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Good Morning Doctor! - Chapter 20

Horse Sense

There were times in my early career when all the doctors and nurses in the country, with every kind of medicine and equipment known, would have been powerless to aid the sick without those loyal horses who brought the doctor to his patient, plowing through mud, lunging through drifts, fighting bitter cold, feeling their way along roads in blinding storms.

The winter of 1899 put my team to the severest of tests, for that was one of the worst winters I have ever lived through. In February of that year the thermometer never was above zero for seventeen consecutive days and nights and was often down to twenty below, dipping once to thirty-two.

That month I was caring for a typhoid case nine miles from Waverly. I had been making trips there every twenty-four hours for about two weeks when I was called out to see the case one night. It was bitter cold and the snow was raging down from the northwest in a regular blizzard. I had to drive north against the storm; but after I got on the right road I gave the horses their heads for I couldn't see to guide them. I trusted that they would know the way after all the trips we had made to this particular place.

They plowed along. Bundled up in my fur coat, I had no idea where we were when we suddenly stopped.

Startled, I leaned forward to get the lines. In the split second before my hands closed over the reins, a roar and a light rushed from the blinding storm. A train! It passed so close in front of those horses that they had to turn their heads to keep from being hit!

Quietly, without flinching, they stood there. The train thundered by. They went on. And I, unscathed, but trembling and weak, settled back in the cutter.

I was driving that same little roan team one night in a terrific downpour of rain. We were on our way home after making a call and, except for the times when sudden flashes of lightning gave me light, I couldn't see anything. Sometimes the wheels of the buggy squashed in mud, sometimes they slopped through water. But we were making progress when the team stopped.

I spoke to them and one of them whinnied. With my train experience in mind I realize that something was wrong. I waited for a flash of lightning. Then, to my horror, right in front of the horses I saw a rushing, boiling river across the roadbed where a large culvert had been washed out!

Regaining enough composure to back the team around on the pike, I drove the horses back over the way we had come and spent the night at a farm home.

Maybe I was sentimental, maybe I was just glad to be alive; whatever the reason, I found myself lingering in the stable when I got home to give those faithful horses an extra pat, an extra lump of sugar.

  Version: World Wide Web Edition Copyright 1995 by Richard Rathe
  Created: October 1, 1995   Modified: July 5, 1999

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