In light of blizzard conditions forecast tonight for the High Plains, I’m sharing this account as it was given me about another storm in the same locale. The story begins with Elmer’s POV and shifts between him and Claire …
I broke the ice in the stock tank and fed the cattle. Claire waved from the barn; she had two buckets of milk. I carried the pails across the road to the milk house, her and the dog beside me. Suddenly she lurched and grabbed my arm.
“What’s wrong? You all right?” I set the buckets down and bent to her.
“Just a cramp. It’s hard … most painful yet.”
I touched her forehead. Her skin felt cold under my hand. “Let’s get you inside.”
I brought the milk in and put bean soup on the stove. She declined a taste. Shortly after eight o’clock, she called from the bedroom, “Elmer, my water broke!”
I got in there quick. “Do we go now?”
“No, not yet. I helped Mama when my sisters gave birth. Could you get some towels?”
Getting those towels was about all I knew to do. Back to the north window. Bits of snow appeared out of the inky blackness and pecked at the glass.
I pulled on my mackinaw and went outside. The wind nearly took my breath away. Snow smacked my face—a blizzard for sure. Got to beat this storm or it’ll destroy us. Eighteen miles to the hospital in Liberal—might as well be to the moon.
When I went back into the house, I heard Claire praying, so I shut my mouth. The moaning wind gentled to an impatient sigh. I let Ring onto the porch and returned to the bedroom.
Claire said, “I think I’ll be able to hold things together for awhile. Contractions have stopped. Can you get more towels? And read to me from the Psalms?”
Her voice steadied me. I said, “The wind’s backed off but we can’t let ourselves get caught in the blizzard. With daylight, we can get to Liberal. Think you can hang on until morning?”
“I think so … I hope so.” She was quiet and then she spoke again. “But I … we may have to go before dawn.”
I blurted, “If it’s storming, I’ll ride Diamond to Ray and Edith’s. I can use their phone to–”
“No, Elmer! Don’t leave me.”
I held up both hands. “Sorry, Claire, that was dumb. I’m staying right here.” I can’t go off and leave her. What if the baby comes? I picked up her Bible. “You say Psalms is in the middle?”
I found something that fit so I leaned toward the lamp. “I will love thee, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer …”
Before first light on Christmas day, the storm let up again. Claire said we’d better go, so I grabbed the extra blankets, her clothes, and other things we’d set out. After the car warmed up, I got her settled in the back and we headed north, right into the teeth of the wind. At least it kept the Blue Bell Road scoured clear of snow.
After the turn west at Lauderback’s, the snow had drifted sharp ridges across our path. The ground seemed to blend with the sky. The road seemed tilted, like we might slide off the edge of the earth. Claire’s voice sounded behind me. Thank God—she was praying. We needed all the help we could get. It seemed dangerous to acknowledge God—whoever he was. But the fear lifted.
No other cars. I didn’t let myself think of getting stranded. Two long hours later, we crossed Highway 54 east of Liberal and punched through the drifted snow toward Epworth Hospital. The streets seemed as empty and exhausted as Claire must’ve felt.
The two-story brick structure loomed ghost-like out of the flying snow. I parked next to the lower entrance but a huge drift blocked the door. I grabbed my shovel and cleared a path. Directly, a frowning nurse edged out the door.
At the words, “My wife,” she retreated and returned with two helpers. They put Claire in a wheelchair and brought her in. The hallway surprised me with its warmth. I caught a whiff of rubbing alcohol and heard a radiator banging somewhere. Claire clutched my hand as I walked beside her but before I knew what happened, they’d eased me off to the side.
“Where’s Elmer? Elmer!” I tried to see where he’d gone when another spasm hammered my back.
The nurse beside me motioned. “Now settle down. You’re the patient, not him.” The squeak of her shoes on the linoleum floor sounded official. Just do what you’re told.
One last try to get Elmer. “But I want him with me … Don’t you …”
Neither nurse was listening. The wheelchair swept through double doors off the hallway. The older nurse, Bertha, announced that was the delivery room. All organization and purpose, they got me onto the bed, chatting back and forth as if they were putting laundry out to dry. After they got me undressed I began to relax, glad to be under the care of women. Nothing against Elmer, but I needed people who knew what they were doing. I was about to be a mother, what I’d been waiting for all my life.
They gave me a quick scrub and whisked a hospital gown over me. Another cramp brought a gasp.
The young sprite, Norma Jean, took my temperature. An evergreen Christmas wreath on the far wall sent me far away and I thought of Pop. I must have fallen asleep for seconds … several minutes? My baby was full term and I was ready. The back massages and warm compresses eased the pain but at times I couldn’t stand for them to touch me during contractions. I must’ve changed positions fifty times.
Later, I caught a grim look on Bertha’s face. My baby was in trouble. Doctor McCreight still hadn’t come to see me. Didn’t understand that. Bertha said she’d only had two mothers exceed thirty hours of labor but if I didn’t get busy, I’d break their record. Ridiculous, they wouldn’t let Elmer be with me.
“You Claire’s husband?”
I turned. It was the chunky blond nurse waving at me from the hallway. Said she’d like to do the paperwork before she went off shift.
I could barely understand her, what with the wad of Juicy Fruit in her mouth. When she finished her questions, I said I had one of my own. “We’ve been here over two hours and I haven’t seen anything of a doctor. Isn’t McCreight supposed to be here?”
She stopped chewing and glanced around frantic like. She said, “Doctor McCreight isn’t … here yet. He left yesterday afternoon to deliver a baby at Adams. With the storm, we haven’t heard from him. But your wife will be well taken care of until he gets back.”
I gave her a look that brought her wad of gum to a standstill. “You telling me that after us coming through a blizzard, you don’t have a doctor? Woman, what about my wife and that baby?”
I backed off. She hadn’t ordered up that snowstorm any more than I had. But it irritated me that the people running these hospitals couldn’t be straight-up. The blond had already made sure I was prepared to pay the standard forty-dollar charge for hospital births.
I left her sitting there and went to the waiting room. Thirty miles south. McCreight should have delivered that kid and already returned to Liberal.
Afterward, the head nurse confirmed that Dr. McCreight hadn’t been heard from since he left Adams at four that morning. So–he was lost someplace between there and Liberal. She’d already called the sheriff to organize a search party. I knew Sheriff Ed Bartlett; he’d find that doctor if he had to go afoot.
I’d beat the blizzard but it looked like the storm might have the last say. I paced and fretted. Finally, I grabbed my coat and went the two blocks to my sister Maggie’s house. She insisted we pray. I half-listened while she called upon the Almighty to save my wife and baby.
Still no word about McCreight when I returned an hour later. I wondered where God was in this whole thing.
The head nurse called me over. “Your wife has been in labor for over twenty-four hours. She’ll have to be strong until the doctor gets here. We’ll do what we can but at her age—thirty-three, as I recall—and this being her first childbirth, her pelvic structure is quite rigid.” Her tone softened. “The worst is this, Elmer. The infant had a bowel movement, which may have poisoned the uterus. From my experience in obstetrics, I’ll tell you straight. There’s no hope for the baby and … there’s very little for the mother.”
Her words hit like ice clattering off a roof. My anger and fear demanded someone set the world aright. “No!” I said, “Claire will get through this. And our baby will make it. My wife prays, you hear!”
Several times that evening and night, I almost bolted out to Maggie’s house but figured I’d better stay close. Late Christmas night, I heard someone say they’d found McCreight stalled in a snowdrift. But they still had to return to the hospital.
I called out for Elmer. A turnip-colored face crossed my line of sight. “Your husband’s right outside, Claire, just waiting on us to finish our job. It depends on you …”
I felt like my insides were twisted, pulled, and squeezed. I’d resisted the pain at first but fighting it only made me feel worse. I cried to God for strength. Someone said it was past midnight. Pain came in waves. I tried not to think if I could last.
I heard a man’s voice and looked up, expecting to see Elmer. A cloth wiped perspiration from my face and I blinked. “Doctor McCreight!”
He squeezed my hand and did a quick exam. “The head is too high. Let’s get to work …”