|Mon, 15 Mar 1999
D Benway <email@example.com>
Sleeping Through History
This story is includes some Marvel characters, but it belongs to me. It was inspired by Northlight's recent story, Fading.
This story is no more disturbing than the average David Cronenberg movie, and so may disturb sensitive readers.
Many thanks to Luba K, Tina S, Mandy L, Alara R and Amanda S for their comments. My other stories are archived at Luba's Fonts of Wisdom archive. Comments are always examined with great interest.
Sleeping Through History
The interviewer was cute, and would have been cuter if he'd had longer hair.
"Karen Anne McGowan."
There was such a thing as hair being too short, she decided. The guy looked like a marine, rather than someone who worked in a hospital.
Thinking of how cute he was kept her mind off of thinking about where she was.
"3667 North 37th Ave, Apartment 1547."
She'd always hated hospitals.
"In the city?"
She wondered if he was a Christian.
There was a football plaque on the wall of his cubicle, that she couldn't read without new glasses. The temp job would pay for the prescription, if they gave it to her.
"Date of birth?"
"February 22, 1978."
No family photos on the desk.
She gave it.
"Social Security Number?"
She had to look it up.
"Mother's maiden name?"
She went cold, as she always did when this question came up.
"Mary Jane Boogers."
The interviewer stared at her.
"My mom's family used to be Dutch. Really."
The interviewer gave her a brief look that might have been sympathetic.
"I'm kinda between jobs at the moment. I'm applying to ProMax, the temp agency? They made me take a test and they sent me here."
He gave her an unreadable look and typed something into the computer.
"PPO. Big deductable, though. How much is this going to cost?"
The interviewer smiled.
"No charge. It's part of the interview process. Your future employer is covering all costs. Cuts their insurance premiums if you have this taken care of now."
The last time she had been in the hospital, she hadn't had to pay. The life insurance had covered the costs, barely.
"Next of kin?"
The interviewer definitely gave her a sympathetic look this time.
She decided not to mention how drunk her father had been at the time.
It was a hospital. She wondered how often he had to say those same words every day.
"I'm over it."
As much as anyone could be.
She had never been asked that one at a doctor's office.
"Sioux Falls State University. It's in South Dakota."
"I'm good at internet stuff. You should see what I can do with Pagemaker and Photoshop."
He gave her a smile.
"Where did you go to school?" she asked.
He continued typing.
"What did you major in?"
"I was never good at history."
"Greatest country in the world."
He continued typing. She was flustered now. Nerves. Being in a hospital.
"So how much do you make working here?"
She wanted to kick herself backside the head for that. It was the kind of question that someone who grew up in a trailer would ask. She had grown up in a house.
The temp job promised 22, if she worked 48 weeks out of 52.
"Holy shit," she breathed.
He looked back at her, eyes blank.
"Working to keep the country healthy pays well."
"You're doing what I will, and you're getting paid five times as much for it."
He smiled at her, a very professional smile.
"I have other duties."
The interviewer typed a button and waited for a document to print.
"What's your name?"
"You don't have a name tag."
"Company policy. If you have a complaint, just ask one of the nurses. The system will tell them who admitted you."
She felt herself flush.
"My wife doesn't appreciate the problems we've had in the past."
She looked at his fingers. No rings. He gave the document to a nurse, who led her away. She looked back over her shoulder at him.
"Next one," he said into the telephone headset that he was wearing.
The room wasn't a private one. In fact, it wasn't like any she had ever seen before. It was long and high-ceilinged, with 8 beds down either side along the walls. There were portable folding screens for privacy. The bathroom was at one end of the hall, the nursing station at the other. The bed to one side was empty, but the other had someone in it. Someone with a crucifix around her neck. Someone who was black.
"What you in for?"
She hadn't ever spoken to a black person before.
The other woman put her knitting down. She picked up a Bible off her nighttable and started leafing through it.
"This flesh-eating thing?" said the woman.
The thought of it made her skin crawl.
"Hon?" the woman asked.
Tears came from somewhere. She dropped the book and covered her eyes.
Her neighbour had gotten out of bed, and put an arm around her.
"I'm scared," she said.
"I'm scared too," said the woman. "Fucking scary shit. Just lies in you for years, waiting."
"I've never been sick," she said. "We only did it four times."
"I hear you can get it from a toilet seat," said the woman. "They don't know what makes it flare up."
"I don't want that to happen to me," she said, recalling the pictures that had come after the warning for parents with small children on 60 Minutes.
"How'd they find out?" asked the woman.
"Went for a job interview," she said. "They made me pee in a cup. Then they told me that I had it, and sent me straight here in an ambulance. More like a bus, really."
"I found out after a fertility test," the woman said. "Sometimes it can cut down your egg count, even when it doesn't make you sick."
"My name's Karen," she said.
"Tonya," said the woman. "Still scared?"
"Yeah," she said.
"They said the treatment cures it almost always," said Tonya. "They said you'd never get it back afterwards."
"I don't want it all," she said. "I'm glad I'm getting rid of it, but that's not why I'm scared."
"Oh," said Tonya.
Tonya gave her a tissue. She wiped her eyes.
"I'm scared because I had an operation once," she said.
"I've had a few," said Tonya. "They're not so bad now as they used to be."
"I was in an accident," she said. "I had a ruptured spleen. They had to take it out. They cut me open and the anesthesia didn't work. I was awake the whole time. I felt the whole thing."
"Oh sugar," said Tonya as she burst into tears again.
"I know they're not going to operate on me, but I'm still scared," she said. "Stupid, huh?"
"It would be better if this was a real hospital," said Tonya. "This place gives me the creeps."
"Yeah," she said. "The ambulance windows were all dirty and I couldn't really see where we were going. I fell asleep. I think that we might be on the West Side."
She couldn't repress a shudder at the thought.
"Hon, I live on the West Side," said Tonya, letting her go, and retreating to her own bed.
"I didn't mean-" she began.
"No-one wants to live on the West Side," said Tonya. "Some of us just got no choice."
"One of my friends had their car stolen there," she said.
"Mine gets stolen every year," said Tonya. "Besides, I think we're on the South Side."
"Oh God," she said.
"Yeah," said Tonya. "Didn't used to be too bad down here, before Consolidated Aircraft closed. They used to make the B-44 bombers there. I think that's where we're at."
"You think?" she said.
"They've taken over Medicare and Medicaid in the city," said Tonya. "They're supposed to be more efficient, but I still can't get a doctor when my step-son gets sick. Hope I won't have to have my kid in a place like this."
"I can't wait to get out of here," she said.
"Could be worse," said Tonya.
"Yeah, I could need an operation," she said.
"You could be a twist," said Tonya.
She tried to remember what a twist was. A druggie? No. Worse.
"They've got muties in here?" she asked.
"Maybe," said Tonya, whispering and looking over her shoulder.
"How'd you know?" she asked, whispering too.
"They had them collar-things on," said Tonya. "When I came in, there was this van in the courtyard. Really weird, all white and no signs on it, like in the X-Files. They put three of them in the back and drove off. Don't think I was supposed to see that."
"Why not?" she asked.
"They kept making such a big thing out of it being nothing," said Tonya.
"What did they look like?" she asked. "Did they have wings or horns or something?"
"They looked just like normal white folks," said Tonya. "Thin guy with a blindfold, big guy with white hair on a stretcher, girl near your age. She looked at me and pointed to herself and said she was seventeen."
"Always wondered what they did with them," she said.
"Hope they kill them," snarled Tonya.
"Kill them?" she said.
"One of them big robots fell on my man's house," said Tonya. "Killed his wife, left his kid a cripple. Nothing I can do to heal those wounds. Should have let them big robots take them all away."
"I'm sorry," she said.
"You're not one of them, are you?" asked Tonya.
"God no," she said. "I've been tested. I'm clean."
"Me too," said Tonya. "I just hope my kid isn't one."
"What would you do if it was?" she asked.
"Get rid of it," she said. "Don't care what the Pope says, I wouldn't want one of those in me."
"Me neither," she said, shuddering.
She jumped. An orderly had appeared at the bottom of the bed.
"That's me," said Tonya.
"Break a leg," she said.
"Did I say something wrong?" she asked.
"Hon, I'm not going on the stage," said Tonya. "I'm going to take a pill, I'm going to lay down, I'm going to get a blood test, and then I'm going home."
She watched as Tonya was taken away in a wheelchair. She closed her eyes and said a prayer for them both.
She was awakened by an orderly who shone a flashlight in her eyes.
She looked across to the other bed, where Tonya lay asleep under the covers.
"Time for your treatment."
She tried not to show how much she was shaking as she climbed into the chair. She wanted to wake Tonya up, but they wheeled her away before she could call out.
They took her down a long corridor through what might have been an office at one time. Every window was painted over, but she noticed the Consolidated logo on the keycard that the orderly used to open the doors. After each one, she heard the door lock shut behind her. Before she could ask about it, they arrived at a small tiled room with four gurneys in it. Three were occupied by other women, each equipped with a drip. She went cold.
"What is this?" she asked.
"Treatment room," said the orderly.
"It looks like an emergency ward," she said, unable to keep the quavering out of her voice.
"Used to be a kitchen, I heard," said the orderly.
"You don't do operations here, do you?" she asked.
"Not here," said the man in the green scrubs who emerged from behind a screen.
"You're dressed like a surgeon," she said, trying to keep the panic down.
"I am," he said. "But that's because these clothes are easier to keep sterile. We don't want you catching anything else."
"You're not going to operate on me?" she asked.
"No, we're not," he said, kindly. "We're going to put in a drip, and give you a very powerful antibiotic. If you test negative tomorrow, you can go home. Otherwise, we'll have to do it again."
"Can't you just give me a pill?" she begged.
"Not powerful enough," he said, swabbing the back of her hand with an alcohol pad. "We want to get it all at once. The drug we're going to give you can have some serious side effects, but they occur in less than 1 in 100,000 cases. It almost always affects a complete cure. You'll feel a little prick."
There came a sharp pain in the back of her hand. She reached for the IV needle, but he caught her.
"Don't want it," she said.
"Do you want to work?" he asked.
"Yes," she said.
"Then let us do our job, so you can do yours," he said, smiling coldly.
She let go of his hand. He attached the drip.
"You may feel a bit dozy, but don't worry," he said. "In six hours, it will all be over."
She lay back, closed her eyes and started to pray.
Some time had passed. She didn't know how much, and didn't fucking care. She tried to remember that last time that she had felt this way, but it was too much trouble. She was about to drift off again when the orderly came back and begin to wheel the gurney out of the room.
"Why can't I go back in a wheelchair?" she asked no-one in particular.
No one answered.
"Number five," someone said.
They wheeled her through a door. There was a huge machine there, taking up half the room. There was a narrow table with a black mattress and a huge light over it. There was a battery of tanks attached to a mask by a hose.
She had felt this way in the hospital, after the accident when they had sedated her just before they cut her open. She tried to rise, but could not.
"No," she mumbled, as they lifted her off the gurney and onto the table.
"No," she tried to scream, as they removed her paper gown and placed the mask over her face.
"25 cc" someone said, and she drifted off.
She awoke a moment later, because something was happening. Like before, she could not move, but somehow it just didn't matter. Maybe they hadn't started cutting yet. Instead, something warm was being pumped into her from below. It felt like the biggest fuck in the world. It made her feel all warm inside. She wanted to giggle, but couldn't be bothered.
"She full yet?" said someone.
"Damn near," said someone else.
"Clear," said someone.
She heard people leaving. The big lamp moved out from above her, and something else came in. It looked like an X-ray machine. It started to hum. She tried to hum along with it, but couldn't be bothered. She drifted off again.
She woke up again in the room with the gurneys. The man in the green scrubs was standing at the foot of the bed.
"Sleeping beauty awakes," he said.
"I had a dream," she said.
"A good one, I hope," he said.
"I can't remember it now," she said, feeling a vague sense of disappointment.
"You're going back to the ward now," said the man. "Almost done."
"Thank you," she said, dropping off again.
She woke up in the ward, feeling like she'd just finished an all- nighter. Tonya was standing at her bedside, dressed in street clothes.
"All done?" she asked.
"Clean as snow, girl," said Tonya, giving her a wide grin.
"Feel like shit," she said. "Feels like someone's fucked with my head. Oh shit. I mean, uh, sorry."
"Sleep it off," said Tonya. "You'll feel better tomorrow. It's still tender, but it don't hurt like I thought it would."
"Tender," she said.
"You rest easy," said Tonya. "I've got a bus to catch."
She lay back and rested for a while, then tried to sit up. Twin bolts of pain stabbed up from below her rib-cage. She flopped back on the bed, gasping. She found a button at the edge of the bed and held it down. Fifteen seconds later, a nurse appeared.
"Yes," said the nurse, laconically.
"Hurts," she said.
"Shouldn't hurt," said the nurse.
"Hurts here," she said, pointing.
The nurse frowned.
"Oh God," she said. "Its the infection, isn't it? It's-"
"It's not the infection," said the nurse. "It's definitely not that."
"But it hurts," she moaned.
"I'll give you a pill," said the nurse.
"What is it, then?" she asked. "You operated on me, didn't you?"
The nurse swept the sheet away, and opened her gown. She looked down at her stomach, unblemished save for the old scar from the splenectomy.
"No operations," said the nurse.
"You went in down there," she said, feeling herself flush again.
"No, the little grey men did," said the nurse, rolling her eyes. "Swallow."
She swallowed the pill, and drifted off to sleep again.
It was night now, and she needed to go to the bathroom. Somehow, the drip had found its way back into her arm. She tried to pull it out, but couldn't manage the bandages. Her hands were like claws, and the bed was rocking as if were floating on the high seas. She stopped working at the bandages when it became apparent that she was about to wet the bed. She sat up gingerly. As Tonya had said, she was still tender, but it wasn't nearly as bad as the feeling in her head. She held herself up with the IV stand and made her way to the bathroom. She thought that she would never finish. When she did, she wiped herself off. The tissue was stained red. Her period was over a week before. She looked in the bowl. It was filled with a vaguely pinkish liquid. She remembered her grandfather screaming in the hospital, a week after seeing blood in his piss. She staggered out of the washroom bearing the bloody tissue in front of her. She stopped in front of the nursing station. The nurses were somewhere inside, out of sight
"You're late," one said.
"Car got stolen," said the other.
"Told you to get a permit."
"Costs 100 a month."
"Cheaper than replacing the car."
"Not mine. Anything to watch out for?"
"Bed five. Didn't take."
"You mean she really has the infection?"
"What do you think? Don't be stupid. Lab says she's regrowing."
"No bloody kidding. She might be one herself. Late bloomer."
"Not much good if it grows back."
The spinning in her head became worse, and she started to slide down the pole. She dropped the tissue and made her way back to her bed. It wasn't the fifth bed. The tag on it said V. The beds with numbers on them were somewhere else.
She woke up to sunlight coming in through the high windows. The man in the green scrubs was standing at the foot of her bed. The drip was gone. She didn't need to go to the bathroom. She had a dull, pounding headache but at least the seas had quietened. She was going to take the test and then go. She wouldn't tell them about the blood. She would find another doctor on her own and sell everything she possessed to get a second opinion.
"I want to go home," she said.
"Soon," he said. "One last stage in the treatment."
He led her out of the ward and down a flight of stairs to a courtyard. There was no bus in sight.
"I need to get dressed," she said.
"Hardly," he said with a smile.
He opened a large steel door with his keycard and escorted her into a room with another door inside. A huge black man with a shaved head and combat fatigues was sitting in chair. A machine gun lay on a desk beside him.
"What's he here for?" she asked.
"People are always wandering into here," said the man, grinning nervously. "They come in off the street and steal things."
"Sheeit," muttered the guard.
The man in green scrubs ran his card through a reader then typed a number into a keypad.
"Where are we going?" she asked.
"Hygiene unit," he said. "You're going to take a special bath. There was a secondary infection."
The door opened. She tried to think.
"The nurse said I didn't have the infection," she said.
"Secondary infection," he said pulling her in. "Easy to get rid of. We've brought your clothes through. You'll have the bath, and we'll give you some gloves so you can handle the clothes you have at home safely. Give them all a good wash without touching them, and you'll be all clear."
The door slammed shut behind her. There was a stool and a hook on the wall. Her clothes lay folded in a sealed plastic bag on a metal table. There was a another door, and an alcove in which she could see someone standing. From his haircut, she thought that it might be the interviewer.
"I'll go back here," said the man. "Take your clothes off."
She did so. The other door opened automatically, revealing a beige tiled room with a bath in it.
"Have a nice long soak," said the man over a loudspeaker. "We'll disinfect while you're in there, and then you can leave."
She stepped into the room and stared at the bath. It was long and high and filled with warm ultramarine blue water. The door closed behind her. She climbed in, carefully. She was still tender, in spite of the pills. The water helped. It was very soothing.
"That's it," said the man over the speaker. "Just lie back and breathe deeply."
She did. It was wonderful. They had added to the bath the most marvelous almond-scented oil.
The events in this story are patterned after certain events that occurred during the Nazi era. At that time, German medical authorities embarked on a program to sterilize the insane and mentally retarded if they could work, and to kill them if they could not. The techniques developed in this undertaking were later found useful by those who established the death camps for Jews and others found undesirable by the Nazis. Many hundreds of medical personnel participated in these executions and sterilizations. Those who wish to learn more about these events should seek out Robert Jay Lifton's book The Nazi Doctors or the film Healing By Killing. The actions of the medical personnel were patterned after what I have seen as a patient at a certain un-named world-famous teaching hospital.