11 July, 2012
11 July 2012
Evening passed into night, Einar warming slowly, taking sips of warm, honey-laced water and mint tea when Liz pushed them his way and wouldn’t back down until he’d drank, and doing his best to fight the terrible weariness which tried on several occasions to close his eyes and send him slumping back against the bed in sleep. Knew he was probably past the point where such sleep would likely prove fatal to him--especially in the warm cabin and with Liz there insisting, for some reason, rather strenuously that he go on living--but he wanted to keep an eye on the progress of his feet, and soon as his shaking had slacked off some and he was able to use his hands again, hoped also to show her the hides he’d taken. For her part, Liz had little interest in hides at the moment, being greatly concerned about Einar’s thawing feet and preoccupied with finding a way to increase his circulation so as to get more blood flowing to them and prevent him losing any more toes--or worse--if she could. Einar’s concern for the feet ended at getting them thawed out, which, from the feel of things, had already been accomplished and then some by Liz’s faithful addition of fresh draughts of warm water whenever that in the soaking pot began to cool; each time she apologized for the hurt she knew it was bringing him--she’d thawed her own frostbitten hands in the past, and knew the incredible, burning pain of the thing--and each time he reassured her through clenched teeth that it was no problem, none at all, not bothering him in the least. She knew otherwise. He was too weary and hypothermic to put on the customary expressionless façade which normally he adopted under such circumstances, and the true story was written all over his face.
Finished soaking the feet, Liz dried them as gently as possible with gauze from the supplies left them by Bud and Susan--oh, they’d be back to packing everything with usnea lichen soon enough, but why not use some of the real thing, as long as they had it?--smeared on some balm of Gilead salve and loosely wrapped everything with more of the gauze. Wanted to give Einar a strong solution of the salicin-containing willow bark, not only for the pain but to thin his blood and theoretically improve his chances of keeping the remaining toes, but he refused. She didn’t care. Wasn’t about to sit there and watch him die a slow and horrible death of infection and blood poisoning, when there was something she could do to possibly prevent it. Added the willow bark to his next pot of tea, attempting to mask its bitterness with mint and honey. He found her out. Was not happy, and refused to drink anymore. Of anything. Not what she had intended, for sure. He had to keep drinking, or the feet would very soon be the least of their concerns. Had only managed a sparse half cup since returning, and she could see from the shrunken, sunken look of the skin on his face and hands that he had managed to end up pretty badly dehydrated over the past several days, and no wonder, too, leaving himself no way to melt snow for water…
She’d messed up. Never should have tried to fool him, yet she remained unapologetic. Had been trying the best she knew to make things turn out better for him, but now she must do something to regain his trust. Well, let him get his own water. Didn’t help. Water barrel had been contaminated; the whole lot tasted of willow bark, and he just knew she’d been sneaking it into there. Probably had a whole big wad of it weighed down in the bottom with a rock, leaching out into the water and turning the entire thing into a strong willow bark solution. Which of course she did not, tried to convince him of it but really, how reasonable can a man be when his temperature is still a good six or eight degrees below its already low set point, he’s so dry that his skin stands up all white and rigid when a person pinches him, and he’s half out of his head with the hurt of thawing feet.? Pretty reasonable actually, Liz knew. She’d seen him make critical decisions--and make them correctly--when in a worse state than his current one, and hoping to appeal to his innate sense of logic, order and respect for facts and truth, she sat down beside him with the remains of the willow solution. The part she hadn’t poured into his tea…
“See? Here’s the rest of it. It’s right here in the pot, not in the water barrel. Water barrel’s fine. I would never turn our entire water supply into aspirin juice. What would I drink, then? I’ve got to drink plenty of water to make milk for Will, and you know I wouldn’t go contaminating it with anything that even might have the potential of doing him any sort of harm. No, the willow stuff was and is strictly for you, and I’d really like you to try some of it. Some more of it.”
“Think about it. Makes sense. Thin the blood, help prevent little clots in the damaged areas, increase flow to the toes and you increase your chances. It’s an accepted course of medical treatment for severe frostbite. Which you may or may not have. We can’t tell yet, and may not know until it’s too late. So why won’t you let me try it? It’s not for the pain. You can hurt all you want, so far as I’m concerned. It’s for the toes. So you don’t die of infection in a week or two or three.”
She waited. He considered. Nodded slowly, took the pot and drained it, not even grimacing at the overwhelmingly bitter bite of the brownish liquid. Liz shook her head, shuddered, snatched the pot away, but too late. It was empty. Not at all what she had intended. She’d tasted the stuff, couldn’t imagine drinking it the way he’d just done. Would have sweetened it up some for him had she known he was actually going to agree to trying the solution, would certainly have made sure he drank it more slowly, over the course of the evening, but it was too late for all that, and Einar appeared quite beyond caring. Probably benefited, if anything, from the temporary distraction from his burning feet. Most anything had to be better than that. She just hoped the quantity and suddenness of the stuff wouldn’t make him sick. He couldn’t afford it just then.
“Well, I guess that’s a ‘yes,’ then! Thank you. I really think it can only help.”
Another nod, Einar appearing a good deal wider awake than he had been before the willow, shocked to full attention by its bitterness, perhaps, and after he’d got his breath back he gratefully accepted the water she was holding out to him.
“Stuff’s good and strong, alright. Ought to really do the trick, if anything’s going to. Was a…real good idea you had there. And a good thing you’re as persistent and stubborn as me, too.” He gave her a hint of a wry grin, teeth still chattering and face so twirted up from the willow drink that he presented a hilarious sight, and Liz might have laughed, had the situation not been so serious. “Thanks. Did a good thing.”
“I’ll make you more for later, but first you’d better have something to eat. The willow will be hard on your stomach, taken plain like that. How about some broth, and then maybe later a little stew.”
“Good. Sounds good. Got a…fresh muskrat in my pack if you want it. Good for stew. Not so good for breakfast after a night of…must have been forty below or something. Hard as rock. Couldn’t chew. Muninn…he did a lot better.”
“Yes, I’ll make us a good muskrat stew for later, or for in the morning, or whenever you’re ready. Let’s just have some broth now with a little bear fat in it to help you keep warming, give you some energy for the night and dilute that willow a bit. And if you think your stomach can handle it when the time comes for stew, I’ll add a bunch of the dried shepherd’s purse I have leftover from Will’s birth. It’s in the mustard family, the seeds are real spicy and I think that ought to help get your blood moving, too.”
All details which normally would have fascinated Einar, but they interested him not in the least just then, for he had fallen fast asleep.