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"Dude, this sucks," Sergeant Angel Paredes muttered as she sat sulking on the gurney in the Black Jaguar Squadron dispensary.
Dr. Elizabeth Cornell studied the X rays she had put up on the light box. "Hmm. Well,Angel, you did it up right this time." Tracing the X ray of Angel's left shoulder with an index finger, Elizabeth turned to look at her assistant. "Your biceps tendon is inflamed. You have tendonitis. Congratulations."
"Yeah, no kidding," Elizabeth said, quirking her lips. "You know what that means?" "That you're gonna give me an anti–inflammatory shot to ease my considerable pain, so I stop acting like an irritable pit bull. Right?"
Grinning, Elizabeth turned off the light box and put the two X rays into a large folder that had Angel's name at the top. The dispensary shook and trembled as two Apache helicopter gunships began powering up for takeoff. The whole Black Jaguar operation was hidden in a cave complex within a mountain fifty miles from the archeological wonder Machu Picchu, and the picturesque tourist town of Agua Caliente. The alarm had rung earlier, which meant the two pilot crews on duty would be intercepting a drug shipment flight somewhere near Peru's border with Bolivia.
"I'm going to save the squadron from my bad mood," Angel said once the trembling had subsided. "I'll bet I get written up for a commendation on it."
"Very funny,Angel," Elizabeth said, rummaging in another cabinet. "Even the Angel of Death looks like death warmed over," she continued, casting a grin at her faithful assistant, a paramedic with the Peruvian army. Angel held her left arm guardedly against her body, her righthand cradling it. "Sorry, bad pun. I couldn't help myself," Elizabeth murmured sympathetically as she filled a syringe with the pain–relieving drug she knew Angel needed.
"I'm no crybaby, Doc, not even at a time like this. I'm one hundred percent Incan Indian," she muttered defiantly. Her ancestors were known for their ability to handle pain.
Though she tried to rise to the occasion, Angel didn't have her usual spunk and feistiness, Elizabeth realized as she flicked her finger against the syringe and approached her colleague. "Hey, you're in a lotta pain. It shows."
Angel eyed Elizabeth, the only physician on staff at BJS. They'd been teamed up together nearly three and a half years and worked like a well–oiled machine. "Dude, I never knew an inflamed tendon could make me throw up and then pass out."
"Hmm, well, pain can do those things to you. You just lifted one heavy box of supplies too many from that Blackhawk helicopter, and did your tendon in." She moved to Angel's bared left shoulder. Elizabeth had had to cut away the patient's T–shirt to examine her injury earlier, when one of the crew had brought Angel in on a gurney, passed out.
"This is so humiliating…." Angel watched as Elizabeth lifted the needle in her direction. "What are you gonna do? Put the needle right into that inflamed tendon? Am I gonna pass out from pain again?"
Cupping her shoulder gently, Elizabeth murmured, "Relax. I'm the best shot–giver on the face of the earth. This won't hurt, I promise…."
Angel sucked in a breath and shut her eyes tightly. She barely felt the prick of the needle. And just as Elizabeth had promised, there was no pain.
"There," her friend murmured, pleased with her efforts as she gently swabbed the area with a cotton ball drenched in alcohol. "All over."
"And relief from this gutting pain is right around the corner, right, Doc?" Angel asked weakly.
"Yep." Dropping the syringe into the designated wastebasket, Elizabeth pulled off her latex gloves and dropped them in there as well.
"What does this mean? How long am I gonna be laid up and useless?"
"Well, you've really injured that tendon, but by resting your shoulder and not lifting heavy items and limiting your mobility, I think in four to six weeks you'll be back in the saddle again."
Eyes widening, Angel gasped. "What? Four weeks?"
"I said four to six weeks." Elizabeth turned to her and studied her dark brown eyes, which were filled with worry. She handed Angel another dark green T–shirt and helped her get it on. "Four would be minimum. And even if it is completely healed in that time, you're looking at occupational therapy exercises to regain and support the muscles around that tendon. You also—" she patted Angel's other shoulder gently "—need to learn your weightlifting limits. And how to lift in order to never have this happen again. Next time—" she held Angel's mutinous stare "—it may mean surgery or partial loss of mobility in your arm. Now, that's enough of a death sentence that it should make even you–the Peruvian superwoman—think about the consequences. And I know that look, Angel. I know what you're thinking. You're thinking you're going to heal up in a jiffy and be back at work in a week. It isn't gonna happen, so get over it and roll with this one—the right way."
"B–but…what about you? I'm the only paramedic at BJS. You need me, Doc. You can't get along without me. What are you gonna do? You can't handle this place by yourself, and I can't be a one–armed paramedic. What if one of our Apaches gets fired on by a Kamov Black Shark drug helo, and pilots get wounded? You're gonna need my help."
Opening her good hand, desperation in her tone, Angel added, "You gotta get a stand–in—a temporary paramedic—up here."
Morosely, Angel looked around the quiet dispensary. The aluminum Quonset hut sat at the very back of the huge lava cave that housed the entire black ops base. "Dude, this sucks."
"You said it, Angel." Elizabeth gave her a slight smile. "Listen, I'm authorizing you four weeks of sick leave. I want you to go back to the barracks and rest. Put a hot pack on that shoulder from time to time and alternate it with an ice pack. Rest, sleep, drink plenty of water, and leave that shoulder alone. Don't pick up anything with that arm, you hear?"
Glumly, Angel looked around. Already the pain was beginning to ease, and she was grateful. "Yeah…I hear you, Doc. No sling, right?"
"No, not at this time. Just be careful how you move it around, is all. But if you reinjure it, Angel, I'll have to put one on you."
"That's good news." Angel brightened. "At least I'll save what's left of my Inca pride."
Elizabeth grinned. "Get outta here."
Carefully sliding off the gurney, Angel continued cradling her bad arm against her body; it was the only position that felt comfortable right now. Pushing open the dispensary door with the toe of her black GI boot, she headed down the hall, then left the metal structure. Looking up, she saw bright shafts of sunlight flickering through the Eye, a large hole in the lava wall that protected the huge landing area and the rest of the cave. It was 1000. The day was young. And she was screwed. Glaring toward the Blackhawk helicopter, where she'd injured herself unloading supplies, she saw that all the boxes were stacked on a pallet on an electric golf cart, ready for distribution. Who was going to unpack all the medical supplies that would be dropped off? The doctor was up to her hocks in work. And Angel was useless to her now with only one good hand available.
Frowning, she ruffled her short black hair, then pulled her soft green army cap from the back pocket of the jungle–green–and–brown camouflage pants she wore. Settling the cover on her head and positioning the bill so it protected her eyes from the sudden bright light cascading into the cave, she headed for the headquarters building, which sat off to one side. She was going to talk to their commanding officer, Major Maya Stevenson.