“Where are we going, Dad?” I asked.
“Over to the Indian camp. There is an Indian lady very sick.” Dad told me.
I didn’t really know what he meant by very sick. Was she dying or did she just have a strong fever?
So I just said “Oh,” to show him I heard what he said.
Uncle George was in the boat in front of us. When his boat reached the beach, one of the young Indians pulled the boat way up on the beach. Uncle George gave two Indians some cigars. I guess he wanted to give them something to relax. I have heard that cigars calms people down. Dad does not like that people smoke, though. It may be because he is a doctor.
When we came to the beach too, one of the Indians lit a lantern and motioned us all to come with him. Neither dad nor Uncle George said anything. It felt like it was a sort of tense atmosphere as we found our way over a soaking wet meadow. We went into the woods and followed a logging road that ran back into the hills. In the forest it was pretty dark, but on the logging road it was lighter, because the timber was cut away on both sides.
Suddenly, as we came around a bend, a dog started barking crazy at us. I was a bit frightened at once, but I had been around some dogs before, and I knew that if the tail was going back and forth it meant no harm. Now we could see the lights from the shanties right in front of us. More dogs came running towards us, but they were all small and everyone had their tail moving uncontrolled. They were sent back into the shanties by the two Indians. In the doorway of the nearest shanty, an old woman stood holding a lamp. I saw a bunch of men sitting further up the street. They were talking, but they looked pretty gloomy.
Dad and Uncle George went in first, followed by me and the two Indian men. I realized how tall they both were, as they bent over me trying to look inside the shanty. Just as we entered, the woman screamed. It sounded like she was in a lot of pain. In the room there were some old women, apparently trying to comfort and help the lady giving the birth. The pregnant woman lay in the lower bunk of the bed with a quilt on top of her. The room smelled really bad. I do not know if it was because of the woman trying to give birth for two days or her husband lying in the upper bunk smoking a pipe. My guess was a mix of both. Her husband had cut his leg three days earlier. It looked like a pretty bad wound. It had lots of yellow fluid in it.
Dad ordered a woman to heat up some water and in the meantime he spoke to me.
“This lady is going to have a baby, Nick,” he said.
“I know,” I said. That fact was pretty obvious.
“You don't know,” said dad. “Listen to me. What she is going through is called being in labor. The baby wants to be born and she wants it to be born. All her muscles are trying to get the baby born. That is what is happening when she screams.”
“I see,” I answered. Why did it have to hurt so much to give birth?
The woman was screaming every now and then, and it was not very pleasant hearing her pain like that. I wanted her to stop screaming so I asked dad if he had something for her to calm down.
“No. I haven't any anaesthetic,” he said. “But her screams are not important. I don't hear them because they are not important.”
I wasn’t quite sure what he meant about that, but he continued inspecting her.
The hot water was ready now, so daddy washed his hands and tools. I knew why. It is always important in operations that nothing dirty comes near the wound.
“You see, Nick, babies are supposed to be born head first but sometimes they're not. When they're not they make a lot of trouble for everybody.” He said.
I really hoped it normally was not this difficult to have babies.
He started operating and Uncle George and three Indian men held the woman still. She looked almost like a wild animal. For a second she acted like one as well, as she bit Uncle George’s arm. He yelled “Damn squaw bitch!” and the young Indian who had rowed Uncle George over laughed at him.
It was nice to see that even in this situation people could smile.
After a long while dad finally picked up a baby and slapped it a few times.
“See, it's a boy, Nick,” he said. “How do you like being an interne?”
“All right.” I said. But actually I hated it. It was so much blood and slime on and around the baby that I had to look away not to throw up.
After dad was finished putting in some stitches on the woman he looked very pleased with himself.
“Ought to have a look at the proud father. They're usually the worst sufferers in these little affairs,” the doctor said. “I must say he took it all pretty quietly.”
He pulled back the blanket from the Indian's head. His hand came away wet. He mounted on the edge of the lower bunk with the lamp in one hand and looked in. The Indian lay with his face toward the wall. His throat had been cut from ear to ear. The blood had flowed down into a pool where his body sagged the bunk. His head rested on his left arm. The open razor lay, edge up, in the blankets.
“Take Nick out of the shanty, George,” the doctor said.
It did not really matter. I had already seen what was to see. He was dead. I had never seen a dead man before, and I did not understand what had happened or why. He must have killed himself, because I saw him alive a short while ago. But why? He was not the one who was giving birth. My head was full of questions, but I just did not manage to ask them.
Why would anyone have children if it is such a pain to the women and not even their husbands can take it? No one said anything until we were back in the boat.
“I'm terribly sorry I brought you along; Nickie,” dad said, all his post-operative exhilaration gone. “It was an awful mess to put you through.”
I could not see any reason you would take your own life, so I was sure about one thing. I would never die. At least not by my own will.