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Bedside Manner II

Bedside Manner II

*This is the second half of the story, “Bedside Manner.” If you haven’t had a chance to read part 1, you can do so by clicking here.

 

Bedside Manner II

Claire stood at the breakroom window, her gaze locked on the scene unfolding in the parking lot.

Minutes earlier, a uniformed man had emerged from one of the military vehicles, and Lucy Cho, the hospital administrator, had scurried to meet him before he made it to the building entrance. The two now stood in a pool of light cast by a street lamp, engaged in heated discussion. Dr. Cho’s hands waved as she spoke, a habit that always became more pronounced when she was angry or flustered. With her arms sweeping the air in dramatic gestures, she looked like an orchestra conductor at the moment. Not a good sign.

Claire spun and pinned Bonnie with a glare. “Why are they here, Bonnie?

“You know this is over our heads. The government sent –“

“We don’t need government interference!” Claire exploded. “We need more propofol!”

Bonnie shook her auburn hair from its tight bun and nervously twisted the loose strands around her fingers. “We’re running low on diesel, too. Our generators won’t last another power outage.”

“Okay, so we need diesel and propofol. There’s no reason this should be a takeover situation!”

Priya stood from her cot. “Claire, you’re getting worked up. You haven’t slept in days, and you’re not eating properly. You need to get some rest so you can think with a clear head.”

Claire opened her mouth to protest, but Bonnie held up a hand. “Okay, listen. I’m not supposed to say anything, but I found out that Sharp Grossmont received vials of an experimental drug called Bilzafloprene last week. It’s not common knowledge, so don’t tell anyone, but these guards have brought us the same treatment plan.”

A strange queasiness spiraled down Claire’s stomach. This is what they’d all been hoping for, yet the idea of Ashley being a guinea pig in the search for a cure was unsettling.

Claire turned back to the window, but Dr. Cho and the soldier had disappeared from view. Other soldiers, however, were exiting their Hummers and lining up into a squadron formation. Claire folded her arms over her chest. “Why are there so many of them, then? Why don’t they just hand over the meds and leave?” Eyes narrowing, she glanced over her shoulder to pierce Bonnie with a suspicious look.

Bonnie frowned. “I’ll be there to help administer the drug, so I’ll make sure the soldiers follow medical procedure. Seriously, Claire, you need to get some sleep. You’re acting paranoid. ”

Was she? Maybe the unrelenting pressure of caring for these unstable patients day in and day out was peeling away the layers of her sanity. Her head felt fuzzy all the time from lack of sleep, and lately her thoughts were slow to crystallize. She expelled a long breath through her nostrils. “Okay, I hear you. But promise me one thing: Don’t let them give Ashley the Bilzafloprene. Give her whatever propofol we have remaining.”

“Claire…”

Please. Just for a few days. Just until we can see if the experimental treatment has any initial adverse effects.”

Bonnie’s shoulders drooped. “Fine. If you promise to get some sleep, I promise I’ll watch over Ashley.”

Though Claire knew Bonnie was a woman who kept her word, a twinge of doubt plagued her. Still, she cleared her throat and pulled her chin up. “Good. Now I’m just going to go check on Kevin, then I’ll come back and take my break.”

Ignoring the loud groans of disapproval from her companions, she left the breakroom and made her way to the quarantine unit three floors down. It had been almost a week since she’d last given Ashley’s boyfriend an update, so he was no doubt frantic with worry.

Kevin was sitting on the bed in his isolation room, shoulders slumped and arms hanging from his thighs, when Claire approached. At the sound of her footsteps, his head lifted, revealing swollen, bloodshot eyes. His strawberry blonde hair, normally cut close to his head, had grown shaggy and disheveled over the last weeks, and the red-gold whiskers on his chin had sprouted into an unkempt beard. As a college linebacker, Kevin had been admired for his muscular (if somewhat bulky) frame, but now he resembled a scarecrow that had lost much of its stuffing. Claire tamped down her alarm at his deteriorating appearance, instead forcing out a wobbly smile. “Hey kid, looks like you’ll be out of here in just a couple more days.”

Kevin jumped to his feet and slapped his giant palms against the thick glass pane window that separated him from Claire. She stepped back with a startled gasp, but then saw that it was desperation, not the fevered hatred of the infected, that glimmered in his gray eyes. “How is she?” he asked.

Claire attempted to inject her voice with optimism. “She’s stable.” As stable as any of them could be. “She, uh, she opened her eyes when I mentioned your name.“ And then tried to eat me. Maybe best to leave that part out.

Kevin raked his hands through his hair and looked away, blinking back tears. “It’s my fault. This is all my fault.” He’d said that repeatedly over the last weeks, but every time Claire tried to extract his meaning, he grew tight-lipped.

She stared at the silver chain on his wrist that glinted in the light when he moved his hands. It was Ashley’s charm bracelet, the one Claire had given her when Ashley was a little girl. All of Ashley’s crowning moments were represented in the little figures that dangled from the chain links. A tiny cross for her christening ceremony, Mickey Mouse ears from a Disney trip, cheerleading megaphones, honor society emblems, a graduation cap… Claire had been there to celebrate all of those events. Her throat tightened in a painful squeeze at the memories. “Don’t worry, Kevin,” she choked out. “I think we’re finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Her attempts at consolation fell flat, and after a few minutes she realized her words were coming out slow and jumbled. Okay, so she really did need sleep. The lure of her cot in the breakroom was becoming too powerful to resist.

With a parting wave, she left Kevin and trudged in the direction of the elevators. As she reached the end of the isolation unit hallway, the overhead lights flickered, then snuffed out completely.

Another power outage.

Feeling her way to the wall with the elevators, Claire closed her eyes and waited to hear the hum of the generators restart the electricity. Nothing but silence filled her ears. A minute passed, then two, but the generators failed to kick in.

Claire navigated her way through the darkness to the stairwell, worry expanding in her chest, pushing out the thoughts of sleep. Had the National Guard brought diesel with them? What if they couldn’t get the generators to work?

She yanked open the door to the stairwell, and the echoing thunder of boots slapping against concrete steps assaulted her ears. She gaped in astonishment as a herd of soldiers rushed up the stairs, passing her without regard, their flashlights shooting beams of light through the black space.

Claire stumbled after them, and panic obliterated any last trace of fatigue from her system. She had to find Bonnie, had to make sure –

When she reached neuro-ICU, the ward was in full blown chaos. High powered flashlights and lanterns illuminated the melee in terrifying detail. Armed soldiers shoved doctors and nurses out of rooms, the barrels of their guns acting like cattle prods as they jabbed and pushed those who were slow to move. Terrified screams filled the hallways, drowning out the gruff commands that the squadron leader barked out. The floor was littered with trampled medical charts and spilled bottles of cleaning solution.

“Ashley!” Claire yelled. She tried to shove her way through the pandemonium, but a strong hand gripped her arm.

“Littleton!” Jack Richards’ voice boomed in her ear. “They’re evacuating us. We have to get out of this ward.”

Evacuating? More like a hostile coup!

Claire wrenched her arm from Jack’s hold and plowed into a group of soldiers. She had to get to Ashley! A sharp pain cracked through her skull, sending an explosion of stars through her vision.

Then the world slipped away.

 ▪▪▪

“Claire?” An accented voice penetrated the fog that enveloped her. “Claire, are you awake, dear?”

Claire squinted against the light that spilled in from the window, pain stabbing her head any time she made the slightest movement. Beneath her, she felt the stiff mattress and starched fabric of her cot. She looked up to see Priya hovering over her. “What happened?”

Her friend’s complexion was drained of its dusky color, her dark eyes somber, as she helped Claire into a sitting position on the narrow bed. “Two of our patients became violent and ripped out of their restraints while you were visiting Kevin last night. The National Guard evacuated us, but you became very hysterical. You ran into one of the soldier’s guns and knocked yourself unconscious.”

Claire rubbed the tender spot near her temple. “I thought they were seizing control of the hospital.”

“No.” This came from Hector, one of the orderlies from the psychiatric ward. He sat on the floor in the corner of the breakroom, a soda and bag of chips resting in his lap. “They put down the patients that got loose and then administered the drugs to the others. They left early this morning after the power came back on.”

Early in the morning? Just how long had she been knocked out? Claire struggled to get her next words out. “Which patients tore out of their restraints? Was it – I mean, it wasn’t – it couldn’t have been…” She swallowed the hard lump in her throat.

Hector shook his head. “No, it wasn’t your goddaughter.”

The sigh of relief stalled in Claire’s lungs as she took in Priya and Hector’s sober expressions. “Something’s wrong.”

Tears filmed Priya’s eyes. “I am so sorry, Claire, but Bonnie wasn’t able to stop them from giving Ashley the experimental drug. The soldiers had standing orders to administer the Bilzafloprene to all of the patients.”

“What? They can’t do that!” Claire shot to her feet, only to collapse back onto the cot when dizzying pain swept over her head. She clutched her scalp and moaned. “Is she okay? Have there been any bad side effects?”

Priya bit her lip and looked to Hector. He released a mournful sigh. “I’m really sorry to have to tell you this, but none of the patients survived the night.”

What?” Claire sprang up again. She battled to push past the agonizing pain that jackhammered her skull. Denial formed iron bars around her thoughts, refusing to give Hector’s words credence.

Heedless of Priya’s calls for her to lie down and rest, Claire raced from the breakroom to neuro-ICU. Her stomach dropped when she saw that the ward was cordoned off with caution tape bearing biohazard labels.

It can’t be true. They couldn’t have all died. She slid past the caution tape, ignored the man in a hazmat suit at the computer station who yelled at her to stop, and drifted in a disbelieving haze down the halls. Sheets covered the bodies of every patient she could see, and as she turned the corner to approach Ashley’s bed, tears welled up to blur the images. It can’t be true.

She came to an abrupt stop. A white sheet rested over Ashley’s body, though one lifeless hand, still tethered to the bed by a restraint, peeked through. At the sight of fingernails coated with chipped lime green polish – Ashley’s favorite color, Claire lost her last vestige of control. She crumpled to the ground, her body shaking, sobs ripping from her throat, as the truth caved in on her.

She didn’t know how long she lay there on the floor wailing, but at some point a pair of hazmat-suited workers carried her out of the ward, and one of the doctors administered a sedative to her. Her last bitter thought before succumbing to grief-stricken slumber was that there had obviously been enough sedatives left to give Ashley if they were doling it out now to Claire.

When she awoke, she found herself alone in the breakroom. Anguish speared through the grogginess left by the sedative, while a hollow ache consumed her. Ashley had been the daughter of her heart. The girl hadn’t deserved to die as a lab rat.

Eyes gritty and head pounding, Claire abandoned the breakroom and roamed through the empty hallways in a listless stupor. Voices drifted her direction from one of the waiting rooms, and as she drew closer, she could make out Bonnie’s voice.

“Definitely wasn’t expecting it to end like this,” Bonnie was saying.

Claire peeked around the lobby wall to find Bonnie sitting with a nurse whose tag bore the name Megan.

Megan nodded. “I thought the experimental drug would’ve at least helped some of them. I can’t believe they all died. And so quickly.”

Claire ducked away from view when Bonnie looked around the space to make sure no one was in earshot. Bonnie’s voice lowered. “Oh, it wasn’t the experimental drug they gave our patients.”

“What?”

“The clinical trials at Sharp Grossmont were a disaster. Their patients had volatile reactions, and the Coumadin they added with the Benzafloprene caused massive hemorrhaging. Dumont said that it was a nightmare to clean up. Infected blood everywhere.”

“Oh my God, that’s horrible. But, wait, I saw the soldiers filling up syringes. What did they give our people?”

Bonnie’s voice dropped to a barely audible whisper. “Potassium chloride. Lethal doses.”

Every muscle in Claire’s body seized, and her bones felt like they would snap under the pressure. She had to hold herself rigid. If she let go, she would fly apart in a million pieces. She fisted her hands over her mouth to keep the rage, shock, horror, and revulsion from boiling over, but it threatened to come vomiting out.

Megan gasped. “You’re kidding!”

“Appalling, isn’t it?” Bonnie cleared her throat. “Just between you and me, though, I’m kind of relieved that we’re not surrounded by those ticking time bomb zombies anymore. It would only be a matter of time before one of us got infected. Word is that three doctors at Sharp Grossmont tested positive…”

The rest of Bonnie’s words failed to register in Claire’s mind. She turned away from the conversation, unable to stomach her disgust. Her gaze caught the TV mounted on the lobby wall, where the news station was replaying yesterday’s footage of Gordon Luther’s speech.

Amid camera flashes and shouted questions from reporters, the defense secretary maintained an air of confidence. His chiseled face grew hard when he referenced a split screen shot of a blonde haired, blue eyed teenage girl. Justice, he proclaimed to his captive audience. The government wanted to see justice take place. They needed to find this girl in order to procure justice.

Claire stared, unblinking, at the TV, but it wasn’t the girl who held her attention. Her gaze was pasted on Gordon Luther himself, the man who cried for justice.

The government had ordered the murder of her patients, and they had the audacity to speak of justice?

She studied the screen, her mind holding the image of Gordon Luther long after the broadcast changed to a different program. A tiny seed of an idea began to take root, and a strange, deadly calm settled like a mantle over her shoulders.

Justice?

She would give it to them.

 

*For this story, I found inspiration in Emily Browning’s cover of the Eurythmics song, “Sweet Dreams.” I’ve never seen Sucker Punch, so I’m not sure how I came across this version, but it has an ominous quality that felt appropriate for Claire’s struggle. Hope you enjoy!

 

 

Photo Credit: Brett Levin/CC BY 2.o

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  1. Awesome stories. You have such a gift. Can’t wait to read more!

  2. Byna it just gets better. I wonder what Claire is up to now?

  3. Barbara Elmore says:

    Sweet Dreams and revenge. Pretty ominous stuff. Ready for Part III, Byna.

  4. This was really good. I’m excited to read more!

  5. Lillian nailed it when she said that this story “just keeps getting better.” I love your writing, Byna.

  6. Jeffrey Goff says:

    Another great one! Really looking forward to when all your stories are compiled into a single volume.

  7. Julie Bell says:

    I cannot wait to read this in its entirety.

  8. christopher kings says:

    I’m really enjoying this and hopefully the book is not far from being finished……Come on Claire lets see her Justice take shape. well done loving the story

  9. Deena McAllister says:

    I finally took the time to sit and read your story and I’m so glad I did. Great writing!! So curious to know what happens next!

  10. Misha Nakagawa says:

    Loving the progression! And, you’re right, the song is perfect.

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