwrapped the bite and looked at the tissue as began to darken. The leg was swollen. A red, dark area started to appear as tissue died from the poison. The odor was intense.
The boy wrinkled his nose, "You gonna need to take the leg off?"
Hannah was still aware of her surroundings, "I'm not gonna live through this, Jessie."
Frankie tried to assured her, "You are going to live. You are responding to the serum but it will take time and I'm going to try and save as much of your leg as possible." In reality she wasn't sure if her patient would live but wanted Hannah to fight for her life and not give up.
Hannah reported, "I can't tell you how much it hurts."
Frankie assured, "I'm gonna increase the opium for you. It should help." The opium would also calm Hannah and allow her to sleep. But Frankie feared if Hannah was too far medicated that giving her ether would affect her breathing and slow it down too much, possibly even stop her breathing and that would be a bigger issue. Frankie decided to operate before increasing the opium, "First thing I have to do is put you under and clean out the wound. Jessie will help me."
"Okay, doc," replied Hannah.
Jessie took a deep breath, "I never did anything like that before."
She assured the boy, "I need you to keep her under and just watch her breathing for me. It's won't take long. I have to clean it up before increasing the opium."
She retrieved the needed items from her bag. Hannah looked over and spotted a large saw used for amputations. Though Frankie said she was going to try to save the leg the fact that amputation was a very real possibility rang clear for Hannah.
She gulped, "Try to save the knee."
"Right now I need to work on saving your life," replied Frankie. She placed the ether cup over Hannah's mouth and nose and instructed Jessie, "Just hold it like this. Hannah started to go off to sleep and Frankie started the operation to remove tissue.
Upon finishing the first operation Frankie had removed much dead tissue but feared she would need to remove more tissue in the near future. She cleaned up her equipment as Mr. Howard walked into the house to see how things were progressing.
"How is she doing?" he asked her. He spotted Hannah laying in the bed resting peacefully.
"She hanging on," replied Frankie. "The serum seems to be working but I'm not sure I can save her leg."
"I see," he nodded and paused for a moment. "You're not gonna be able to ride again with all this."
"Just switch me out with another rider," stated Frankie. "Jimmy can take my runs."
He shook his head, "No, you can' ride no more. You're doctoring is taking too much of your time. You can't leave, so you can't ride. I'm afraid the Express will have to let you go."
She sucked in a deep breath, "I can't leave my patient like this. I have to stay until she recovers then I'll find another place to live."
He replied, "I never said you had to leave. Just you can't ride no more. You can stay as long as you need too. I think it would be best if you set up a room in here so you can be close to Hannah."
She had to agree, "I'll bring my stuff in from the bunkhouse."
He kept the town meeting the plans secret from her, "That would be best."
After a hard night Frankie had fallen asleep in the chair sitting next to Hannah's bed. The door opened and Mary had arrived carrying flowers for Hannah. She wasn't sure what she would say to the doctor and felt rather foolish after making a spectacle out of herself the evening before.
Mary stood in the doorway and looked in the room. Hannah was asleep and seemed very ill just by her color alone. Frankie was curled up in the chair next to her in the most awkward position. The girl placed the flowers on a table top next to the bed.
Frankie stirred from the noise, "What? Hannah?" She immediately looked over to see if Hannah had tried to get out of bed for she feared the cook was too ill to move. Her eyes settled on Mary, "What are you doing here?"
Mary spoke quietly, "I brought flowers for Hannah." She took a seat on the edge of the bed and looked upon the ill woman. "How is she?"
Frankie rose and cranked her sore neck, "She's alive but very critical. The snake got her good."
"Is she gonna live?" asked the girl. She felt how cold and damp Hannah's hand had become.
"I'm fighting for her," assured Frankie. She honestly didn't know if Hannah would survive for it was too early and treatment was experimental.
Mary swallowed hard, "My father explained it to me. About you having to wear men's clothing for your work. I'm really sorry what I did."
Frankie placed her hand on the girl's shoulder, "After my things were stolen in Sacramento this was all I had to wear. I'm sorry that I mislead you. I never meant too." She then quickly assed Hannah's vital signs, "So, why me? Why did you become so infatuated with me?" asked she.
Mary shrugged, "I saw how good you were with my brother and I thought you were younger and you would grow up and become a doctor and I saw visions of being a doctor's wife. I didn't know you and Hannah were…Like that."
The ruse Frankie invented had just come back to haunt her, "Like that?" asked she.
She confessed, "I know some women prefer other women to men. I never thought Hannah was like that since her husband had died. Maybe she likes women because she is lonely?"
Frankie now had to either confess she had lied about her relationship with Hannah or let the girl continue to think they were lesbians. She pondered for a moment for Hannah nor she were lesbians but rather like sisters.
Tears streamed down Mary's face, "Must be hard to see her like this. I know how close you both are."
"We are close," admitted Frankie. She decided that if she just ignored the rumor it would simply go away and now was a good time to try help May feel better about the foolishness. "Ya know, you could either dream about being a doctor's wife or…You could dream about a doctor yourself. Why settle for being a wife?"
The girl laughed, "Women don't become…" she then realized woman could indeed be doctors. "You mean…Me be a doctor?"
Frankie nodded, "Or a lawyer or a judge or a teacher or a scientist. You can be a wife and have an education. You're very smart, Mary. Bet you're top of your class."
She admitted, "I have the highest grades in the whole school. But you need to go to special college to be a doctor."
"It's called medical school and you could easily go," she assured her.
"I'll think about it," replied Mary. "Let Hannah know we're praying for her at the church. We're holding a special prayer for tonight."
"I will let her know," assured Frankie. She helped the girl up, "Come on…Hannah needs to lots of rest now."
Frankie was too busy with Hannah and any other emergencies that walked into the keeper's house to even notice the construction that was started by the sheriff's office. She had no idea the town had started building a doctor's office for her to treat patients much less the town had agreed to have her as the town doctor. She was simply too busy with Hannah, frantically trying to save her life.
She had preformed more tissue removal leaving a gapping hole in Hannah's leg. The serum was working but it took many doses and much time to produce it.
Hannah had survived the week and saving her leg seemed all but impossible. Even with Frankie operating to remove dead tissue the stench filled the room. Gangrene had set in and Frankie had to make a decision of weather or not to remove Hannah's leg. She could amputate below the knee, saving the joint would benefit Hannah. She sat by Hannah bed and waited for her to wake.
Hannah had stirred and looked over at Frankie, she gave a smile, "Still here, doc."
The doctor scooted closer to her ill friend, "Hannah, the poison has been neutralized. But there is a lot of damage to your lower leg. I had to remove a lot of tissue and I'm not sure I can save your leg."
Hannah gave a nod, "I understand. Can I see it?"
Frankie debated showing her the gaping wound, "It's not something you want to see."
She was still pale and sweaty from the infection. Hannah thought for a moment. Perhaps, if she could see how bad it was she could make that choice to amputate.
"I want to see it," she told her.
"You sure?" asked Frankie.
She nodded, "I need to see it."
"Okay," she let out a sigh and then went to the wound and gently unwrapped the dressing. Frankie stood back and looked upon Hannah's face.
It was a shocking sight. She see bone the wound was so deep. Half her calf seemed to be gone. Hannah closed her eyes and slowly started to nod.
"Take it off," she told her.
Frankie wrapped back up the leg and then sat back down next to her, holding her hand in assurance, "I can save the knee. You will need an artificial foot. You will still be able to walk."
Hannah started to cry, a mixture of emotions bubbled up inside. She should be dead and was grateful she was alive yet, the horror of the wound was burned into her mind.
She stated, "You saved my life with that serum you were working on. I can lose the leg."
Frankie squeezed her tight, "I will operate this evening and I will make sure to save that knee."
Later that night, Jessie helped keep Hannah under the ether while Frankie preformed the amputation of the lower part of the leg. It was quiet a procedure. It wasn't simply sawing of a limb but rather sculpting part of a limb to be fitted for an artificial foot. The prosthetic would be made of wood and metal. The carpenter and the blacksmith volunteered to help build it for Hannah. The boys managed to secure a pair of crutches for Hannah to use till she could get fitted with the artificial limb.
Everyone was very concerned for the widowed cook but the rumors of Frankie being her lover continued. And now, Hannah was seen unofficially as the "doctor's wife" and Sheriff Cain, who was attracted to Frankie upon realizing she was a woman, now felt a bit uneasy about the rumor.
He did find some of her stolen articles and Frankie felt Hannah was stable enough she could leave the house and retrieve the trunk that the sheriff had found.
Frankie walked into his office and spotted him sitting behind his desk reading, "Sheriff, you found some of my things?"
He looked up and smiled, "I did. How's Hannah doing?"
"Better," she informed. "Infection is clearing but I had to take the lower leg."
"I heard," he informed. "The boys were telling me." He rose from his seat and went to the trunk that was recovered, "Right here."
She bent down and opened it, the lock was busted clear off by the thieves. She found one of her dresses and some equipment. She also found her degree, still rolled up and tied with a ribbon.
He peered inside the trunk, "That your degree?"
She nodded, "Yup."
"Can I see it?" asked he.
She handed it to him as he unrolled the degree to read it, "You graduated from the Woman's Medical College. Guess you are real doctor after all. How about you get that framed?"
She shook her head, "No, most of the town still thinks I'm a boy."
Sheriff Cain replied, "No, the Mayor cleared that up."
She pondered, "Is that how Mary found out?"
He admitted, "I explained it to him."
She looked up at him, "So, you told everyone?"
He conceded, "Yup. That's a nice dress ya got there."
She looked at the article, "Actually this was my cheap dress. All my good clothing was taken. I had silk hats and lovely purses. Silk gloves, much imported. My family was wealthy."
"Just you left, huh?"
She shook her head, "No, I have an older brother. We haven't spoke in some time. Our father wanted him to be a doctor but he became a lawyer. He was running for congress last I heard...William Peterman."
"Never heard of him," assured the sheriff. "I'm glad Hannah is going to be okay. I would really hate for you to lose her. I know how close you two are."
"She's like a sister to me," she admitted.
He paused, "I thought she was more than a sister."
Frankie rolled her eyes, "No, were not together like that. It's just a rumor. I thought it would have gone away by now."
Relieved by the revelation Ray suggested, "You might wanna through a big bucket of water on that one. Rumors are like wild fire. Just takes a spark to light'em and they spread out in all directions. No telling where the wind will take it."
Frankie asked, "Does the whole town think me and Hannah are lovers?"
"Heck, they got Hannah as your wife," he informed.
"Don't tell Hannah that. She will kill me," admitted Frankie.
Ray asked, "How about I take you out to a nice dinner some night?"
"Um," Frankie shrugged thinking the sheriff was just interested in being friends, "Sure. Love too."
"Great," he grinned. "This Saturday night? Eight o'clock?"
"Okay," she agreed.
The sheriff suggested, "Wear a dress."
"Oh, yeah…I will," she assured him still thinking he intentions were nothing more than friendship.
"Good," he grinned.
Two days after the amputation of her lower leg Hannah was now standing on one foot using crutches to hobble about the area. She wasn't allowed to go very far but Frankie instructed Jimmy and the boys to help her get up and move about.
Jessie grinned at her, "You're doing it!"
He eased herself on the crutches, "Not sure how I am going to be able to cook for you boys."
He mentioned, "We took turns cooking while you were sick. We can help until you get your new leg. Mr. Baur is making it for you."
She gave an easy look, "He is?" She looked at the flowers that were in her room. Dozens of flowers from the towns people. "Who brought all these flowers for me?"
"Everybody did," stated Jessie. "We were holding prayers for ya at church too. When the town found out Frankie was actually curing that snake bit…Everyone started praying for ya. Some say it's a miracle."
She eased herself onto the edge of the bed and looked down at the stump, "I suppose. I never thought I would live."
Jessie asked, "You remember most of it?"
She thought for a moment, "I remember the pain in the leg. It was like nothing I ever felt before. I had trouble breathing too. My leg felt like it was on fire and I couldn't put the fire out."
"It was pretty bad," the boy affirmed. "It turned black and you had gangrene. Frankie kept trying to cut away the dead tissue so the good tissue would live but that poison just kept turning everything black. She tried really hard to save as much as she could." Jessie took a seat next to her and held her hand. "Frankie kept saying she owed you and wouldn't give up on the leg. She had to amputate cause there wasn't anything left. Frankie said it looked like the poison stated to digest the tissue. She really tried hard to save it. I wanted you to know that."
She wrapped her am around the boy, "Thank you, Jessie. And I don't think Frankie owes me anything. I owe her my life."
The boy replied, "She said it was her fault for having the snake in the cage in the first place. If she wasn't doing the experiment you wouldn't have been bitten."
"In these parts, Jessie...Anyone could get bitten." Hannah held him close, "It was an accident and Frankie proved her serum can work. I just became the first test subject and that means many other people can survive a snake bit. I don't hold having the snake against her. Just need to make sure it never gets out."
"Henry got a better cage set up," assured Jessie. "Mary also came to see you. I guess she knows Frankie isn't a boy now. Now Mary wants to go to medical school and be doctor like Frankie."
Hannah laughed, "I think Frankie would like that. How about you becoming a doctor, young man?"
He shook his head, "No, too gross. I wanna be a sheriff."
"That sounds good too," assured Hannah.
Jimmy Hicks walked to the doorway looking for Frankie, "Frankie in here?"
"No, went to the general store," replied Jessie.
"There's a man asking for her outside," replied Jimmy.
"Say what for?" asked Hannah.
"He says his name is William Peterman," he stated. "Frankie's not married, is she?"
"No," Hannah shook her head. "Help me up. I want to see what he wants."