The dental hygienist knocks over the instrument tray while mounting a patient. The patient is happy to be mounted, and I am the hygienist. As the dentist’s tools clatter to the floor, I see nurses opening the door.
Suddenly I’m awake, startled out of sleep by the nurses’ one thirty in the morning checkup. I quickly close my eyes again. One nurse leans in to my roommate, and the other observes me. I keep my eyes closed and try to breathe steadily. Two plastic cups, one with a suppository and one with a single little white pill are placed on my nightstand. Two seconds later, they’re done pretending to do their jobs, and they chit-chat out of the room.
I swing my legs around the side of the bed and place my feet on the floor. The floor feels like someone wrapped it in plastic wrap. It’s not exactly sticky, but sticky somehow. Lifting my toes from the floor sounds like peeling tape off of a refrigerator. I grab the cup with the little white pill and put it into my mouth. This is my eight am painkiller. They give me the strongest painkiller in the morning because I’ve been without any painkillers all night, and the morning just sucks. I briefly consider trying to steal more pain pills from the nurses station on my way out, but smartly decide against it. I can get painkillers from Dan, I’m sure.
My clothes are sitting to my right, on a chair next to the table all the stupid “Get Well” cards are on. I stand up and get dressed, the adrenaline is already pumping. The doctors want me to stay, and I am leaving. It’s not a legal issue. Yet.
After I dress myself, I creep to the door and take a look left down the hallway. The nurses have just left the last patient and are headed in the direction of their little hospital squatter pad. I bet they had all kinds of fun stuff in there. Pinball machines and intravenous drugs, for example. As the door closes behind them, I slip into the hallway and make my way to the door. I stay on the wall as I open the door, but the stair light comes on anyway. It isn’t really needed, the lantern from the street lights up the stairwell like a carnival.
When I get down the stairs and head outside, I’m met with warm, soft air. It’s a beautiful evening for an escape. I figure I can just go home. I hadn’t used my current address on the hospital forms, and my new place wasn’t in my name. Besides, it’s a hospital, not a prison, so I’m not really “escaping”, I’m just leaving against doctors orders in the middle of the night.
I cross the courtyard and head out through the main entrance, left of the entryway I am standing in. My intentions are to go home for a couple of days and just rest. Out on the street I catch a cab.
When I get home, there’s dead flowers in a vase on my porch. The water is murky and kind of clumpy. The card stuck in the flowers is no longer legible. I leave them there, pretending like they’re not for me. Who knows, maybe they’re for one of the other tenants.
As I crawl into my bed at three in the morning, I realize that tomorrow I won’t have to eat shitty hospital food. This thought alone carries me into sleep.
The phone is ringing. The clock says it’s eleven in the morning. I rub my eyes and listen to the phone ringing. Finally, my answering machine picks up. A monotone voice says,
“Hello. This message is for Maggie Lawson. This is the Harron Medical Center calling. We need you to return to the hospital right away. Please give us a call back at 1-800-427-7661, or simply return to the surgical wing.”
The answering machine beeps off as I’m putting on my robe. In the kitchen, there’s enough coffee for a single cup and some stale crackers. Everything else in the refrigerator is rotting. I haven’t been home in six days.
After making myself the coffee, I decide to take a nice long bath after which I will watch television all day long.
When I get around to switching on the television, I make a point to skip over the daytime talk shows. For a while, I watch cartoons. At lunchtime, I order Pad Thai from my favorite delivery Thai place, which also happens to be the only Thai place that will deliver to my neighborhood. I order a triple order so that I won’t have to worry about what I’m going to eat for dinner or the next morning. In the afternoon, I watch a variety of nature documentaries.
At four I decide to catch up on the news.
…If you’re just tuning in, we’re at the Harron Medical Center where tragedy has struck over the last two days. A surgeon and his surgical team are dead. A floor nurse has been quarantined. Details are still coming in, but we’re talking to Harron’s Press Secretary, Herman Sithe.
“Mr. Sithe, can you tell us what happened?”
“It’s our great displeasure to announce that four of our staff have died in the past two days. All four were afflicted with a sickness we haven’t seen before. We have quarantined a nurse whom we believe is also infected.”
“How does this ‘sickness’ present itself? Where did it come from?”
“These staff members presented flu-like symptoms two days ago. At first, we thought it was just a bug. However, the five staff members showed symptoms not associated with a common flu.”
“Could you give us an idea of what those symptoms were?”
“The staff members showed a slowed response time and slight skin discoloration. One of our floor nurses has been quarantined pending further investigations.”
“Are there any other symptoms?”
“I’m sorry, we’re not able to comment further at this time.”
“Have funeral arrangements been made for the four staff members who died?”
“I’m not at liberty to discuss that at this time. Donations in their honor are being accepted by Harron Medical Center. Thank you very much.”
Harron Medical Center is accepting donations at any of the hospitals reception desks.We’ll keep you posted on the developments of this peculiar story.
I recognize the floor nurse’s picture. It’s the same nurse that asked me why I didn’t use my call button. I recognize the surgeon as well, he was my surgeon. I don’t recognize the other three staff members, and I don’t understand why the report referred to “ a sickness”. What was that supposed to mean? It’s completely unspecific. When did they get sick? How did they get sick? Are other people in the hospital sick? Have I been exposed to something? The “skin discoloration” factor kind of bothers me too. I imagine five blue hospital employees in pink scrubs. The image makes me laugh.
I spend the rest of the day watching cartoons and checking back to see if any new developments are reported. The story doesn’t come up again. I don’t call the hospital, and I don’t go outside. I keep thinking about whether or not I could have caught something at the hospital. Is that why they’re calling me? Do I only have a couple days to live? If that’s the case, I’d really life to know as soon as possible. I wouldn’t want to waste my last day doing chores or renewing my driver’s license. I want information on the news report, and I know how to get it. Onyx has a wide network. A very wide network.
I call Dan.
“Hey, I need you to do me a favor.”
“Well, hello to you too! Where the fuck have you been?”
“I was in the hospital! I called you from there, you said you were going to come by!”
“I did? What day was that?”
“Three days ago.”
“Oh, well I’ll come tomorrow.”
“I’m not in the hospital anymore…listen, I need a favor.”
“You know, you can’t call me and expect me to remember that I am supposed to do things. That’s what email is for. I need a written record of my appointments.”
“Well, sorry, but I thought that my being in the hospital would be something you might remember!”
“Apparently not. Anyway, you aren’t there anymore, so everything is all better?” I tell Dan about the surgery, the biopsy, and my escape. “Oh shit! Yeah, that thing on your throat did look pretty gross. So, you left the hospital, why?”
“Because it fucking sucked. I was bored and they were poking me…”
“And now they’ve left you a message?”
“Yes. Did you see the news report on Harron Medical Center?”
“No,” Dan sighs really loudly, and I realize that his short attention span has neared it’s end.
“Ok well some people are dead, it’s strange, I need you to get some people at Onyx to look into it for me.” I want to tell Dan more, but I know him too well. He’s bored at the moment and probably needs a drink. He’d be more interested in my story if it included topless women and a pogo stick.
“What the hell are you calling me for? You can’t call me for information, I don’t know shit. You need to call management.”
“Are you saying you won’t help me?”
“Listen, Maggie, I’d help you if I could, but if you want any kind of inside information, you’re going to have to call Eric.”
“Alright, I’ll call you later.”
“Okey Dokey Smokey, have a good ‘un.” I hang up the phone. Should I call Eric right now? I mean, I want information, but what if I’m just having some sort of medication induced paranoia attack? I’m actually feeling better than I have in a week. I decide not to call Eric or anyone else at Onyx just yet and get more Pad Thai out of the fridge. As I eat the cold noodles, I take a look at my calendar. If I’m not dying, I’m here for four weeks, then I’m supposed to go to DC and crash some political fundraiser. I’m not in the mood to think about it though, so I leave the dossier unopened in my email.
I get into bed at nine thirty. Right up until I got sick, I was more of a night person. I used to go to bed around two or three in the morning, then head into work around ten or eleven. Onyx doesn’t have to set schedules. Everyone who works for Onyx is working twenty-four hours a day anyway. We’re perpetuating a movement, movements don’t have closing times. Tomorrow I should show up at the office. No one will notice if I don’t, but I’ve decided that I want to talk to Eric face-to-face if I’m going to ask him for a favor.