Seeding Hope Among the Ashes
08: Another Pig to Poke
Copyright© 2016 by Vincent Berg
“Damn it, Jacob, keep off my lap. You’re not a damn kitten! Despite how miserable you feel, you’ll still crush me.” David shoved the massive animal with all his strength. He didn’t budge the large boar in the slightest, so he grunted and shifted farther away himself. “And seriously, your smell is atrocious! We’ve got to change whatever we feed you in the future.”
David realized the futility in lecturing a sick pig unable to control its involuntary responses, but he couldn’t help it. While he expected this to be difficult, it turned out to be even worse than he anticipated. Keeping someone clean and hydrated while they’re soiling themselves is hard enough, doing so with a five-hundred pound boar was a bit much. The sweat ran off Jacob in an almost constant stream, making the floor sticky and slippery. Since it stuck to ones hands it made most surfaces slick as well, which didn’t make for a healthy environment. In fact, it was difficult for David to remain in the same room as his two wards.
David noted the fog forming around the vents they’d installed low on the walls to allow for free airflow as the humid air escaped. They weren’t sufficient to cope with the heat generated by a full-sized boar and a sickly human. It transformed the inside of the enclosed trailer into a sauna. As hard as the smell was to take, the heat and humidity made breathing difficult. But luckily, despite all those obstacles, Jacob hadn’t died as Tom expected. In fact, he didn’t experience any negative reactions to the transfusion at all. His breathing noticeably increased around twenty minutes in, but that was the extent of it.
Melissa, though, was in no condition to complain about the conditions. Left on her own as David wrestled with their large suitemate, she suffered through her own treatment. She was in the ‘tossing and turning’ stage, finding it difficult to cope with the pain. David’s singing soothed both their savage breasts, so he resumed his story to allow them to focus.
Marshaling her limited strength, Melissa interrupted David’s song. “Jacob certainly enjoys your ... tale. I can’t believe he’s so peaceful and ... contented.”
“He’s hardly happy,” David observed. “He’s actually sicker than you, or at least his symptoms are more obvious. Although you’re both sweating heavily, in his case, it coats everything it contacts.” To illustrate his point, David wiped his hand on the wall, leaving a slippery spot there as well.
“Yeah, I’ve ... noticed.” Melissa wiped the sticky pig sweat from her leg, despite being on the far side of the room.
“For as massive as Jacob is, he’s always been more a house pet than a wild animal. He’s used to being spoiled. Alice trained him to cuddle as a piglet, so he trusts me to take care of him.” Melissa didn’t respond, moaning through her own pain, so David continued. “I suspect he knows precisely what’s involved. Like you, he realizes he needs me to survive, so he’s trying his best to be accommodating. But if it were anyone else here, they’d have lost several fingers by now.”
When Melissa didn’t respond, David resumed singing, picking up where he’d left off.
Even ignoring the current conditions, this treatment was harder for David than his previous cases. This time, there was no one to relieve him, and he sang or hummed the entire time. Any time he paused, his patients would start thrashing and moaning. He continually wiped them both, trying to get them to drink to replace their lost fluids. For Melissa he could dribble a few drops at a time into her open mouth. The same technique didn’t work with Jacob, who required much more liquid.
Instead David alternated between squirting streams of Gatorade into Jacob’s maw and misting his body. He hoped the additional liquid would prevent Jacob’s skin from growing too brittle. However, crossing the already tricky floor was treacherous, as the individual platforms were slick with accumulated sweat, vomit and excrement. David tried to clean as he went, but couldn’t afford to waste his limited supply of water by continually flushing the floors out. This was especially true since their ‘treatment room’ stood atop the open road with drainage into the nearby crops. If it drained into a septic system, the contaminants would at least be contained.
And the noise! Every time a new pain struck, Jacob let loose a keening squeal which echoed in the enclosed room. David assumed it disturbed everyone’s sleep, as it could be heard across the entire farm. Yet he wasn’t about to try covering the pig’s mouth for fear he’d lose a couple of fingers. Instead he’d resume singing in hopes of distracting Jacob, getting him to focus on the reassuring song rather than the distracting pain. Forced to bellow his song to counter Jacob’s wail, he couldn’t rest his throat. Once he got the animal’s attention he’d lower his voice, but the strain on his larynx continued, requiring more frequent breaks.
In fact, the room was so hot everyone was nude. Normally, those undergoing treatment had little choice as they lost control over their bowels, but being naked beside a sweating pig makes for a slippery mess. David continually dropped his juice bottles, scrambling for them before the juice escaped. He chased the bottles across the floor as they slipped from his grasp, only to fall into the breaks in the floor. He’d then fish for the bottles by sticking his hand between the heavy boards.
David struggled to maintain a low hum, much less sustain his song indefinitely. Yet anytime he let up the crooning, the cacophony of moans resumed.
The others recognized his problem. They knocked on the door after delivering his meal and resupplies of juice and water. He cracked the door revealing a smartphone recording of his song from another procedure. It wasn’t a perfect solution, due to his need to modulate his pitch based upon Melissa and Jacob’s responses. But it allowed him to rest his voice for longer periods, while the soothing sounds and message continued to permeate the fogged brains of his two wards.
After he left a scrawled note outside, he detected noises. Venturing outside, he discovered they’d dug the pit he’d requested. This allowed him to use the hose to wash himself down without fear the water might contaminate something. Instead the dirt would filter the contaminants before they reached the water table hundreds of feet below. That eased his stress significantly, though he still monitored his wards the entire time he was outside.
Just as David found a reprieve and settled into a routine, another alarm sounded. Glancing at the monitors he noted that Melissa was still breathing, so he groaned and turned to Jacob. David quickly checked the leads. With Jacob sweating so heavily, it was entirely possible the EKG leads simply slipped off. But David noticed Jacob’s eyes had rolled into his head and his chest was no longer laboring. He’d already encountered this with both of them. It was easy enough to restart Melissa’s heart with simple chest compressions. With a pig Jacob’s size, it wasn’t nearly so easy, especially since his hands kept slipping off Jacob’s slippery chest.
Reaching into the overhead cabinet, David lowered an awkward contraption. Tom and Greg modified the standard defibrillator, equipping it with a car battery attachment they’d calibrated to provide the correct voltage. However, David learned during his previous attempts that the calibration wasn’t sufficient. It took several tries to establish the proper settings. Positioning himself and leaning in so the pads wouldn’t slide off Jacob’s chest, David yelled “Clear!” despite there being no one listening. The jolt to Jacob’s heart caused the large animal to jerk convulsively and threw David back, crashing to the floor. Quickly regaining his feet, he saw he’d succeeded as Jacob was gasping, his eyes in the right location in his head. Luckily he hadn’t had to do this many times. Each time he did, the combination of the high voltage and Jacob’s sweat shocked David and he was rattled after attempting it. Even then, the skin on his arms and chest tingled and he detected the distinct stink of burnt hair on his arms. He shook his hands to restore his feeling to them. “Next time I treat a farmland critter, I’ve got to remember to stock up on rubber gloves.”
Peace descended again and David resumed his song. Once his patients calmed, he switched on the recording to rest his voice. These reprieves didn’t happen often and he wasn’t willing to let this one slip by. Laying his head back, David took several deep relaxing breaths and flexed his hands, again trying to restore the feelings in his fingers. David’s song was calming. So much so, David found himself drifting off; lulled into a short, peaceful nap.
David was jolted awake to silence. Bolting upright, he took in his two wards. Nothing scares a caretaker more than falling asleep, only to awaken to the ominous quiet harkening someone’s death. Instead of disaster, Jacob had crawled across the disjointed floor and was resting his head beside the comatose Melissa. He whistled a quiet tune through his nose, imitating David’s song to the best of his ability.
Standing, David checked on Jacob. Both he and Melissa dropped a tremendous amount of weight. They’d lost most of their fat, their ribs jutting from their chests. The line between their muscle and bone stood out as the fat which smoothed the transition was gone. But Jacob had recovered. His skin was still hot, but it was reasonable. Venturing outside, David filled a small bucket to serve as Jacob’s trough, the first time he’d attempted that. While out, David discovered the usual resupply, including Tom’s famous shakes. Tom modified his traditional milkshake, replacing the milk they no longer possessed with a combination of oils. But the newer version protected David’s throat better and didn’t melt when left out. Swallowing enough to refresh his throat, David poured the rest of the precious concoction into Jacob’s bucket, figuring Jacob needed it more than he did.
Jacob slurped up everything, splattering water across the room. David checked on Melissa next, examining her more thoroughly than before.
Although seemingly comatose, David noted her eyes danced beneath her eyelids when he resumed singing. They became more active when he sang versus merely humming, and when he paused, her eyelids ceased flickering until Jacob resumed his song, at which point they’d resume, just not as rapidly. David grinned at the ingenuity of the very beast Melissa had cursed.
Since Jacob remained infectious and David couldn’t dictate where he peed, David couldn’t exercise him like he usually did when someone recovered. If the large animal did so in the wrong location, it could infect the plant life. That wouldn’t be an issue when they moved him to his own pigpen, but for now it was problematic. As it was, all the accumulated pee which David flushed out during the day accumulated in a large tub under the trailer. Someone carefully extracted it, not daring to touch the liquid and pouring it into the pit they’d dug for David to shower in. It was a difficult and dangerous procedure, necessitated by the risks involved.
Hours later, as David sang and Jacob nuzzled her; Melissa’s eyes cracked open. David hurried to mist her eyes, helping her open them as the dry skin proved difficult to separate. When she grinned weakly at David, he was relieved to see the look of recognition.
“Tanks” she managed to squeak. It was all she could manage at the moment, but it conveyed a lot to those involved—even Jacob. The boar squealed in excitement, alerting everyone throughout the ranch to the good news.
“Congratulations on surviving David’s dreaded treatment!” Tom cheered as he toasted Melissa’s recovery around David’s kitchen.
Still unable to say much, Melissa merely nodded, taking a small lip of Tom’s famed shake.
“You’ll have to forgive my concoctions,” Tom added, blushing. “As our milk supplies dwindled, I’ve extended my scientific experimentation to the kitchen. The amount of milk our single goat and far-away buffalos produce is limited. I’m learning to substitute various oils and nuts in place of the cream base. Even sorbet isn’t as easy to make as it once was.”
Melissa waved for more time as she allowed the soothing drink to work its magic on her parched throat.
“Non... , nonsense. It’s wonderful. Of course, at this point, simply breathing tastes ... delightful. But your milkshake does the ... trick,” she added, taking another drink. “I’m not sure ... David would have continued as long as he ... did without these ... to revive him.”
David held his own glass aloft, although his contained the more abundant tea. “I’ll admit; they help sooth an abused throat.”
“Did you really sing the entire time?” Jenny asked.
“Well, I had a little help from Jacob. Turns out he’s quite the crooner. You should be careful; I think I’ve created a monster. He may start supplying us all with midnight serenades.”
“Yeah, we heard. His yowls woke us many times over the past week. Every time we put what you were dealing with out of our minds and closed our eyes, he’d shock us awake again with his unholy yowling.”