William Doonan

I write books and stories.

MedicineLand: Chapter Twenty-Six

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Although it was inappropriate, the night nursing supervisor was known to slip out every hour or so for a cigarette.  Since standing by the front door was out of the question, and the back door was too close to the dumpsters, Gloria Beltran’s habit was to smoke inside the hospital.

Julia found her in the boiler room with the chief engineer, half of the custodial staff, and the hospital administrator, all of whom were indulging their smoking habits.

“I should call the fire marshal.”  Julia closed the door behind her.

“I think he’s probably in here somewhere,” someone called out.

“Can someone get me an oxygen mask, or tell me where my mother is?”

Gloria Beltran fought her way to the front.

“What the hell is going on here?” Julia asked.  “You all look like you’ve seen a ghost or you smoke too much, or both.  It’s both right?”

Most of the assembled staff nodded.  “It won’t matter much in a month, anyway,” someone in the back noted.  “Schwarzenegger’s going to start laying off medical personnel as well as teachers.”

“Can we talk, mama?”

“I’ve never seen anything like it.” Gloria led her to the elevator.  “First he dies, then he comes back.”

“Were you on duty?”

“I was in Receiving.  White guy, twenty-three, his friends dropped him off.  He was conscious but barely coherent.”

“Did you do the intake paperwork?”

Gloria shook her head.  “No, but I read it.  He had been drinking, smoking a joint, and then did two quick hits of methamphetamine.  He said he got weak, and had a nosebleed and then lost control of his bladder.  Ten minutes after he was admitted, he had a seizure and he coded.”

“End of story, it would seem,” Julia said, as the elevator took them up to Imaging.

“The body was taken downstairs to the morgue.  The medical examiner filled out paperwork and left him on the table.  An hour later when the orderlies went to move him to the freezer, he jumped up yelling.”

“It’s been known to happen.”  Julia followed her mother out of the elevator.  “Throughout history, people have been declared dead, then buried only to revive later and often perish in their coffins.”

“Yes, but it’s rare in a hospital.”

“Agreed.”   Julia tried to imagine a circumstance where death would be misdiagnosed.  It would not be easy.

The Imaging Lab was filled with people.  “We have almost nobody downstairs,” a nurse confided to Gloria.  “Everyone is here trying to watch.”

“Trying to watch what?” Julia asked.

“Juarez put the guy in the MRI to confirm lack of brain activity.”

Julia pushed her way through the crowd and found Pete Juarez in the control room with a technician.

Julia dated Pete Juarez in medical school.  She thought he was one of the loveliest men in the world.  This feeling was mitigated by the fact that Pete Juarez also felt himself one of the loveliest men in the world.

“Your beauty is lost on the dead,” she had commented one late night, lying next to him.

Juarez laughed.  He had heard this before.

Julia stopped taking his calls soon after.

“Can I talk with you?”

Juarez finished up with a technician.  “Hey you.”

“Hey, Pete.”

“Miss me?”

“Just curious.  What the fuck happened here, Pete?”

Juarez shrugged.  “I was right there, Julia.  I got the body, got the documents, watched as the tag was put on his toe.  He was dead.  I’ve seen dead people.  He was one of them.”

“Wasn’t breathing?”

“No.”

“No heart beat?”

“No.  No blood circulation, no response.  We do check these things.  Body temperature of 92; Hector was wheeling him to the fridge.  Then he pops up.”

“You were there?”

“Three feet away.  He leaps off the table screaming.  Hector tried to grab him but he slipped and went down.  So I walk towards him.  I’m shaking like crazy, but I walk towards him and then he grabs the bone saw.”

“Was he conscious?  Was he cognizant?”

“He looked down at the saw and turned it on.  I asked him if he was OK and he shook his head.  I told him to put the saw down but he didn’t move.”

“So you were talking to him.”

“Yeah, but then Hector unplugged the saw and this guy just stares as it stops spinning.  Then Hector grabbed him and dropped him and his head hit the floor and that was it.”

“That was it?”

“Yeah, he was unconscious.  We found a pulse, rushed him back up to ER but we lost the pulse in the elevator.  They tried to revive him but they couldn’t.”

“So he’s dead now.”

“Oh yeah, he’s dead now.”  Juarez worked at the keyboard, watching the body slide out of the MRI machine.

Julia stared at the dead man.  “So this is the zombie.”

“That’s him.”

“Does he have a name?”

“Not as far as the press is concerned, right?”

She nodded.

“His name was Wendell Corman.  He sharpened knives for a living.”

Julia opened the man’s eyes, felt for his pulse.  “Is it possible that there was a mistake in ER, and he died when Hector knocked him to the floor?”

Juarez shrugged.  “I’m not going to go on record saying that.”

“What’s your guess?”

“Well, that’s what it has to be, right?  He was probably still alive when he got to the morgue, but barely.  Something suppressed life signs.  There’s no doubt of that.  So yes, there being no other possible explanation, he was alive in the morgue, but barely so.”

“That’s not normal for a junkie, Pete.”

Juarez nodded.  “I think we have a new strain of pharmaceuticals on the market.  Most recreational drugs don’t suppress life signs – that would reduce their attractiveness to potential users.”

“Do we have a toxicity report?”

“Give me a couple of days.  I’ll copy you on the results of the scan.”

“Thank you, Pete.”

“You can come visit at other times too,” he said, “like at times when zombies are not present.”

Julia nodded.

Downstairs she found her mother in ER.  “Have to be going, mama.”

“Bye, mi hija.”  Gloria looked over a clipboard.  “Be careful on your way out.  The news people are already here.”

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Written by williamdoonan

March 14, 2013 at 3:37 am

Posted in Fiction, MedicineLand

One Response

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  1. That felt like the longest week ever, waiting for the next chapter!

    ________________________________

    Christine Grant

    March 14, 2013 at 6:05 am


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