Authors: Amy J Miller
Thump, thump…thump, thump. Randi sighed, the sound was unmistakable, the rear tire on her new-to-her, but aging, truck had gone flat. She eased over to the side of the dusty road. That used car dealer in Albuquerque had seemed a little shady, she thought, but the price had been right on the small, red pick-up. There was some rust on the bumper, and some dings in the doors, but the motor purred when she turned the key. At least the tire had lasted for the better part of two hundred miles as she drove south and west toward mountains and the Sierra Blanca Apache Reservation.
As Randi got out, she scanned the landscape around her. The rocky hills were slowing burning from spring green to summer brown, and most of the trees dotting the land were firs, pines, and scrubby junipers. The Sierra Blanca range rose up in the distance, snow still capping the tops of the highest peaks. One thing was sure: New Mexico sure didn’t looks like Frenchtown, New Jersey. Other than the “New,” the two places didn’t seem to have much in common. She had a feeling she was going to be missing the Delaware River, and the lush greenness of the little town with its Victorian houses and quaint cafes and boutiques.
Her high desert exile was only for two years, she reminded herself. In exchange for her commitment to practice on the Sierra Blanca Apache Reservation, the Federal Indian Health Service program was going to forgive $40,000 of her medical school loans. And for a girl from an ordinary middle class family in Frenchtown, New Jersey, well, that was a deal she couldn’t really pass up, considering that she was starting her career over $100,000 in debt to the University of Pennsylvania.
The spare tire was located under the truck, which seemed like a pretty stupid place to put it, but Randi crawled under the back end and managed to disengage it without getting a face-full of rubber. She scooted back out, sweating from the effort, and dragged the tire out. She found a crummy jack and a tire iron stuffed behind the passenger seat and set to trying to loosen the lug nuts before she jacked the truck up. Four of them were fairly compliant, but the fifth was proving incredible stubborn, even after she pushed on the tire iron with her foot. Wiping her forehead with the back of her hand, Randi pondered what to do next. She didn’t have any kind of roadside assistance service, and had no idea who to call in the area. The nearest place, for all she knew, was a dozen miles back in Rio Blanco.
Looking down the road, Randi saw a truck heading toward her, a little cloud of dust trailing behind it. It was a full-size pick-up, a lot newer than hers, in a dark green that seemed to fit into the landscape. As it got closer, the truck slowed, and then came to an idle next to her. A head popped out the driver’s window.
“I was going to ask if you need a hand, but you look like you’ve got things under control,” he said with a grin.
Despite the big black smudge across her forehead, he could tell she was pretty: long auburn hair pulled back in a ponytail, big green eyes with a determined look. She was fairly tall, maybe 5’8”, which he liked, and while she looked athletic, she definitely had curves in the right places.
“Actually, I’ve got four of the lug nuts loose, but the fifth one is fighting back.” She looked at the tire like it was a naughty child, her hands in fists on her hips.
The driver of the truck pulled up ahead of her truck to get off the road, and cut the engine. Randi could see that he was digging around in his glove box, and then he hopped out. He held up a can of WD-40, “Works every time!”
Randi smiled, “Work smarter, not harder, eh?”
“Exactly.” He sprayed the nut, let the lubricant soak in, and then refitted the tire iron to it. He popped it with the flat of his hand, and the stubborn nut spun loose. “What, no applause?” he joked, as he looked up at her.
Clapping her hands, Randi told him, “Well, you’ve earned your good karma points for the day.”
He shook his head dismissively, “Not done yet.”
Randi studied him as he jacked up the truck. He was tall and muscular, and clearly a Native American. His straight, black hair came about to his collar, he had it parted on one side, with long bangs that were pushed over and back, but his bangs kept flopping in his eyes as he worked. He had prominent cheekbones and a generous mouth and was, by anyone’s standards, extraordinarily handsome. It was his eyes and his smile though, that got her attention. There was a warmth to them that spoke to the kind of guy that might be lurking under those broad shoulders and powerful arms.
“You know, I could take it from here,” Randi said.
“I know.” He hummed a little as he pulled off the flat. Randi rolled the spare over to him and he grabbed it with one effortless move and positioned it in seconds. “Thanks.” He made short work of hand tightening the lug nuts as Randi handed them to him one by one, and in another moment, the jack was lowered and he tightened the nuts with the tire iron until everything met with his satisfaction. He stood up and dusted himself off.
“Thanks. Really, you and your WD-40 saved the day.”
“No problem. Uh, you know you have a big smudge…” he gestured to his own forehead.
Randi started rubbing at it, which only served to spread it further. He started to chuckle a little, and then took a clean bandana from the back pocket of his jeans. “Here, try this.” But when she kept missing the main spot, he took the bandana out of her hand. “May I?”
Nodding her assent, he gently held her face by the chin with one hand, and scrubbed at the black marks with the other. “You headed up to the hospital?” he asked.
“Yeah, how’d you know?”
“Not much other reason to be on this road if you don’t live up this way. You a nurse?”
He let her go and folded up the bandana with a bemused smile. “
e Dr. Randy Green?”
“Yep, Randi—with an ‘I.’ How do you know who I am? ”
He indicated himself with a thumb, “Local paramedic, part-time forest fire fighter,
my mom sits on the tribal council.” He flashed a wry smile, “Not much going on around here escapes this Indian, no m’am.”
Randi laughed, “You got a name? Or do I just yell “Paramedic” when you’re wheeling someone into the ER?”
“Well Lee Yahnaki, I think I owe you coffee or a beer or dinner or something for being my knight in shining armor.”
“I just might be interested in the
he said a little suggestively.
Randi could feel her stomach tingle with butterflies. She hadn’t even officially started her job and she was already flirting with someone she’d see regularly at work—probably not the smartest of ideas. “Okay, I better get going. Dr. Cody is going to wonder what happened to me.”
“See you around, Doc. And you better get a couple of new tires. The roads around here are tough on them.”
“Yeah, thanks again, Lee. See you soon.”
They both got back in their respective trucks and headed off in opposite directions.
The small hospital was only a couple of more miles up the road. There were twenty cars in the parking lot, but it certainly wasn’t what she was used to thinking of as a hospital. She’d done her training in a world-class medical center with more than eight hundred beds. Her new place of employment had thirteen beds for medical treatment; surgical cases were referred out to bigger area hospitals. She would be doing primarily out patient treatment, and working with the Field Health program.
Inside, Randi looked around, trying to figure out where to go. A round faced, middle-aged, woman in pink scrubs with a stethoscope around her neck saw her looking baffled, and came over. “Hi. Can I help you find something?”
“Hi—yeah, I’m Randi Green, I’m supposed to be meeting Dr. Cody, but I had a flat tire, and I’m a little late.” She looked at her dirty clothes and laughed, “And a little disheveled.”
“Dr. Green! Welcome, yeah, we’re expecting you. I’m Lozen Pinto, I’m a nurse practitioner and midwife.”
“Wow, that’s great.” She extended her hand, “Please call me Randi, I’m not a very formal person.” Randi lowered her voice to a conspiratorial whisper, “And I don’t think I’ve entirely gotten used to the idea that I’m a real doctor. But don’t tell anyone.”
Lozen laughed. “Your secret is safe. Come on, this way.”
Randi could tell Lozen was used to moving at a clip, her long braid bounced on her back as she walked. She felt herself starting to relax, so far, so good. She’d met two people and they both seemed incredibly nice. Maybe New Mexico wasn’t going to feel so foreign after all.
Lozen ushered Randi into the medical director’s office. Dr. Cody was thumbing through a reference book, and looked up as Lozen tapped at the open door. “Oh hello.”
“Dr. Cody, this is Dr. Green, she had a little tire changing excitement on the way here this morning.”
“Sorry that I’m late.” Randi once again extended her hand for a handshake, but Dr. Cody was still absorbed in the book in his hands, and didn’t notice.
“Have a seat Dr. Green. That’s all for now, Lozen. I’m sure that you’re needed in the prenatal clinic.”
Randi gave Lozen a little wave as the nurse departed.
Without looking at her, Dr. Cody simply said, “Do you know anything about Southwestern Athabaskan genetic diseases?”
Randi had never even heard of the term before, let alone know anything about treating it. “No, I’m sorry, it’s not something I’m familiar with…”
He snapped the book shut, and gave her a steely look, “So did you bother to do any research about what you might encounter out here?”
This wasn’t exactly the welcome Randi was expecting; she felt a little defensive. “Yes—yes, I did. I boned up on tick fevers, hanta virus, plague, rabies, even brucellosis because of the wildlife and livestock.”
“So maybe you won’t be another useless northeasterner using our community to get out from under your student loans.” His face was an unemotional blank.
Either Dr. Cody was having a terrible day, or this guy was a total ass, Randi thought. “Dr. Cody, I can assure you that I intend to give every patient the best care that I can provide. I even did some specialized work in endocrinology to prepare because I know diabetes is a big issue here.”
The doctor raised his eyebrows and nodded as he sat down, “That’s good.” He fidgeted in his chair. “Southwestern Athabaskan genetic diseases are four rare diseases that only affect Apaches and Navajos. All of them are pretty catastrophic, but fortunately, not common,” he said by way of explanation. “There’s no reason you would have ever heard of them if you weren’t a genetic specialist.”
“Has a case presented?” Randi asked.
“Yeah, I think so. Lozen delivered a baby last week, but things were going downhill, so he was taken to Albuquerque by ambulance last night.” Dr. Cody rubbed his eyes. “I’m sorry Dr. Green, I’m clearly overtired and the outlook for this child is not very good.”
“I know, babies and children—it’s hard to keep their problems from getting under your skin.” Randi was starting to think maybe Dr. Cody wasn’t a total jerk.
“We’ve got some crappy coffee in our break room, would you like a cup?”