.gif image from Creative Commons, Amy Knepper
October 16, 2014, 9:56PM:
Charlie’s phone crackled. “Whattaya got, Charlie?”
Charlie pressed the intercom button. “Riley, we have an unknown White Male, early fifties, unconscious, reeking of alcohol, apparently homeless. Some do-gooder called it in and the cops found him laying in a pile of cardboard and dirty blankets. He’s vomited on himself and is running a slight fever. He’s also diarrhetic. Vital signs are BP 90 over 60, pulse fast and thready, acidosis breath, breathing shallow. If I had to guess, this guy’s got the flu besides being totally shit faced. We’re gonna bring him in for a few days R and R, courtesy of Cook County.”
“Any kind of ID on this guy?”
“That’s an unknown. No ID, nothing that tells us anything, except what he’s wearing; dirty jeans, blue shirt and a necklace with a white shark tooth on it. He doesn’t even have shoes.”
“All right, take him directly to Chicago Memorial. They take homeless there.”
“10-4. Over and out.”
“Let’s go Van. Help me load him up. I’ve got class tonight and I can’t miss it.”
As Van drove away, Charlie kept talking. “I gotta date with Jenny after class. I’m serious about marrying her. Her entire family is coming in from out of town in thee weeks for her brother’s wedding. All eight brothers and sisters and their families. I’m gonna pop the question then, right in front of everybody at the rehearsal dinner.”
As the ambulance pulled out of sight, the cardboard and blankets were already being distributed between the other homeless living along the Chicago River.
October 17th, 2014, 8:48AM:
“Any change, nurse?”
“No, doctor. His BP has fluctuated, but other than the nausea, and the fact his breathing is labored, he seems to be holding his own. The diarrhea has settled down, but is still prevalent. We’ve changed his linen so many times we’re going to get hate mail from the laundry.”
“He’s beginning to worry me. Whatever this is, is moving too fast. Move him to Critical Care. I want a nurse on him 24 hours. 1/4 grain of morphine p.r.n., not to exceed every four hours for abdominal pain.”
“Write the order, Doctor.”
“Of course, it’s not like we’re in a third world country. He’s entitled to the best care he can get.”
October 18th, 2014, 2:01 PM:
“In the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen” The priest kissed his cloth and touched the man’s forehead with it, then kissed his cloth again.
“Thank you, Father, I’m sure his family will appreciate the fact he had last rites.”
“Quite all right, Sister. Now, I’ve got to run. I have communion to serve at Holy Mary’s late mass. 300 parishioners are depending on me.”
October 18th, 2014, 2:15PM:
“Your call, Pete.” Zandy Mayer, Resident MD nodded toward his intern. “It’s time you played doctor for real.”
Sounding very professional, Peter Nordstrom called his first death. “Time of death: 2:15PM, October 18th, 2014. Cause: Pulmonary embolism, caused by Influenza.”
“Are you comfortable with your diagnosis and your call?”
“Every test we’ve run has indicated Influenza. I’ve ruled out gastroenteritis. Tests for E-Coli were negative, and without that, the suddenness of this leads me to believe his lungs couldn’t handle the pneumonia that developed and x-rays confirm pneumonia. What else could it be?”
“I think you’ve pretty much covered all the bases. It’s not like he’s got some exotic disease we need to test for. He won’t even have an autopsy, since there’s no sigh of foul play. We have to be careful with the taxpayer’s money. They’re the ones paying for this.”
“Did we ever find out anything about him?”
“No, and that’s a shame. Now, he’ll just be an unknown person held in the cold box until they find a next of kin, or bury him as a John Doe. That’ll probably take a month or longer.”
“Are you teaching tonight at the University?”
“That’s an affirmative. Every Tuesday. All those lucky college students. Getting the best Zandy Mayer has to offer. Not quite three weeks left with a big graduation ceremony and I get to be the keynote speaker. All those students and beautiful young coeds to mingle with. Eat your heart out Pete.”
“Have fun. I’ve got patients to attend to. I’ll be thinking about you as I work through the night. I actually have a few days off in three weeks, and I’m thinking of spending it at Six Flags with the kids.”
“Don’t you hate being in all those crowds?”
“Yeah, but the kids love it.”
“Nurse, let’s get this wrapped up and have someone clean this room up. We don’t have enough beds as it is.”
October 18, 2014, 3:17PM:
Orderly Javier Lopez took the linens, wastebaskets and all other debris from Room 217, last home of John Doe. He packed everything into the bins, took them to the laundry, then punched his time clock and checked out. He went home and packed up his family for their trip to Mexico City to visit his parents. They had an 8:00PM flight, and then, after a few weeks there, they were going to come home. Well, two of the kids were; one was leaving for Brazil to finish his studies, and one was flying on to Europe for a month roaming the countryside.
Nelson Ramirez, Chief Attendant, picked up the phone. “Ramirez, City Morgue.”
“Hi Nelson, it’s Womack. You still got that John Doe?”
“Yeah Womack. I was the lucky guy that bagged him in. Do you have something? Make it quick. I ain’t feeling so good. Got some kind of bug.”
“Did he own a shark tooth necklace?”
“Let me look in his effects…just a minute…I’ve got them right here,,,pair of jeans, a blue shirt and…Well, I’ll be damned; a shark tooth necklace.”
“I’ve got a line on this guy. A man who says he’s looking for his brother. The description fits your John Doe.”
“Send him over.”
“Can’t. He’s calling from Liberia. Says his brother took off a month ago to visit relatives and the relatives say he never got there.”
“Liberia, huh? Wouldn’t it be a bitch if this guy died from Ebola?” As he said it, Nelson’s hand started to shake. “Jesus Christ!” He almost dropped the phone. Everything caught up with him at once. He leaned over and puked into a waste can nearby. Then, he sat down, as weakness spreading throughout his body.
“Nelson, are you OK?”
“No, Willie, I’m not. Tell David to get a hazmat team over here. Stat. This is serious.”
“I’m not sure, but this might be the night Chicago dies. Jesus. Tell him to hurry.” He disconnected. Diarrhea set in and started to run down his leg. ‘I wonder how long it takes before the bleeding starts,’ he thought.
Michelle McGill-Vargas says
Given world events this is a creepy story. I didn’t thnk it would go the Ebola route. Thought it was a piece about compassion for the sick and homeless. But then again I guess it could still be.
Thank you Michelle. This story is an elongated version of a ‘flash fiction’ piece I wrote recently for another forum. My intention was to freak people out, and I’m glad you didn’t see the connection to Ebola until you did. That gave it more impact, I think. Glad you liked it.
This was awesome! And totally creepy. In fact, given recent events, it freaked me out a bit. But as soon as I began reading I suspected the final outcome. Still, I couldn’t stop. Very well written.
Thank you so much for your comments, and I enjoyed writing this piece, even though it does have such a dire ending. I did leave room for hope, however, even though I sent people to Brazil, Mexico City and Europe who should be highly contagious just about the time they step on the plane, but are coming from places that won’t necessarily be screened. (By leaving room for hope, Nelson Ramirez recognized what was happening and started affirmative action – far better than continuing to think he only had the flu.)
My wife felt it was predictable, but others have not seen it coming. I really wondered how I could misdirect everyone, but really, in the long run decided to let it write itself and, to that extent, think I succeeded.
I was trying to point out how effective the disease is in procreating and spreading itself. You see, the disease (as an entity) doesn’t argue with itself over the action that it takes, unlike those of us who are treating the disease. Or trying to. Why hasn’t the world responded to this in a manner that would shut it down in it’s tracks. Why haven’t the pharmaceutical companies made more medicine and worked harder on a vaccine? Why aren’t governments working feverishly on this? The answer is really quite simple. Follow the money.
That’s what freaks me out. Possibly the worst outcome regarding disease since the Black Plague, and everyone is worried about protocol. By the time they get the barn door shut, all the horses may be gone.