So, I keep talking about writing a book. But for the last year and a half that’s all its been. Talk. So this month I am actually working on it. This is the second chapter. You haven’t missed too much, but if you absolutely need to read more you can click HERE for instructions on how to follow my March Writing Challenge. Feedback is welcome and appreciated, including grammatical corrections.
Two hours into her shift, she still could not shake the doctor from her mind, so she kept busy. She completed her daily responsibilities including catching and fixing the errors in paperwork from the previous shift. She cleaned the entire facility and hoped that they would see at least one patient that day, otherwise she would need to find more to keep her mind busy. She reached for her coffee, and realized it had been empty for some time. She tried for her water bottle but was empty as well. Feeling slightly defeated, she walk past the nurse’s station with her rehearsed smile.
“Is it typically like this? Do you think we will get patients around lunch time?”
The middle aged man pulled the bud from his ear with an exaggerated smack of his lips and dramatic fling of his wrist.
“Girl, you need to download you a book or something. Nothing exciting is coming through that door anytime soon.” This made Valerie smile a true smile. “What’s your name, Girl?”
“Oh, I’m Val. I usually work up in Denver. I’m covering for Shawna.” The nurse looked up from the paperback book she was involved in. She looked old enough to be Valerie’s mother with a sweet smile and deep wrinkles about her eyes.
“Hi Val. I’m Betty.”
Of course you are, Valerie thought.
“…and this is Roy. Don’t mind him.” Betty motioned toward Roy like swatting at a bug.
“Well, Betty, it’s nice to meet you both. I’m headed to the break room for coffee. Do either of you need anything?”
“No, Honey, I’m good.” Roy replied as he replaced his ear bud and continued with whatever he was doing.
“Oh, you know, I will probably be back there in a few.” Betty smiled again. Valerie thought Betty was welcoming and genuine; rare in the profession of emergency nursing but refreshing.
The break room was spacious. It had two mounted TVs high on the wall. One played satellite TV; the other streamed various security cameras in and around the facility. Neither TV seemed to be functioning properly. The one reserved for entertainment was static and the security monitor flashed black, to static, to a clear image and back to black. Lucky the windows lining two sides of the room allowed her to see if she needed to return to the front office to check someone in.
Hoping another cup of coffee and some water would ease her agitation, she scanned the choices of single serving coffee as there was no coffee pot. All the tiny cups boasted of Medium Roast or Breakfast Blends. She chose two medium roasts. Maybe if she concentrated them by using the smallest setting, they would be strong enough for her taste. As she grabbed the milk from the refrigerator, she noticed her hand shaking. This was now getting to an extreme that she knew could lead to trouble. She began to take inventory of herself. Cool but sweaty, shaky, dry mouth. Maybe she did not drink enough water or had forgotten to eat. She lost the grip on the milk which fell and exploded on the floor. Panicking, she began quickly rummaging through the refrigerator to find juice of any kind. She found sodas and flavored waters all open and half empty. She felt herself starting to become disoriented, and her vision was narrowing. She spotted it; a single serving carton of orange juice. Without caring who it belonged to, she sat at the table and drank at least half of it before taking a breath. She scooted her chair to the water dispenser, filled one of the plastic cups it offered and began sipping until the shakes were gone. For a split second, she considered telling Betty what had happened. The nurse would at least want her to get checked out. Valerie would be forced to be Dr. Wilkes focus for however long it took to run tests. This was not her first fainting episode. Aside from what she had done already, there was nothing a doctor would suggest differently. It was an easy decision for her to keep the incident to herself. She stood slowly making sure the worst was over, and proceeded to the storage closet for cleaning supplies, careful not to slip on the puddle of milk on the floor. Just as the door shut, the closet light got brighter and brighter until it exploded with a deafening crack. Everything went black.
When her eyes opened, the room was black. She strained for her eyes to focus and could make out a faint light being emitted under the door of the supply room. She lifted her face from the cold linoleum. She must have passed out despite her interventions. Going outside of her normal morning routine threw her off and that was why she had not eaten. The stress of avoiding Dr. Wilkes doubled knowing she should make sure she did not have a concussion from falling. She stretched her jaw, rolled her shoulders, tilted her head carefully side to side, and ran her fingers through her hair. She found no signs of trauma. She stood slowly thinking to trigger the motion sensor lights, but it remained dark. She groped in the dark for the knob and pulled the door open. The only light was coming from the windows in the breakroom. She also noticed that it was profoundly quiet. No mechanical hum of equipment. Forgetting her original mission, Valerie walked back to the nurse’s station where Betty and Roy both stood looking as disheveled and she felt.
“Girl, what did you do back there?” As the words left Roy’s mouth, the lights and all equipment sprung back to life.
“Oh, the generator must have kicked on. That’s never happened before. I thought maybe something had blown up, it was so loud. I’ll call maintenance and see if we can get someone out here to check it out.” Betty said.
“No, nothing blew up. I was in the supply room. It was so dark in there!” Valerie tried to joke. “Everything seems to be working now. I’ll check and see how long the generator is supposed to last. Hopefully the regular power kicks back on soon or else we might have a short shift.”
“I’m not complaining!” With another smack of his lips, Roy disappeared into the x-ray room to check the equipment’s functions. Valerie returned to the front office. The sun had finally risen above the building, no longer blinding every one inside. As she walked closer to the window, she heard a faint whistle, like a balloon slowly losing its air. With each passing second and each step to the window it grew louder. By the time she reached it, the entire building shook and the sound drown out her every thought. She watched out the window just a moment longer to see the plane fly so low over the building and crash just out of site. She felt the impact in her chest. One after another, planes went down, and more that she could hear but not see from the window. With every explosion, she jumped. She did not even notice Betty screaming for her to get down under her desk. She was mesmerized by the destruction. With each plane, her stomach ached. She was horrified. At the first sign of panic, she switched her brain to turn off emotion. She must keep it together and act. So she began to count them. She counted twelve impacts and could see seven pillars of smoking rising from the various crashes. August spoke from behind her so loud that she jumped again.
“Well I guess there isn’t much we can do if one lands on us.” He said standing behind her looking over her shoulder. She moved passed him mechanically and grabbed the phone off the receiver.
“What are you doing?” He asked. Valerie picked up and slammed the phone three more times before answering the doctor.
“I was going to call 911.”
“No doubt those planes took out some power lines. At this point, I think we are 911. Start prepping charts and supplies. This isn’t going to be over for a while.” Valerie looked toward August for the first time since their meeting that morning. This time, it was not the stellar physique of the doctor that caught her eye. Behind him, through the window she watched a mass of people walking toward their emergency room through stopped traffic. They came from all directions. The crowd could have been two hundred people. None of them had any visible trauma. August turned around once he noticed Valerie’s confused expression was not directed at him and he saw it, too.
“If they are all walking, they can’t be that sick.” August tried to laugh, but he suddenly looked unsure. He walked to Betty who stood, mouth gaping, at the hoards. He delved out orders to his team of three. “Valerie, we are just going to assume this is a mass disaster. Stop them outside. If they are uninjured, not in labor, and are otherwise well, send them home. I will help you triage as much as possible but we do not have the capacity to treat someone that just bumped their head.” He paused and watched for her reaction, like he knew what happened in the closet. There was no way he could have known.
“I got it.” She said, hoping she was dismissed
“Betty. Roy. Split the patients up and collect vitals, medical histories, and get a basic idea of what ailing them.” He finally broke his gaze to collect his jacket, stethoscope, pen and paper before meeting back up with Valerie to walk outside.
“With the plane crashes, there were going to be people with real injuries that require attention. I doubt they come here. Most will go to the main hospitals, but anyone within walking distance will show up here. I have felt strange all day. Like static electricity in the air. It’s weird. It’s gone now but this and when I woke up…” he paused. “My parents used to tell me a story when I was a kid. I just wonder…” August trailed off again. Valerie had not noticed until he mentioned it, but she was no longer shaky or agitated. She felt grounded and strong, her mind incredibly clear. They walked in step with one another through the waiting room.
“Oh my garsh. Oh my garsh! I can’t believe this is happening. What is happening?” Betty kept on. She spoke mostly to herself, rhetorically which faded as they pushed through the glass doors that were not functioning.
As people started to gather in the parking lot, it became evident that there were no injuries. Even more strange was that they were all in exceptional health.
“Raise your hand if you are a patient.” She addressed the crowd. Fifty people raised their hands. All appearing healthy.
“Is there anyone here that is bleeding?” She paused but no one responded. “Anyone with chest pain?” Another pause. “Okay… Broken bones or pain in general?” Still no response.
“Have you done this before?” August asked with a smirk.
“Not in this capacity. When I worked EMS we had a Greyhound bus crash on I-25 north of Monument. There were forty-five on the bus. None of them pretty. Do you care to help me divide and conquer? Just let me know if you need to take someone inside.” They parted and began asking individuals why they were there. It was the same story. They passed out, fell, hit their head. Each one described exactly what she had experienced in the supply closet.
After the fourth repeat, August decided to begin seeing the patients that fell.
“Just bring a handful in at a time. If something more serious comes through, definitely take that in immediately.” She nodded in compliance and he went inside to let the others know.
Valerie led the first group of people into the lobby. It took Valerie two seconds to find the Maximum Occupancy sign on the wall. Eighty-nine. Four of those spots were taken by staff. The lobby held thirty in just a matter of a few minutes. The eleven chairs were more in the way than practical.
“Raise your hand, again, if you are a patient.” She could see out of the main doors more gathering outside waiting to be seen. There was no end in sight. She loudly called out instructions to the group as a whole, passing out forms and identification bracelets. Her biggest obstacle was that the computer and copy machines did not work.
Within fifteen minutes the first six patients were placed in their rooms and more people filtered in through the door. She repeated her instruction and triage questions with the same results. For the first time since the first plane crash, she pulled out her phone. The battery was dead. She tried the office phone, still nothing. Denver International Airport was a twenty minute drive from her home. If planes were going down, they might have gone down there, also. Caleb was her only thought. Her baby was home and she was a hundred miles away. If Scott were home, she would be less anxious, but Gia was just a kid herself. Would she panic and leave him? Would she take him somewhere else? What if a plane…
“Valerie! We need some help back here.” Roy announced obviously flustered. “Girl. Nothing is working. All the equipment is being crazy and we need another set of hands.”
Roy noticed the phone in her hand and the emotion on her face. “We all got people. But we need help.”
Valerie followed him, switching the emotions off again and placing her phone back in her pocket.
“The equipment works fine until you go to put it on so we have to get manual vitals on all these people. Here take these and get started in the lobby.” Roy handed her a blood pressure cuff and stethoscope. “You’re gonna need something to write on.” He tosses her a post-it pad. “Just write their ID number and vitals on it. Make them hand it to us when they come back. This group in here is ready to go.”
Valerie was numb. None of them were sick or hurt. They had all begun to recap their version of the same story.
“I was doing what I normally do and then I felt lightheaded. The next thing I knew, I woke up on the ground. Someone said I passed out for, like, two seconds. I figured I’d get checked out…” The person listened for the story repeated by another. “Isn’t that crazy? I felt weird all morning. Now my body just feels weird, like heavy.” They continued to repeat each other in their own rendition.
“I wonder why everyone didn’t feel it. I saw those planes go down, too, in a field behind my house. Crazy, huh? Lucky they didn’t land right in the middle of the neighborhood.” One man continued rambling. She tried her hardest to listen for the beat of his heart. Tried to focus and count. To drowned out the noise. Her own thoughts were the loudest of any voice in the around her. Caleb. Caleb. CALEB. It made her sick. She had to focus. Any minute, the less serious trauma from the crashes could come pouring in.
“It’s strange that some cars work and others don’t. I had to drift my car to the side and use my e-brake. And I saw others freak out and do the same, but some cars kept going. My phone doesn’t work either.”
“Valerie, come in here for a sec.” August gathered his team into a huddle at the nurse’s station.
“There is nothing wrong with these people. Valerie, I need you to start screening them at the window. If they have no other complaint than passing out, we have to move them out. How many are still waiting?”
“We have fifteen in the lobby signed in and a huge crowd outside. Some have dispersed but otherwise they are loitering and talking amongst themselves. I’m surprised no one has come in from a car accident and I have yet to see anything from the planes. I have yet to truly see a walking wounded aside from a fall. From the talk in the lobby, it’s bad out there. Planes crashing, cars aren’t working.”
“Excuse me!” A firm voice came from the lobby. A tall man wearing a blue uniform with white letters CDC. “Who is in charge here?”
August approached the man and spoke with him briefly before returning to the group.
“Alright, change of plans. All patients that are checked in will go with the CDC group that is waiting outside. Everyone affected by the event today will be placed under observation. Valerie, just make a copy of the patient list for the day and pass it to that guy over there. He’s going to get the patients loaded up. He also has information to give the families.” August spoke with authority but something in his tone was weary. Valerie did not like it either. Something was way off.
After she finished hand writing the list, Valerie watched concerned mothers part with their teenage children and husbands kiss their wives. She still had not told anyone what happened to her. She wanted nothing more than to run out the door and drive as fast as she could. There was so much chaos outside and it was only a matter of time before she would have to face whatever horrors lay ahead of her.
The lobby had finally cleared. The CDC collected the pedestrians that waited outside into a large package car, similar to large mail truck, but was blue with the same CDC logo as on the man’s uniform. She found it particularly unnerving that the CDC people wore what looked similar to a security guard uniforms and not in personal protective suits since the people were taken for observation. As she stepped back to the front desk, the TV in the lobby sprung to life. It was live news coverage in static from a local channel.
“Quarantine has begun for those affected by the electrical surge that spread over the entire world. The CDC has put out the following statement:
At exactly 12:37pm Eastern Standard Time, an electrical surge passed over the entire surface of the Earth. The cause of the surge is unknown but is believed to have multiple points of impact all over the globe. It is uncertain at this time how or what permanent effects this has caused. It seems the surge disabled all airborne vessels and we regrettably report that over 4,000 planes have gone down, as a result. Most motor transportation has also been effected.
The current of electricity has affected certain individuals as well. If you or someone you know had a loss of consciousness, fell, or passed out and reported a numb sensation over their body, the CDC requests that these people contact them at 1-800-CDC-6936.”
The news anchor continued to talk as four stood in silence. Inner turmoil wore obvious on their faces as they each seemed to be fighting their own battle, to stay or to go. The phone rang and startled the group. Gia’s name showed on the caller ID and Valerie jumped at the phone. Silence.
Curses flew from her with tears and anger. Betty softly put an arm on her shoulder and pulled her in to hug her.
“Shhhh. If you need to go, hun, now would be the time. There is no more good any of us can do here. You have a long drive.”
She did not ask permission. She did not look at the doctor or Roy or even acknowledge Betty’s words. She gathered her things and walked out the front door. As she approached her car, no amount of pressure would activate the key fob. She began to get anxious. She manually unlocked and opened the door, threw her things inside. She got in the driver’s seat, shut the door, took a deep breath and shoved the key in the ignition. Another deep breath, she turned the key. Nothing.