The Patient – A Short Story

The Patient

By Angela Meadon

 

 

The room is glaring bright. Noon-white sunlight pours in through the windows and sears the eyes of the only patient in the ward. The ceiling is a harsh green-white, divided into neat rectangles. A steel railing suspends a blue curtain partway around his bed. The light is so bright that it causes purple-blue halos in his eyes around all the surfaces he can see, as though he had been staring directly at the sun and then looked away. He tries to close his eyes against the assault but he can’t block the glare. He tries to lift his right arm to cover his eyes but it does not respond either. Am I paralyzed?  The patient wonders, injured so badly that I can’t blink? He tries to wiggle his toes but can’t feel whether or not they’re moving.

A constant, high-pitched ringing fills his ears. It seems to be coming from all around him and his head burns and stings on the inside, as though some prankster had poured itching chili powder into his skull. Hot tendrils of pain push their way into all the recesses of his brain. He tries to think back to what happened before he woke up but he can’t remember anything except the pain in his head and the ceiling above him. He tries to remember his name…nothing comes to mind.

He searches his thoughts in an effort to recall his date of birth, his occupation, does he have children… his mind seems completely empty, a quiet void; he can remember nothing from before he woke up. At this moment his entire world consists of the rectangle cut ceiling and the curtain rail. Swiveling his eyes in their sockets as far as they can go he can make out the shadowy bulk of some kind of machine on his left, with thin white wires running out of it and towards his body, on the right a glint of light betrays the drip stand suspending an almost empty bag of some clear fluid, as well as a bottle with some yellowish liquid within it. Two clear tubes run from these and down towards where his right arm must be. Looking to the foot of the bed the man can see a blue painted door.

The blue door opens and a tall woman enters the room followed by a shorter and much younger woman pushing a cart in front of her. The tall woman speaks, she has a warm voice and although she speaks softly she carries an air of authority.

“Right, let’s get Mr. Fields cleaned up” she says to the other nurse, “we will start by getting his gown off. Sally, go around to the right and when I roll him towards me, untie the ribbons on the gown.”

“Yes, sister Tessa” Sally replies.

My name is ‘Fields’. The patient tries to greet the nurses but he can’t talk. He knows the words he wants to say, but he can’t seem to get them out. Suddenly his whole world shifts and he finds himself being rolled onto his left side. There is a large window on the left wall, the blue curtains are open and the sunlight is streaming in. Beyond the window Fields can see the top of some kind of leafy tree, an oak perhaps. Fields shifts his focus to the inside of the ward; he notices that there must have been a lot of activity around his bed recently. There are syringe caps and empty vials on the bedside table, cotton swabs and paper wrappers are strewn across the floor and a defibrillator stands to one side. No wonder I feel like shit he thinks to himself as he is rolled rather roughly onto his back again. Fields watches silently as the young nurse gingerly removes his gown and he tries to apologize when he sees the dark stain which caused her trepidation.

“I don’t think I’ll ever get used to this” she says as she crams the soiled gown into a yellow plastic bag.

“It took me at least three years, now I get the new girls to do it” her colleague replies with a wicked smile.

“You are terrible!” Sally squeals in horror.

“You don’t know the half of it. Now start removing the bandages on his arm over there.”

The patient watches from his immobile vantage point as his right arm is lifted into view, a blood stained bandage covered most of his hand and was wound clumsily all the way up to his elbow. Sally started to unwind the dirty gauze while Tessa worked close to Fields’ face, at first he could not tell what she was doing, she was clearly pulling at something on his chest but he could feel nothing. Only when he caught sight of the thin white wires attached to small blue and white pads did he realize that she was removing the sensors for the large machine next to his bed.

“You won’t need the heart monitor anymore Mr. Fields” she said in her soothing voice. She looked straight at his face. She paused for a moment considering his eyes, shook her head gently as if to clear some strange thought. Placing her left hand on his chin she slowly pulled a clear plastic tube as wide as her pinky finger and as long as her forearm from Fields’ mouth with her right hand. She handed it to Sally who put it in a cardboard box labelled “Medical Waste” which was on her trolley. The bandages soon followed the tube, as did the vials and caps from the bedside table and the bottle and bag from the drip stand.

Sally lifted a large white bowl from the trolley and placed it on the bed between the patient’s legs. Each nurse reached into the bowl and after a little splashing withdrew a purple sponge.

“Heads or tails?” Sister Teresa asked.

“Ummm… I’ll start with his feet” replied Sally.

The two women started carefully washing Fields’ body. This is a dream come true, too bad I can’t enjoy it. Fields thought to himself. Why don’t I feel any of this? I wake up in a hospital bed; I have no recollection of anything which happened to me before this. Not just a blank spot or two, my mind is completely empty. I can’t move or even feel my body, I can’t talk, and I can’t even BLINK! And all the mess around me, the papers and bottles and tubes and the heart monitor…

Oh my God! “The heart monitor which I won’t need anymore”. Oh Fuck! Am I Dead? I’m fucking dead! But if I’m dead, why am I aware of what is happening? Why can I see these two nurses washing my body?

Fields’ rising panic blossoms as his view lurches and Nurse Sally lets out a piercing scream. A loud clanging rattling noise indicates that the trolley has been knocked over. Fields tries to look towards Sally to see what is making her scream so terribly, but his gaze is drawn inexorably to his left. As he watches his point of view rising he sees Sister Teresa’s ashen face come into view. All the blood has drained from her skin and she is frantically trying to pry something from her right wrist. She lashes out with her left hand and Fields’ view wobbles. She punched me, he thinks to himself.

A new sound burrows its way into Fields’ head, through the ever present ringing and Sally’s hysterical screaming; a low rumbling moan. Teresa looks into Fields’ eyes, still trying desperately to break free of his grasp. Fields watches in frozen terror as his arm pulls her close to him, so close that he can hear her ragged breathing and her heart pounding in her chest as she stares fixedly into his eyes. Then he lurches forward again, her neck and shoulder are no more than a few centimeters away from his face now. He can see the fine hairs at the back of her neck, the sheen of sweat which has broken out on her skin and is just starting to trickle towards her collar bone. Most of all he can see her pulse beating in her jugular, a rhythmic pulsation which looks like a tiny bean jumping under her skin. She is alive and she screams loud and long, a terrible pain filled scream which drowns out Sally’s shocked whimpers in the corner. She falls to the floor, released from Fields’ grip, her hand is pressed firmly to her neck but bright red blood pours in a torrent from the gaping wound left a moment ago by the patient’s teeth. Sally is quiet in the corner and Teresa is slumped in a spreading pool of blood. The patient stands on unsteady legs and lurches forward; his feet drag slick tracks of rapidly cooling blood across the floor as he makes his way towards the door.

***

This story was first published in Rotting Tales, a zombie anthology by Pill Hill Press.

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