SPOILERS: Well, none really
DISCLAIMER: PLease don't sue. I own none of this
OPTIONAL INFO: It helps to read "The Stand" by stephen king
SUMMARY: Take the Stand, a book where everyone dies of the flu and
the survivors fight a battle between good and evil...and throw in a hodge
podge of unrational doctors :)
It seemed to be busier than normal. That was the first thing Doug noticed. The second was that everyone who was waiting seemed to be suffering from coughs and sniffles. Wonderful, he thought darkly, I'm doing a ten hour shift on my day off and evidently flu season is starting early. That didn't really surprise him as it had seemed as though business had been picking up over the last few days but it had to have gotten worse for him to get a call to come in. He sidled up to the main counter, noting
uneasily that most of the patients on the board also seemed to be in with respiratory issues. Summer flu was the worst. Well, he decided after a moment, I actually think summer diarrhea would be worse but this still sucks.
He eyed the main board again. Not only did there seem to be a ton of patients, there also seemed to be next to no doctors working. Even better, he thought, no wonder Weaver called me. He'd been surprised that she'd called him, but a look at the board told him that he'd probably been her last resort. He spotted Carter. " Hey Carter, who exactly is working today?"
The young resident smiled, but it was easy to see that he was tired. " There's been a lot of people calling in. Some sort of flu. Dr. Weaver is trying to get in touch with the CDC but they're giving her the run around. " Carter gestured to the board. " I know its your day off, but its crazy here. We're shorthanded, everyone that did show up is either sick or exhausted and the patients are coming in droves. We've got a ton of pedes cases but judging by everyone in chairs, you might want to check the parents, too."
" Why is Kerry calling the CDC?" Doug asked. He let a touch of irritation creep into his voice. " I saw something about this on the news. There's a big type A outbreak down south. We're probably just catching the next wave."
Carter looked around nervously. He gestured for Doug to come closer. In a whisper he said, " There's been over sixteen deaths in the last eight hours just here in the ER. It's just as bad upstairs according to Benton. They're spending more time on codes than on surgery *and* the staff is getting sick and we've all been immunized against type A and B. Mercy and Hope are in the same shape and Mount Sinai closed to trauma because their staff just didn't come in."
" From the flu? " Doug's sense of unease suddenly rose. The younger man nodded. " We're not even counting the ones that we thought were pneumonia related or post operative infection. Dr. Weaver and I have been here for the last twenty
four hours and we haven't had one case that wasn't showing signs of upper respiratory infection." He gestured to the waiting patients that were coughing and grumbling. There were several security guards, also sniffling and coughing. " We had a near riot a few hours ago over the wait. It's lucky none of them feel well enough to get too violent."
Doug shook his head. He'd had the day before off too. There had been a few more than average flu cases but nothing like what Carter was describing. " Well, I guess I better get started. Are we prescribing anything other than fluids and bed rest?"
Carter shook his head. " Tylenol for the fever. The hospital is just about out of beds so only admit critical cases." He seemed to think for a moment. It was a tough call, Doug thought, since the younger man also looked about ready to drop from
exhaustion. He put a hand to his head and gripped the desk. " Listen, I haven't had any sleep in over a day. I'm going to go into the lounge and sleep for an hour or else I'm going to drop."
" Sure thing Carter." Doug could see the logic in that and he decided that if he had his way, he'd let Carter sleep for more than an hour. Carter looked dead on his feet. " What do we have in the way of nursing staff?" He saw a few temps wandering about but only Yosh Takata from the regular staff.
" Haleh called in sick, same with Chuni. " Carter took a deep breath. " Carol came in. She's around here somewhere."
" I see her. Go get some sleep." Doug gently pushed him towards the lounge. Carter was not going to be good for anything until he got some sleep. He grabbed a chart and walked over to Carol. She had just left exam room three and she looked a little more upset than usual.
" Doug, hey." Carol looked as tired as Carter. She coughed into her hand. " You would not believe how busy its been. I've been here for seven hours and the patient load just keeps rising. It's getting scary. There's two women in exam three that just
died, Doug. Of the flu...."
" Died? Older women?" Doug felt another twinge of fear. Influenza, real influenza and not stomach viruses or colds, could kill but it was usually dangerous only to children and the elderly. Carol, unlike Kerry and to a certain extent Carter, was not one to panic and yet he could see real fear in her eyes. He peeked into the room. There were seven patients in there, some lying on portable gurneys. Five were coughing. Two were lying very still and he could see that, when alive, they had been young women, in the prime of life. " The flu isn't supposed to kill people. Did Mark come in?" Mark was always the rational one. He'd have some idea of what exactly was happening.
Carol shook her head. " He came but left. Rachel was running a fever. Listen, I've got to get those patients reported and moved. Then, I'll give you a hand, ok?"
He nodded. They couldn't just let patients lie in the same room with bodies. It just didn't look right for starters.
It was twenty six hours of non stop work before he even got a chance to go looking for anyone. The situation was getting progressively worse. He had seen almost one hundred patients in that time and almost half of them had died. The other half had
left but he didn't hold out much hope for any of them. Even Carol had been looking a bit peeked the last time he'd seen her, which had been almost three hours earlier. " This is insane," he muttered as he walked by several patients that were coughing,
sneezing and otherwise looking like death warmed over as they sat in wheelchairs. He spotted Carter leaning against the soda machine in chairs, banging on it in frustration. Carter also looked like death warmed over but more to the point, he looked a bit shell shocked. " Carter, have you gotten any sleep?"
Carter continued to bang on the soda machine. " I just want a soda dammit! " He was, Doug realized with dawning horror, in utter hysterics. From exhaustion and stress, which was actually a plus since all he truly needed was some sleep. Doug had seen Peter Benton a few hours earlier coughing and hacking. It was not fun to see Carter going nuts but at least some rest would cure him.
" Carter, I'll get you a soda, don't worry." He put a few more quarters in the machine and in seconds was pressing a cold can of soda into Carter's hands. He steered the young man over to one of the few empty wheelchairs and opened the soda for him. " Carter... John... You need to get some rest. I know we're busy but you can't keep working like this... We all need to keep going and you aren't going to be able to help anyone through this if you don't rest. Why don't I get you over to the lounge and you can get a few more hours of sleep."
Carter sipped the soda. His hands shook. " Peter's dead, he died of the flu.... I saw him a few hours ago and now he's dead...." He started to sob. He was shaking uncontrollably from the force of it.
Doug was stunned. Peter had just been coughing. Carol had looked worse and she was still on her feet. Still, it wasn't helping Carter at all. He turned the chair around and almost ran right into Kerry. She looked even more tired than Carter, though it was a tough call. Her eyes were rimmed by black circles and her pale skin looked almost translucent.
" Doug, we're having a staff meeting in five minutes. Gather up everyone you see working. We're meeting in the lounge." She finally seemed to notice Carter's sobbing fit. " Is he sick? Or just exhausted?"
" He's been up for days, Kerry. I think he's having an emotional breakdown. You know, over Peter dying and maybe the fact that this place is starting to resemble a damn morgue." Doug didn't give her the full brunt of his temper simply because he
was too tired to really react. " When did Benton die?"
Kerry looked at Carter and then back at Doug. " He died about an hour ago. His lungs filled with fluid...." She ran a hand through her hair, and for an instant Doug could see sheer fright on her face. It was gone in an instant. " It seemed like he was getting better, but then he crashed. " She glanced down at Carter. " Get him some Haldol and bring him to the lounge, ok? Five minutes...." She limped away, her gait decidedly more lopsided. Doug choked back his anger at the sight of that. She
had been working the same amount of time that Carter had, and certainly hadn't been taking breaks. Stress and exhaustion had been plain on her face, and there had been that flash of fear he'd seen. Not a good sign, he mused. He glanced down at Carter
who was still shaking and sobbing. " Hey Carter, how about we get you some Haldol? Does that sound good?"
The lounge wasn't crowded, but the atmosphere felt thick and oppressive. Almost everyone was coughing. Doug could see beads of sweat dotting the brows or more than a few coworkers, Carol included. She smiled wanly as he pushed Carter in and placed the unconscious young man in the corner. " What's with him? Is he sick?" Her voice was hoarse and she coughed harshly.
Doug tried not to look as worried as he felt. Carol was sick. She needed to be in bed, not running around an overloaded ER filled with sick, dying people. " Young Dr. Carter, " and he tried to laugh but it sounded forced, " is resting after a small round of sedation."
Carol looked at Carter, her expression softening. " I'm glad he's not sick. I feel like crap. Did someone tell him about Peter?"
" It wasn't me, but yes, he knows." She was really sick, Doug realized. He steered her over to the couch. " Listen, once this little meeting is over, why don't we head out? Go to your place?" He wanted her to lie down at least.
She looked at him oddly. " Doug, we can't leave. People are sick. They're dying. We have to help them. Besides, haven't you seen the news? "
" Doug, there's a massive riot on the west side. I don't think we could get through to my place." Carol coughed again.
" Carol, you need to get some rest." He didn't want to force her to leave, but she wasn't looking good. She was looking damn sick to tell the truth. He could see the dark triangular smudges that were the most noticeable symptom of what the media had jokingly called "Captain Trips" and "superflu". Though on the surface, he kept calm, inside his mind started to race with images of all the possibilities. He hadn't seen one patient that had gotten better. Some of them seemed to get better, but he'd
seen that in a number of patients. There was a brief period where the patient responded to whatever treatment was offered, but it always seemed to end in a downward spiral into death. His fear raced into overdrive. I've got to get her out of here, he thought as he took a seat beside her. I don't care what this meeting is
about. We're leaving as soon as we can sneak out the door.
He kept his thoughts to himself as Weaver limped into the room. She took in the small assembly in a glance and looked down at her clipboard as she trudged over to a place by the window. The sun was just starting to set and the waning light made the
dark circles under her eyes look even blacker. Her labcoat had a splash of fresh blood on it that hadn't been there before, and like everyone else, her scrubs looked wrinkled and worn. She leaned heavily on her crutch and Doug could see her knuckles turning white.
" Listen up," she said with just a touch of her usual stridency. " There's a battalion of Michigan National Guardsmen enroute to this hospital. They're coming to assist with security and... and with corpse disposal. They should be here in about an hour according to the captain I spoke with." She hesitated, and looked at the group. " Martial law has been declared in the city of Chicago. Medical personnel are to consider themselves called up for active duty." There was muttered grumbling at that, which she waived aside. " Let me finish. They plan on checking personnel files to get the staff in, but our records have mysteriously found their way into the incinerator. If anyone wants to leave, check on family, go home... Now's the time. I won't say that we don't need you to stay, but considering... considering the situation, I can't ask you to stay. No one will think any less of you if you decide to leave and it certainly won't be held against you when the situation normalizes. Just tell me when you leave so I can keep track of the workload." She paused again. " And make your decision soon. There's been some news reports from Los Angeles and the south.... If you're here
when this battalion arrives, you may not be allowed to leave."
Again there was some muttering. He gave Kerry credit. It was easier to simply let people leave and her guilt trip guaranteed that there'd be some staff left till the bitter end. Not Carol though. He fully planned on dragging her out as soon as the meeting ended. Kerry's little speech had just cleared his conscience on that point.
Weaver tapped her clipboard. " The morgue is full. We're also out of death kits. I've been assured that the National Guard will be assisting with disposal. Primarily that will be burial at sea in Lake Michigan. We're out of body bags. Ms. Knight went to the grocery store down the street and bought out the industrial trash bag supply so we'll be using those for the deceased. If you have a patient die, don't keep them here. Get them out to the ambulance bay. The army will move them to the designated burial
sites. Lucy, I want you to take the temp nurses, and Randi and go through the patients that are waiting. Check for pulses. If they're dead, find some id and fill out a tag. Then get the body bagged and out into the ambulance bay. Carol, Jerry's already gone home. I want you to watch the main desk. Everyone else, keep seeing patients. Any questions?"
Lucy raised her hand slowly. She looked tired, Doug could see that plainly, but she didn't seem to be actively sick. " Dr. Weaver, if we stack the bodies in the ambulance bay, well... what about the ambulances?"
" Most of the ambulances aren't responding due to the riots. I understand that a number of rigs have been abandoned." Kerry shrugged. " I wouldn't worry about it."
" And what's the army going to move the bodies with?" That was from Jeanie.
For a second, Doug thought he saw Weaver cringe. " I understand... that they'll be using garbage trucks." Her voice cracked. " Any other questions?" She waited for a moment. " Then let's get back to work. "
Carol shook off his arm and followed the others as they trailed out. He didn't mind. It seemed more than a little tacky to head right for the exit even with tacit approval. He suspected that there would be a number of people leaving as soon as they worked up the courage to abandon their jobs. He didn't think it would take much. He personally did not relish the idea of watching garbage trucks get loaded with corpses.
As he started to follow the crowd, he caught Kerry's eye. " Doug, " she said softly, " Would you wait a moment? I want to talk to you."
Oh joy, he thought. It was going to be a plea for him to stay, he knew it. The answer was no, no matter what she said. He was taking Carol with him. He steeled himself for the upcoming row.
She waited until everyone had filed out to slowly lower herself into one of the wooden chairs. She leaned back and carefully set her crutch aside. " How much Haldol did you give Carter?" Her words were strained by exhaustion.
" About 10mgs. He'll sleep for a few hours. You might want to consider getting some sleep yourself. You won't be any good to anyone if you don't rest." He surprised himself by saying that, but it was true. She was tough, he'd always given her credit for that, but no one could work nonstop the way she'd been doing.
" I'll be fine." She leaned over the table. He could see that she was almost trembling from anxiety. She took a deep breath." I need a favor. Mark called about an hour ago. Rachel is... Rachel is pretty sick. I told him I'd send someone over with some supplies. I think you should go check on him. Take Carol with you. "
It was probably the last thing he expected. A plea to stay, a riot act recitation of duty and responsibility, a tirade of anger perhaps. Not a soft, hesitant request for a favor that she knew he'd do. " I will, " he said after a moment, " but I won't come back. Not unless the situation normalizes."
She chuckled. For a moment, her facade of control collapsed. She slumped in the chair. Doug could see the defeat and horror in her face. Unbidden, his thoughts turned to Carol, and her cough and the sudden awareness that *no one* was getting better. Kerry looked up at him, her eyes filled with despair. " Doug, the situation isn't going to normalize." Her hands started to shake. " When I lived in Africa.... I saw an ebola outbreak. I thought... I thought I'd never see anything that awful again. I had nightmares about it." She took a deep shuddering breath. " This is worse...."
He felt his own hands start to shake and forced the rising panic in his heart down. Kerry was admitting defeat in the face of the epidemic and that scared him. Somehow that scared him far more than the notion of Lucy Knight stuffing a corpse into a
Hefty sack and putting it out on the curb for pick up. " The news said there was a vaccine... It's just the flu. People don't die of the flu, Kerry..." Even to himself, he sounded a little hysterical.
" Don't you get it, Doug?" Kerry's voice took on a trace of its normal stridency. " This *used* to be the flu. Some idiot immunologist read about the 1918 epidemic and decided to see if he could go one better. It's as if someone took all the properties of flu that kill, enhanced them and then crossed it with AIDS. Then it got out of their damn plague jar and we're all going to die!" Her face was red from shouting but after a moment, the color seemed to drain out of her face. " I'm sorry... You'll check on Mark?"
He nodded. " Why don't you come with me? If all of this is pointless... Why do you even care what I do? You knew I'd check on Mark and you know I was going to leave."
She sighed heavily. " I'm beginning to think there might be some immune people out there. You're not sick, I'm not... Carter..." She clenched her hands into fists subconsciously. " My dad called about a week ago. He and my mother were both sick... with the flu. They wanted me to drive up for a few days but I was busy, and its a five hour drive and it was pretty busy here..." She slowly rose out of the chair. " They aren't answering their phone. Neither are their neighbors. " She looked at him, her eyes seeming to bore holes into him. " Get Carol out of here. Tell her whatever it is that you haven't been able to bring yourself to say, because you might not get another chance. You don't want to be regretting something for the rest of your life...Just get out of here."
He started towards the door but turned back. " Why are you staying?"
She shrugged. " Someone, " she said as she limped forward, " has to keep things going. Someone has to be here... to see things through. To take care of things."
" And after that?"
" You can look me up. I'll be here until there's no one who needs a doctor. " She gestured to Carter's sleeping form, smiling slightly. " He'll be here too."
" All right..." Part of him felt guilty but that was overridden by his overwhelming fear. Still, she was letting him off the hook by telling him to go. He owed her something. " I'll be back... when things are settled." As he said it, he knew it was a promise he would keep.