ER Float by J. Rudolph
I should not have answered the phone, but Jonathan was just so desperate to find somebody, anybody, to work today, that I couldn't refuse. I figured staffing had to be up a creek if they were even calling in night-shifters for the day shift.
I wandered over to the nursing assignment desk, still trying to wipe the sleep from my eyes. I located my name on list to find out what set of patients I was going to have. Then I traced my finger over to-- Wait a minute! A float? They call me in to work extra and now I'm going to have to be in the ER? That sucks.
ER is full of snot and puke and is not my favorite.
Erin, one of my best friends, scowled at the time clock as she prepared to leave. I went over to her and gave her a hug.
“Hey, Alissa.” She looked up and gave me a weary grin. "It's trauma-palooza down there. Stay safe."
I winked as I shrugged off her warning. "You know me, Erin. I'm super nurse."
She laughed at me and waved goodbye as I got on the elevator to get back to the first floor.
Trauma-paloza may have been an understatement.
The charge nurse saw me and waved me over to the group of nurses huddled around her. "Before you go your areas, I got this memo from the CDC that you need to hear." Ruth shuffled through her stack of papers. Charge nurses carried at least half a forest in their clipboards. She pulled out a red piece of paper. Nothing good comes from red papers.
"Ok, here we go.” She cleared her throat and read. “The CDC would like to notify everyone of a national health emergency. There is a virus of unknown origin and unknown transmission that has been making its way across the country at an alarming speed. It seems to invade brain tissue causing the infected individual to behave erratically and violently. All health care workers are expected to be dressed in full isolation gear including gowns, gloves, N95 masks, and eye protection. Use caution in restraining individuals, as many are violent and are known to bite and scratch people nearby."
Ruth looked up from the memo and said, "Well if that doesn't say good morning than nothing will." Great. I had willingly walked into the mouth of hell. I found the table and suited up in the required isolation gear. I looked like I was ready for deep space exploration before I went to see my first patient.
Tommy was a 5 year old boy who had been playing soccer in the schoolyard. A stranger came on to the yard and bit him. Next, the man had bitten the aide who tried to separate him from Tommy. Tommy was whimpering in pain. It was a really gross bite, deep into his calf muscle. I already had the morphine in a syringe. When I pulled it out of my pocket, his eyes were wide and scared. I promised him that it wouldn't hurt as I pushed it into his IV line. Within moments, he was much more relaxed. I dressed the wound after I took several swab samples to send to lab. As I wrapped the gauze around his poor leg, I noticed that the heart monitor indicated his heart rate had risen significantly. I put my fingers against his neck to make sure the rate really was elevated, and even through my gloves, I could feel he was running a high fever.
"Tommy? Honey? Are you okay?" Tommy didn't answer. I shook his shoulder trying to wake him up, but got nothing. It was just then that Tommy's father came into the bay, dressed in a business suit, demanding to know what was going on.
"Sir, your kid is really sick. I need to get cooling blankets but when I come back, I'll explain everything." I dashed off, not giving him a chance to respond. This was serious. When I came back, I wrapped him up in the cooling blankets and took his temperature. He was at 104.3. A bite couldn't cause this!
Tommy's dad pulled his son into his arms, blankets and all, and started to rock him. "What happened to him?"
"A sick person bit him. He bit a teacher's aide too, and she has the same symptoms. We don't know why they're so sick." I replied.
He continued to rock his son. I was about to ask if he needed anything when I heard someone shout code blue.
"I'll be right back!" I said to the man before running over to the code area. The patient coding was the aide. I heard the nurse telling the doctor that her temp was climbing, she seized, then went asystole. Seconds later another code blue was called, then another.
I was terrified. I never had been in a situation where so many people were coding at once. With so many people going bad, I raced back to Tommy. As I stepped in the bay, he began to seize. He was burning up, 106.4. I grabbed a pitcher of icy water and poured it over his liver to cool him down.
Suddenly, he stopped seizing, and just like his aide, his heart stopped. I yelled for the code team as I compressed the kid. No one was coming. I yelled code blue again, for a child, and still no one came. There were codes in almost every bay. After 10 minutes I knew it was too late. Tommy died.
"I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry." I had nothing else to say to the man. He pulled his son onto his lap and rocked him, sobbing. I pulled the curtain to the bay closed to give him privacy. I wanted to quit. I wanted to run away, but I needed to get the kid to the morgue.
After several tries calling the morgue, busy tones each time, I finally got through. They said they were so backed up that it would be at least an hour before pick up. I was about to argue with him when I heard screams on his end of the line, and then more on my end. I hung up the phone and jumped to my feet. It took only a second to realize there were more screams, and more were being added to that.
And one of the screams…it was coming from the bay with Tommy. I ran to that bay, pushed back the curtain, and saw Tommy, little dead Tommy in his little lion print hospital gown, with his teeth buried into his father's neck. The carotid was torn open, spraying bright red arterial blood everywhere. Tommy just kept biting and chewing.
I added my voice to the sounds of the screams.
One of the ER techs, Eric, came running up to me to find out what I was freaking out over. I pointed at the scene in front of me and he rushed in breaking them up. Tommy gnashed his teeth at Eric, trying to bite him. I realized his heart monitor was still on, and even though he was biting, he had no heartbeat. I turned around in a circle. All of the violent people that were on a monitor were all dead. They even looked dead. I started to walk away from the ER and to the waiting room. Almost every person there had a bite. If not, they were likely to have one soon, since each was with someone with a bite.
They were all dead. They just didn't know it yet.
I walked out of the ER through the ambulance dock. More people were coming in. This place was a tomb. This place was death waiting. I couldn't stay. I couldn't help. All I could do was walk away.
When I turned the corner, I was face to face with a man that was eating another man. I turned to run, but I stumbled over my own feet, and fell to the ground. A crushing pain went into my shoulder, then into my neck. The world turned black around me as the teeth tore into my major vessels. The last thing I remember was the blood pouring down my shirt.
7:00 in the morning is not too early to die.
Nine months after the hospital was lost to the dead, a group of travelers passed through this area on their way to Idaho. A woman named Cali, a nurse from a different hospital, pointed out a young boy wearing a hospital gown and a man in a suit that was so striking in resemblance to the boy that he had to be the boy's father, to a man named Trent.
Trent felt a sense of sadness seeing the pair roaming together. He could picture himself in that situation and hoped that someone else would have the same compassion he felt right then, and ended their trapped partial death existence. He wished them well before his group resumed their journey.
The child-zombie, Tommy, and his father appear on page 41 of Book Two: The Highway. In that book, Trent is called to make a difficult but compassionate choice for the father and son.
Visit Ms. Rudolf at her Amazon Author page to find out more.