Plantation Tales

Swing Low, Sweet Chariot

Old Toby wiped the sweat from his eyes, looked into the fluorescent lights, wiped his eyes again, and turned back to his work. At his side his fellow Resident Duke hummed a quiet spiritual in time to the rhythm of his pen.

“Sho’ is warm in dis’ heah ward, ain’t it Duke? I declare it done be warmer every day.”

Hush yo’ mouth,” said Duke looking around fearfully, “Dat uppity ‘breed oberseeyar done got his eye on me. Oh lawd, I be afeerd sumptin’ awful o’ dat man.”

They both stooped to their work and said nothing for the next few minutes except brief instructions on positioning the ultrasound probe. Old Toby cannulated the internal jugular vein, threaded the guide wire, and let out a long, slow whistle.

“Dat’s as fine as silk and as smooth as buttered cornbread,” he said admiring his handiwork, “Dah Massah gwine to be mighty pleased, mighty pleased to see such a sight.”

Both residents shouldered their stethoscopes and after ordering a stat chest xray (“To see if’n the the cath’ter had done gone down far nuf”) shuffled slowly down the hall to the next patient. Around them, other residents toiled in silence, occasionally shooting fearful glances at Big Tom, Dr. Calhoun’s half breed overseer.

Big Tom slapped his reflex hammer against his scrubs and watched in satisfaction as every resident in earshot jumped. He was a resident himself but rumor had it he was the product of a tryst between Dr. Calhoun, the attending, and Big Tom’s mother.

“Toby,” he yelled, “Quit yo’ dang blamed lollygagin’ and git’ ober’ to da Widow Franklin’s. She be in needs of dat manual disimpaction and it ain’t gittin’ done no how if you be skylarkin’ wit Duke. Git, y’heah?”

“Yassah, Boss,” exclaimed Old Toby as he and Duke broke into a run. Once out of sight of Big Tom, both residents slowed to an easy walk.

“Ah caint hep’ it, Toby, dat Big Tom jes’ askyers me an ah caint take it no mo,” said Duke looking around fearfully. “Ahs been talking to the NRMP and ahs fixin’ to run away.”

“Dang blast it, Duke,” said Old Toby, his eyes wide with fright, “Why you be doin’ a dang fool thing like dat?”

“Coz I be done wore out wid’ da work. When I gets up in da moanin’ I gets me to work straight away an my heart mos’ broke thinking o’ all da work I gots coming. I’s not gittin’ no sleep no how ‘cept fo’ a wink heah and a wink theah. An’t baint near ’nuff fo’ me to live. I be tired all of da time, Toby, tired so’s ah caint think straight an it plumb done wore me out what wid’ the scribbling o’ notes n’ da admitting o’ patients. I axe you, Toby, if it ain’t proper that a resident get him sum sleep an some time t’ sop his biskits n’ gravy?”

“Oh Lawdy! Say you ain’t a gonna do it,” moaned Old Toby, “Ah spec it gwyne to be a pack o’ trouble iffen you do. Remember Mars’ Johnson’s Resident Rex?”

“He done got clean away. I heerd say he lit out mighy quick fo’ a PM&R residency an’ he’s eatin’ high offn’ the hog, dressin’ in his finery and struttin’ around his hospital.”

“Why, if you bain’t nuttin’ but a chuckle-head resident,” said Old Toby, “Laws, he got away fo’ sho’ but da Mars Calhoun made the rest of us hoe his tabacky n’ take his call. Say you baint gwyne t’ run, Duke. The massah gwyne to be mighty perplexed.”

“Dang blame da massah,” said duke in a low voice, “Ahs gwyne t’be a free resident.”

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