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Bill Helling was driving a U.S. Mail Model A Ford, delivering mail to country farmsteads and ranches, in one of the more remote and thinly populated corners of Lawton County, Kansas. Like most days this late in summer, it was hot and dry.
As the road crested a rise, Helling watched a dust devil move from the barren field on his right, cross the road immediately in front of him and on into the drought-browned pasture to his left. The dust was settling when a man stumbled into view covered with blood. After a few steps, he collapsed in the grass next to the road as the Model A reached him.
Oh, God! Oh, God! Oh, God! Helling stopped the Model A, got out and rushed to the fallen man. He had numerous wounds on his body, a gouge along his side, a savage slash on his skull, a knife wound in his shoulder and a second knife wound in his belly.
I have to get him to the hospital. Helling helped the man get to his feet and to the car. With some effort, Helling installed the man in the front passenger seat. He checked the man again before he set off to the county hospital. He glanced at the stranger again who had a dazed, vacant expression on his face. I gotta get moving before he dies on me.
Helling pulled up to the rear emergency entrance of the county hospital, rushed inside and found Agnes MacRae, a staff nurse, at the admitting desk.
"Agnes, quick! I've a man in my car near death!" Helling yelled.
The nurse yelled for an orderly and Doctor Mordecai Auffrick, one of the hospital's two physicians.
Helling led them to the man slumped in the Model A. Auffrick made a quick examination, found him alive and helped the orderly lay the bleeding man on a gurney stretcher. "Let us get him to an examining room. Then you find Doctor Donosky and bring him to the room," Auffrick told the orderly.
In the emergency examining room, Auffrick checked the man's vitals. His breathing was steady and his blood pressure, while low, was stable. Doctor Benjamin Donosky arrived and the two of them were able to stop the flow of blood from the open wounds, cleansing and suturing them. The abdominal wound was worse.
"That is a bad gut wound," Auffrick said to his colleague. As soon as they cleaned the blood from the entrance of the belly wound, more oozed forth.
"From the position of the wound, the colon may have been opened or severed. We must go in and close it," Donosky said.
"Will he survive? He has lost a lot of blood."
Donosky mentally reviewed the options. "He needs a transfusion first, to strengthen him. Then we can go in."
Auffrick turned to Nurse MacRae, "Agnes, get his blood typed. Do it yourself; I want no mistakes. Then, check our files to see if any of the staff have the same type. Get them to donate a pint."
"Yes, Doctor," In a moment, she was scurrying down the hall with a sample of the patient's blood.
"A transfusion is risky, Benjamin. He could have a reaction."
"I know, Mordecai, but if we do not, he is unlikely to survive the surgery. We will be opening him like a gutted pig."
"Ja, that is true. Let's prepare him while we are waiting for Agnes. We do not have time to spare."
"Look, Tom, it's an emergency. You have the same blood type as our patient, type A. It's only a pint. Carol is giving a pint, too," Nurse MacRae said. The patient in the emergency room had type A blood, not the most common blood type. Getting volunteers to donate blood was more difficult. Carol Landrey, one of the ward nurses, was lying on a nearby table with a needle in her arm. A length of rubber tubing led to a glass bottle on the floor. Tom Sullivan, a janitor, was the second person MacRae found with the same type.
"Only a pint! That's . . ." He had his eyes on the blood from Nurse Landrey filling the bottle on the floor.
"If Carol can give a pint, so can a big man like you," MacRae coaxed.
"That's a lot of blood! I have work to do!"
"C'mon, Tom," Carol Landrey said from her table. "If I can give, so can you."
"Tom," MacRae continued. "You give a pint and I'll get you some orange juice from the kitchen." Before Sullivan had time to answer, MacRae forced him down on the table next to Carol Landrey. Soon, a second pint was filling with blood and Nurse MacRae was off to find another victim.
Sheriff Jim Miller was in his office when he received a call from Rachel Donosky, the county's hospital administrator and wife of Doctor Donosky. "Sheriff, we've a patient brought in by Bill Helling. You should come and look at him."
The call surprised Miller. He rarely received calls from the hospital. In fact, he had little contact with the Donoskys or the Auffricks. The two families had arrived the previous year, hired to run the hospital, after the death of the last doctor in the county. Both families were refugees fleeing the Nazi Gestapo. The Auffricks were Jewish. The Donoskys were Catholics, not Jewish, but that didn't prevent the Nazis from declaring them as such.
From the sound of her voice, it must be important. Miller simply replied, "On my way."
Lawton County Hospital was a two-story, two-wing building built before the Great War. Rachel Donosky met the sheriff at the front entrance. "Come with me. Benjamin is with him now," she said and walked off without waiting to see if the sheriff followed. She led him down the right corridor stopping before one of the recovery rooms, opened the door, and ushered Miller inside.
Doctor Benjamin Donosky was a slim, balding man in his late thirties and spoke with a soft German accent unlike his wife whose English was unaccented. The doctor was sitting by the bed whose occupant was wrapped with bandages.
"Welcome, Sheriff," Donosky said, gesturing to the man in the bed, "Meet our mystery."
Bandages hid most of the patient's features other than a wisp of steel-gray hair. It was difficult to observe height and weight but the sheriff's initial opinion was that the man was in his early to mid-sixties.
"What can you tell me, Doc?" Miller asked.
"Well, the basics. First, he has no identification. We have not been able to find any identification for him, and no one here knows him. He is five foot, seven inches tall, weighs one hundred forty-five pounds and, I believe, is in his sixties. He has several deep cuts on his arms—defensive wounds I would guess, a slash to his head that penetrated the skull and two stab wounds, one in his left shoulder and another in his abdomen that bisected his colon."
"Will he live?"
"I think so. The gut wound worries me. I used a new drug called Prontosil, a sulfanilamide. It's a recent import from Germany."
"And the head wound?"
Donosky sighed, "I do not know. The slash penetrated the skull. However, our man here was fortunate. The blow did not pierce the meninges, the membrane that covers the brain. If no infection occurs, the skull will close itself."
"So, overall, what are his chances?"
Donosky hesitated. "My best guess—and it is only a guess, mind you, is he has a better than a 50-50 chance . . . if there is no infection."
"And if there is?"
Donosky looked at him and then turned his attention back to his patient without answering. He leaned over the man, checked his eyes, listened to his breathing with a stethoscope before leaning back in the chair. Without taking his eyes off the patient, he said, "There are other anomalies. The head wound is like one I once saw, a saber slash. Two Junge fought a duel. One suffered a wound much like this one. He died."