As Promised… Chapter 2!
The vehicle shook violently. A faint whistle, like a hot tea kettle on a stove, grew louder with each passing second. Valerie opened her eyes just as a plane glided low over the street and crashed into a field she knew was just out of sight. She felt the impact in her chest. One after another, more aircrafts went down. Some she could see, and others were mere ground shaking rumbles in the distance. With every explosion, she jumped a little but remained transfixed on the destruction outside her small compartment.
Frozen, Valerie was helpless. Horrified. Her stomach ached knowing how many people could fit on a plane. She waited for the sick feeling to pass before assessing her own wellness. From the looks of things, her plan had worked. Though the airbag had deployed, she had no pain and would have guessed the accident was minor. The state of her car hood told a different story. The small mile marker appeared to have cut nearly halfway up the front end of her sedan.
She turned off her emotions to keep herself together and noticed other wrecked vehicles. Some were worse than others. Knowing those people might need medical assistance, she counted to herself. After exactly one minute without hearing or seeing another crash, Valerie pushed as hard as she could on her seat belt, but it did not budge. Unhooking the rescue tool from her keychain, she made easy work of her restraints.
Something horrible was going on. Regardless if it was just in the immediate area or broader spread, Valerie was obligated to render aid to those who needed it. Though her car would offer a slight barrier from debris, she determined if a plane landed on top of her, there was no kind of shelter that would stop it from killing her. This measurement she did not take lightly. Her mom had been killed just outside her vehicle the year before, helping others in a snowstorm.
Once free, Valerie shouldered her bag and assessed the scene. There had not been any impacts for a few minutes. Passersby worked together to assist people who were in similar situations as herself.
“I’m a nurse. Is anyone injured?” she called out as far as her voice would carry.
“No, ma’am,” a few soldiers hollered back.
“There is a small ER on the top of this hill. You can send casualties there. The next closest hospital is General.”
Once her instructions were met with affirmation, she began the short walk to the facility. She came upon a mother crying and holding a baby to her chest while a little girl and a slightly older boy clung to each leg.
“Are you okay?” Valerie’s heart was crushed. She could not imagine having her son with her in this mess.
“I don’t know. I’m fine, and they were in their car seats, but she won’t stop crying.” The woman held her baby up for Valerie to see.
“Come with me. There’s an emergency room at the top of this hill. She’s probably just scared, Mama.” Valerie took the child and cradled her against her chest. The baby quieted immediately. She looked down at the little girl who returned her gaze and cooed.
“Oh, she’s super cute.” Valerie smiled at the woman. “I think she’s just fine. Come on.”
The woman picked up the middle child and held the oldest by his hand, and they followed Valerie. She kept her emotions at bay. She made small talk about their names and where they were from because, in a military town, few are actually from there.
Valerie turned into the parking lot of the emergency room, still holding the baby who played with the zipper from the shoulder strap of Valerie’s bag.
The facility had once been an old movie rental store converted into a seven-bed emergency room with Xray, lab, and CT scan capabilities. Stand-alone emergency rooms were a new concept in the area, andmost of the community was skeptical of the novelty.
The ER shared the parking lot with a chain drugstore, which people were running into empty-handed with just as many coming out with their hands full of random merchandise—looting, no doubt. Chaos had erupted in the strip mall across the four-lane intersection. People were screaming and running frantically. Valerie quickly shuffled the mother and children into the emergency room waiting room, which was surprisingly empty.
“I’m Valerie. I’m covering for Shawna today,” she announced to the grey-haired lady at the front desk.
The woman said nothing but stared at Valerie and pushed a button to activate the door from the waiting room to the nurse’s station. The night shift nurse and a tall Hispanic gentleman who popped his tongue and waved his wrist around while checking equipment were the only people she saw in the facility.
“Where’s the doctor?” Valerie demanded. She did not have time for pleasant small talk. They would start receiving casualties any minute.
“I didn’t know there was a student on shift today,” the night shift nurse said at Valerie but to no one in particular.
In the midst of everything, Valerie completely forgot about her age regression. She no longer looked like a seasoned emergency room nurse, but a young college girl without the required experience to work for the company. Valerie knew the events of the day would catch up to her emotionally, but now was not the time to think of all the things that could have gone wrong. She had a job to do and lives to save. This fellow medical professional would, hopefully, share the same ethic.
“I normally work in Denver; I’m just filling in for Shawna.” Valerie was not offended. She did not have time to be.
“Well, are you going to do this medication count or not?”
“You’re not leaving,” Valerie informed her counterpart. “There are planes down and car accidents. We need to start prepping to receive patients.”
“Are you even old enough to work here?” the woman challenged.
Valerie could no longer mask her frustration. “What is wrong with you?” Valerie yelled. She took a breath and coaxed her emotions back under control. She clenched her teeth. “I’ve been an ER nurse for thirteen years. I am thirty-five years old and fully qualified to do this job. Now, are you done interrogating me? Because I’m sure your job is not human resources. There is a mass casualty situation right outside the front doors of this place.”
“I just can’t handle this. Not today,” the nurse said to the ceiling and let herself out the back doors where the ambulance was parked.
“You’ve got to be kidding me!” Valerie threw her hands in the air. A ball knotted itself in her throat, and her heart raced. She wanted to follow the woman out the door and drive home. Any other logical human in any other field of work would be doing just that. Besides, the facility was not meant to support an emergency of this magnitude. She thought about the twelve planes, the car accidents, the static that shot from her hands.
“Umm, Ms. Valerie,” the older woman said with a shaky voice. “We’ve received an e-message from the main hospital outlining the disaster plan for our facility.”
Valerie followed the woman to her desk that sat in front of a window to the waiting room.
“I’ll have you back in just a second. Are you doing okay?” Valerie called out to the waiting woman.
The mother nodded and smiled.
Valerie took a seat at the desk. The receptionist walked out to the lobby to have the woman fill out some paperwork to have her children seen. The radiology technician sat with his back to Valerie at another computer, headphones on and pounding his keyboard fast and dutifully.
The office where the doctor worked remained closed. The separation aggravated Valerie to a point almost unbearable. All she could think about was opening the door. She was uncomfortable not knowing if there was even a physician in the building since she had met neither the night shift nor the day shift doctors. She stood up to knock on the door but sat back down. There was something wrong. Like when Scott first brought her transformation to her attention. With a deep breath, she willed her raging thoughts to stop. He needed to be out here, to know what exactly was happening outside the door. But there was something else making her want to tear down the door. Valerie was not usually a nervous person. In fact, there were few who were as calm as she was under pressure, but still. She had a feeling deep down that the worst had not come. Something else was not right. Even the atmosphere in the facility kept the hair on her arms standing up. No one else seemed to notice the lack of patients or the absence of the physician.
Valerie tapped her fingers on the desk in front of her, trying to still her nerves. She needed to calm down and read through her next instructions before knocking on the door. That way, she could map out the plan before demanding action. She rubbed her face with both hands and reached out to the computer in front of her to scroll down the page to see the full message. When her fingers touched the keyboard, sparks flew to the device, cracking and melting the plastic frame. The electricity surged from the keyboard to the screen, shattering the glass as well. Valerie pushed her chair back away from the machine and stood up. The tech did the same, throwing his headphones at his computer. The electricity fizzled out at the wire connected to the wall.
“What the hell did you do?” he shrieked.
“Oh dear,” the receptionist said, rushing back to the desk.
The doctor’s office opened, much to Valerie’s relief. Destroying hospital property was not the first impression she wanted to make, but at least there was a physician in the building. The door did not open all the way at first but swung back and forth a couple of times before a tall man in a white physician coat walked out. After only a few steps he stopped, turned, and walked back into the office and shut the door.
The moment it closed again was when Valerie finally lost her cool. She needed that man, in any capacity to be in the room with her. But if no one else was going to take charge, she would.
“I am sorry I didn’t catch your name,” Valerie asked the receptionist.
“Oh, it’s Betty. And don’t you mind Roy, here.” Betty motioned to the technician as if she were swatting a fly. “He just comes off rude, but he’s nice. We are used to having different staff every day. We can’t even keep the same rotating doctors. I have not even heard of the one that is on today.”
Valerie sensed the irritation in Betty’s voice when referring to the doctor who was hiding out in his office.
“Your computer exploded,” Valerie said plainly, unable to explain exactly what occurred. “Has this ever happened before?” She knew without a doubt she had caused the malfunction. She felt the energy surge down her arms and release from the tips of her fingers into the machine. There had been nothing wrong with the computer before she touched the keyboard but found the idea hard to express to the strangers staring at her in alarm.
“I’d call in a ticket, but everything else kind of blew up, too, before you got here,” Betty said. “Most of the lights anyway. I can start cleaning up the glass, I guess.”
As if on cue, the doctor opened the door again. Finally getting a good look at him, there was no chance the young man in the white lab coat was an experienced emergency room physician. He ignored the receptionist and the technician and stared straight at Valerie.
Like an invisible string tied between them, something inside Valerie drew her to him. He was handsome enough but possibly ten years younger than her.
“There is no way you’re a doctor,” the words left her mouth before she even considered her own appearance.
“I don’t have time for this,” he said, breaking eye contact but staying in the office doorway.
“For what? Armageddon happening outside? Jesus Christ,” Valerie said, louder than she intended, but it matched the doctor’s reaction.
“What’s that smell?”
“The computer blew up,” Valerie answered. “I’m not sure what happened. I don’t usually work here.”
She wanted to question him, yell at him even, but there was something familiar about him.
“I wrecked my car about a half mile down the road,” Valerie explained. “There were maybe three other accidents I saw on the way. There is a woman in the lobby with her kids. Their car wrecked but they all seem fine.”
The doctor moved closer to her. He was tall enough to have no problem seeing past her into the lobby.
“Planes went down,” he said low more to himself. “There are no other injured?” the doctor asked, standing close and looking down at her. His voice finally reflected true concern.
“None that I encountered on the way, but it’s only been a few minutes.”
The doctor stood close enough Valerie could feel the warmth of his body. Instead of being uncomfortable, she wanted him closer. She caught her breath and blushed, which triggered her anger. People were dying outside, and she could not fight her infatuation.
It took her a moment to realize he was no longer looking at her but out the window toward the parking lot. Turning, she saw people coming from all directions. The crowd grew to two hundred people in a matter of minutes. Only some of them had visible injuries. Valerie turned and moved past the doctor, careful not to touch him, though she wanted to.
“What are you doing?” he asked her.
Valerie picked up the phone receiver, held the plastic device to her head for a second, and then slammed the handset down. She clenched her teeth and slammed three more times, knowing well her aggression would not create a dial tone.
“I was calling 911. We can’t handle more than five injured people, and only one if they are critical. We are going to run out of supplies within the hour. This facility is not designed to handle major disasters. There is glass everywhere, and I imagine the limited equipment we do have is broken as well.” Valerie looked at the technician who gave an affirmative nod.
She was aware a doctor would know the capabilities of the emergency room, but she still was not convinced of his credentials. She was also trying to remain objective, to keep her emotions from taking over.
“I’m sorry. You are?” he asked in a genuine tone.
“Valerie Russell. I’m the nurse on shift.”
He raised an eyebrow at her and looked her over before extending his hand slowly. “I am Doctor Wilkes. August Wilkes.” He held her hand a few seconds too long. Or she held his too long; she really could not say.
He finally broke contact and continued, “From the looks of things, this isn’t going to be over for a while. No doubt the phone lines and cell towers were taken out. At this point, until we do run out of supplies, we are 911. Start prepping rooms.” August directed his instructions to Valerie, Roy, and poor Betty, who was trying to control her hyperventilation.
“If they are all walking, they can’t be that sick.” He said facing the window again before delving out additional orders to the team. “Valerie, stop them outside. If they are uninjured, not in active labor, and are otherwise well, send them home. I will help triage as much as we can until something more serious comes. Exercise your best judgment as I might not be available to give recommendations. Are you comfortable with that?”
Valerie laughed at the question but remembered she looked like she just graduated nursing school. Heshowed little faith in her judgment, but in the moment, no one had a choice in the matter. “Triage the walking wounded and send them home if they are well enough. Got it,” she answered, hoping he would dismiss her.
“Betty, help Roy. Split the patients up as they come in. Take vitals and collect their medical history. It is easy; Roy can show you how. Just get a basic idea of what’s wrong with them and document it, okay?”
August did not wait for her to answer. He grabbed his stethoscope, a pen, and notepad, and met Valerie before she walked out the door.
“If paramedics are on scene at the crash sites, they are going to shuttle people to the main hospitals. We are probably only going to get walking wounded.” August fell silent for a few steps before letting out a small laugh. “Would it be weird to say this isn’t the most bizarre thing that’s happened to me today?” Valerie’s heart raced as he went on. “I have felt strange all day like there was static in the air. The sensation went away when the light bulbs exploded in the building as soon as I walked in. And this morning when I woke up. . .” He trailed off again.
Valerie had not noticed until he mentioned the change, but she no longer felt shaky or anxious. She felt grounded, powerful even. Her mind was focused.
They walked in step with one another out the front door of the emergency room to meet the crowd. A mass of people gathered in the parking lot. They did not appear to have any severe injuries, just walking wounded as August had predicted. Most of them had no visible injuries; even more so, they were in excellent health.
“Please raise your hand if you are a patient,” Valerie asked loud enough for the crowd to hear her.
About one-third of the group raised their hands. She assumed the others were family members or bystanders assisting the wounded.
“Is anyone having chest pain or difficulty breathing?”
All the hands went down. “Alright, if you are bleeding or have an open wound please step to my right, your left. Everyone else, please line up in the parking spaces on your right.” The crowd parted, and the questions started. Valerie did her best to address their concerns while August examined the injured.
Most had similar experiences: they passed out, fell, hit their head. They described what Valerie had encountered in her car before she wrecked. After she had gotten the same story a third time, August called her over.
“Head inside and send Betty out here. Explain how to triage. I am going to start sending folks back for bandages. They don’t all need rooms; you can patch some up in the waiting room. Send them home when you finish. No X-rays, no labs. They aren’t sick. They are hurt. Motrin, ice, et cetera.”
Valerie tried not to roll her eyes at the doctor for explaining first aid to her. She took the eleven patients he identified as needing bandages and led them inside. Four she brought back to Roy to get cleaned up and the rest she sat in the waiting room while she gathered supplies to work from there.
Valerie stopped and knelt down by the woman who was still waiting with her kids. “How are you feeling?” she asked, touching each child on the head and looked them in the eyes. None of them seemed to be in any distress.
“I’m just concerned. These two said that they both fell asleep in the car. I think I might have passed out, too. None of us even remember the impact.”
Something stirred within Valerie. Like butterflies, but not how she had felt earlier in the morning. She felt connected, in a way, to the family in front of her.
“I understand this is all scary. Do you feel okay monitoring them at home for the time being? How far are you from where you live?”
“Not far. I mean, I feel fine, and they seem okay. Does anyone know what happened? Were we attacked?”
“I haven’t heard anything definitive. I have to go now and take care of these patients. Please call us if you have any concerns, alright?”
The woman was out of the door before Valerie remembered none of the phones worked. She had a feeling deep down that they were okay, but she hated relying on those feelings when it came to medicine. Being wrong was never worth taking the chance, but there was very little she could have done differently.
“Betty, Dr. Wilkes needs you outside. If they are bleeding or have something broken, they go on the right. If they have anything minor, they wait on the other side of the parking lot. When I send one patient out, you send the next one in. You are doing a great job. You can do this.” Valerie hugged the woman before sending her out the front door.
“Oh, my garsh. Oh, my garsh. I can’t believe this is happening. What is going on?” Betty muttered as she scooted her feet out the front door.
Valerie collected various medical supplies into a bucket. She paused for a moment, and for the first time since the accident, she took her cell phone out of her bag. The battery was dead. The Denver Airport was a twenty-minute drive from her home. If planes were going down, they might have gone down there. She had no way of contacting Scott or Gia. Her baby was home, and she was a hundred miles away. If Scott were back, she would be less anxious.
“Valerie! We need some help back here,” Roy announced, flustered. “Girl, nothing is working. All the equipment is being crazy, and I need your help.”
Roy saw the phone in her hand and the emotion on her face. “We all got people. But I need help.”
Valerie slid the phone into her pocket and followed him, once again turning off her personal concerns.
“The equipment works fine until you try to hook them up. So, we have to get manual vitals on all these people,” Roy said, throwing his hands in the air.
“They don’t need vitals right now. Expose their wounds and write on the board what their chief complaint is. We will just patch them up and send them home. No X-rays, no labs, no medications. Okay?”
Roy nodded in compliance and went to work. Valerie returned to the lobby. Some people left as others walked in to take their place. By the time she got to each patient, their blood had dried, and their wounds had disappeared without explanation. Valerie kept her calm outward resolve, withholding her disbelief. Inside, she repeated what August had told her: This is not the most bizarre thing that has happened today. Seeing no need to document the patients, since no interventions were needed, they were dismissed. A group waiting to be looked at chatted in the area. They took turns recapping their version of the same story:
“I was cooking breakfast for my girlfriend, and then I got lightheaded. The next thing I know, I wake up on the ground covered in fried eggs. My girlfriend said I passed out for, like two seconds and the pan fell right on my head,” he explained with a cold pack held up to the right side of his face. He pulled it away to show the others, but they studied him and shrugged.
“It doesn’t really even hurt anymore,” he said and set the ice pack down on the chair beside him.
The person listened to the story repeated by another. “I kind of felt this coming. Crazy, huh? I felt weird all morning. Now my body just feels heavy.”
The patients all had similar experiences with only variance in activity or location. Some people were driving and wrecked. Others were at home.
“I wonder why everyone didn’t feel the electricity. I saw those planes go down in a field behind my house. No one could have survived any of those crashes, but at least they didn’t go down in the neighborhoods,” one man continued rambling. “An EMP, maybe? But that would have affected everything, not just random things.”
Valerie tried her hardest to focus on the assessment she was giving a woman who fell in the grocery store and busted her chin open on a cart. Her thoughts were the loudest of any voice around her. Caleb. Caleb. CALEB. She wanted to run out, get in any random car, and drive home. She wanted to panic but had to focus. Any minute, the more severe trauma patients from the crashes could come pouring in.
“This was definitely an attack,” one man spoke up to the others. “Russia, probably. Couldn’t have been an EMP because not every car was affected. I had to drift my car to the side and use my e-brake. And I saw others freak out and do the same, but some cars kept going. My phone doesn’t work either, but other people were talking on theirs. They targeted certain people. Maybe we all know something we shouldn’t.”
Valerie stood to politely ask the man to stop making radical speculations in the waiting room. The last thing she needed was the mass hysteria to work its way inside the ER doors.
“Valerie, come here for a sec.” August walked through the waiting room and motioned her to the nurse’s station out of earshot of the patients. She abandoned her confrontation and followed him as he gathered the team into a huddle.
“I have never, in over twenty years of medicine, seen people just heal themselves. Something is not right here, and all these people need to go home and stay there. We are running out of supplies fast using them on people who don’t need treatment. Betty, how many people are still waiting?”
“Um, a handful of mothers with small children. They are not willing to leave until the little ones are checked out. They all seem fine to me.” Betty had done an excellent job, just as Valerie knew she would.
“Excuse me? Who is in charge here?” a firm voice came from the reception desk window. A man stood in a navy-blue security type uniform with the letters CDC in white on the front.
August whispered a curse under his breath and approached the man. They spoke for a moment before August returned to the group. He rubbed the back of his neck and looked at the ground.
“Change of plans. All patients will go with the CDC for quarantine. Everyone claiming to have passed out will go for observation. Betty, please make a copy of the patient list, if you have one. I know things escalated fast. When you can throw one together, please give whatever you can gather to the gentleman over there. They have trucks in the parking lot and are already loading people up. If anyone has questions, direct them to the people in blue.” August walked back to his office and shut the door.
“That must have been what the email from the main hospital said,” Betty mumbled as she went to work.
Valerie heard August engage the lock on his office door. Just as earlier, she wanted to rip the door off the hinges. Something was wrong, but how typical of a doctor to protect themselves and leave everyone else to figure things out. As the only nurse on duty, she took charge and assisted Betty with compiling the list. Concerned mothers parted with children. Husbands kissed their wives before being separated. Valerie had not told anyone how she lost consciousness before her car wrecked into the mile marker. She had a feeling a trip with the CDC would postpone the reunion with her family.
The emergency room emptied of patients. The CDC collected the pedestrians waiting outside, helping them all into blue package trucks with the CDC logo.
“Did you hear him say twenty years? I think ole girl over here and him have the same baby-face condition.” Roy sat behind the desk talking up a storm with Betty, trying to calm her down.
“What I find quite off,” Valerie began, “is they are in security guard uniforms, and not hazmat suits like you would expect from quarantine. Something is not right.”
Valerie was cut off by the television in the lobby. The monitor sprang to life loud enough to startle her from the nurse’s station. The three of them rushed to see what it had to say. Two news anchors sat at the desk, a man and a woman apologizing for interrupting the regularly scheduled program.
“At exactly 12:46 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, an electrical surge passed over the surface of the Earth, what is now being referred to as ‘the Event.’ The CDC has put out the following statement:
“The cause of the wave of electricity is unknown but is believed to have multiple points of impact all over the globe. It is uncertain why the Event occurred or what the permanent effects will be. All airborne vessels were disabled, and we have received reports that over 4,000 planes have gone down as a result. Most motor transportation is also affected.
“The current of electricity has affected certain individuals as well. Quarantine has begun for those affected by the worldwide electrical surge. If you or someone you know has fallen, experienced a loss of consciousness, or has reported a strange sensation over their body, the CDC requests these people contact them at the 1-800 number on your screen.”
The news anchors continued to talk as the three stood in silence. Inner turmoil wore visible on their faces as they each seemed to be fighting a mental battle: to stay or to go. The phone rang and surprised the group. Gia’s name showed on the caller ID, and Valerie ripped the phone off the hook. Silence.
“Gia? Hello?” Curses flew from her mouth with tears and anger.
Betty put an arm on her shoulder and pulled her in to hug her.
“Shh. If you need to go, now would be the time. There is no more good any of us can do here. You have a long drive.”
Valerie did not ask permission. She did not look at August’s closed door or Roy or even acknowledge Betty’s words. Valerie gathered her things and walked out the front door. Within five steps she remembered her car did not make it to the parking lot.
You’ve Come So Far!!!
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Dacia M Arnold