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Bedside Manner

Bedside Manner

“Practise two things in your dealings with disease: either help or do not harm the patient.”

~ Epidemics, Book I, of the Hippocratic school


Memorial Hospital

La Mesa, California


“Claire? Claire? Go take a break, dear. You’re dead on your feet.”

Claire’s head dipped forward, jerked back, and then dipped forward again as she struggled to pry her eyelids open. “I’m good,” she told Priya. The garbled words sounded more like, “Ahm goo,” but she was pretty sure her colleague would grasp the meaning. She clutched the railing on her patient’s bed to keep from keeling over.

A gloved hand gripped her shoulder, gave it a harsh shake. “Littleton, your shift is over. Go take a break. That’s an order.”

The rough contact jolted her out of semi consciousness. Blinking the discharge from her eyes, she lifted her head to see the stern gaze of Jack Richards, the head nurse. His bushy gray brows were set low, a sign that he was in a dour, “take no prisoners” mood. Any protests on her part would be futile, so she swallowed back the claim that she could last another hour and gave him a meek nod. “Yes, sir.”

Priya, who stood at her other side, placed a gentle hand on her arm. “Come on, Claire, I’ll help you to the decontamination unit.”

Claire could walk on her own just fine, thank you very much, but she decided to humor her friend, allowing the tiny Indian woman to guide her through the overflowing halls of neuro-ICU. The unit had hit its maximum capacity days ago, yet infected patients kept piling in. The staff was now utilizing the psychiatric ward down the hall for additional space, but it too was reaching its limit.

“Give me one second, Priya.” Claire paused at the bed where her goddaughter Ashley lay. Twenty days ago, Ashley had stumbled into the E.R., soaked and bleeding, a chunk of her calf missing from a zombie bite. The young woman’s condition deteriorated in an alarming descent over the following weeks. At first Ashley remained lucid and in good spirits during daylight hours, with bouts of hostile rage surfacing late at night. But gradually, as the days passed, she lost all coherence. Though she only surged with adrenaline and inhuman strength when darkness fell, Ashley was now unstable at all times.

Claire brushed a tangle of coarse hair from her goddaughter’s face. Limp, greasy, and knotted, the dark locks were a far cry from the beautiful curls that used to cascade down Ashley’s back. Her skin looked tender and bruised, and tiny red lines from broken capillaries covered her diseased face, hiding the spray of freckles that dotted her cheeks.

“Hey, Ash, can you hear me?” Claire asked. She ignored Priya’s concerned glance and bent down closer. “They’re working real hard to find a cure, so you hang in there, honey. And you’ll be happy to know that Kevin’s quarantine period is almost up. So far, it looks like he’s in the clear.”

Ashley’s eyes opened. Blood-red sclera obscured her brown irises, an eerie sight that brought images of rabid beasts to mind. With her lips curling into a snarl, she bared her teeth and snapped weakly at Claire. The restraints at her wrists and ankles held her to the bed, but Claire jumped back on instinct.

“Claire, let us not tempt fate,” Priya said. “Please, take a break and get some rest.”

Casting one last sympathetic look at her charge, Claire trudged after Priya. Her attention shifted to the TV by the nurses station, where U.S. Defense Secretary Gordon Luther dominated the screen, the rich timbre of his voice filling the air as he promised the American public that their safety was his top priority.

Claire grunted with irritation. She disliked Luther and his suave words, his expensive-looking haircut, his polished appearance and empty promises. There was something calculating about the man. Though she couldn’t quite put her finger on it, she didn’t trust the silver-tongued official for a second. He kept stating that the CDC was implementing an experimental treatment on victims of the HT virus, but the overburdened, understaffed medical crew at Memorial Hospital sure hadn’t seen any trace of the controversial drug in their pharmaceutical shipments.

Tearing her eyes from the screen, Claire stepped into the isolation room and, with Priya’s help, went through the decontamination process. They stripped off their layers of gloves and shoe covers, the bulky faceshields, and the fluid resistant gowns that protected their scrubs. Once they received the all clear, Claire thanked Priya and headed to the restroom.

She stared at her gaunt reflection in the mirror, hardly able to recognize herself in the dingy glass. Her long, dark braid – at one time neat and gleaming – hung in a frazzled tail over her shoulder. She’d gone thirty-eight years without wrinkles, but in the past month crow’s feet had appeared, webbing toward her temples, the grooves in her skin growing deeper each day. In the harsh shadows cast by the fluorescent light, both of her eyes appeared dark and dull, though her left eye was actually blue and her right eye brown due to a congenital case of heterochromia iridum.

When she was young and self-conscious of the anomaly, she wore a colored contact in her right eye to disguise the condition, but she discovered in her early days of nursing that her mismatched irises proved to be a good conversation starter with patients.

Of course, now all of her patients were mindless zombies who were more interested in her flesh than the color of her eyes.

She rubbed her forehead, perversely grateful that overtaxed power grids had cut Internet connection and cell tower reception for the time being. What would she tell Nina, her best friend since elementary school, when systems were restored?

Trapped in Belgium by current travel restrictions, Nina and Todd Morrison had yet to discover that their daughter Ashley was infected with the virus. Claire had sworn to take care of Ashley when the couple moved to Europe last year on a business venture.

I failed, Claire thought, numbness creeping over her as she pushed out of the bathroom and shuffled toward the breakroom. They trusted me with their most cherished possession, and I failed.

Priya sat on a cot in the back corner of the breakroom next to Claire’s makeshift bed. She was talking to a nurse anesthetist named Bonnie, but both women fell silent when Claire entered. “What?” Claire demanded. “Did something happen?”

The women exchanged glances, and Priya began to fiddle with the hairbrush in her hands. Bonnie studied Claire for a long moment, then said, “We’re running low on propofol.”

Oh. Oh no. The drug was used to keep infected patients in an induced coma during the night to prevent the violent episodes. So far, it had been an effective measure. Claire released a heavy breath. “Is there another shipment coming in? I mean, this is a matter of life or death here.”

Bonnie’s gaze dropped to the floor. “The shipment’s delayed for at least a week. We tried raiding veterinary clinics for their supplies. Unfortunately, we didn’t glean much.”

“What about barbiturates? Benzodiazepines? Opiates? Don’t we have those in stock?”

“Their effects didn’t last as long, so we burned through those pretty fast.”

Claire paced the length of the small room, her sneakers squeaking against the vinyl tiles. “So what does this mean? What do we do?” Without sedatives, the patients would become uncontrollable. They’d burst from their restraints and wreak havoc, probably kill everyone in their path.

Bonnie’s round face was set with resignation. “We had to call in reinforcements.”

Claire stopped pacing. “From where, Sharp Grossmont?” Wasn’t that hospital facing the same crisis?

“No.” Bonnie grimaced. “Not medical reinforcements.”

A low rumbling sounded from outside the building. Claire ran to the window, squinted at the street. Her fingers tightened on the window sill when she saw armored military vehicles rolling into the parking lot below. “Who did you call, Bonnie?”

“It wasn’t me,” Bonnie said. “I’m not the one who brought in the National Guard.”

The National Guard? What are they planning on doing?”

Bonnie bit her lower lip, trepidation growing in her eyes.

“Bonnie?” A tremor ran through Claire’s voice. “What are they going to do to the patients?”


To be continued…


Photo credit: Steven Perez/CC BY-SA 2.0

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  1. Jeffrey Goff says:

    Welcome back! A+ on the new short.

  2. Another home run. Nice job! I look forward to reading what happens next.

  3. pamela walker says:

    These are getting better and better, can’t wait for the conclusion!

  4. pamela walker says:

    These stories only get better! Can’t wait for the conclusion!

  5. Lillian Cummings says:

    Byna you have me hooked. More please

  6. Julie Bell says:

    5 stars. I can’t wait to read the finished products

  7. Ooh…interesting reading, especially on U.S. Independence Day! Thanks, Byna.

  8. chris kings says:

    well guess we all now what the national guard
    are going to do, and that’s the thoughts we are left with, where does this story line go from here…..
    nice one again, this taster only leaves you wanting more.
    great work….

  9. I can’t wait to see what happens next. I give it an A+++++

  10. Can’t wait for the next story. Keep them coming

  11. Amanda Miller says:

    I really like this one. Hate it took me almost 3 weeks to get to it! Things are escalating and my interest is piqued. Can’t wait to see what happens next.

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