I tried to be patient and not judge all the giddy people around me. Family and friends were taking dream vacations. They changed jobs or quit altogether. Some ended relationships and started anew with unlikely partners. The talking heads on TV compared it to the Roaring '20s after the Spanish flu pandemic. People were living it up.
After all, we'd all survived a disease that had infected almost every human on the planet. Tens of millions had died. The spread had become so overwhelming that health care systems collapsed. Governments stopped tracking cases. Even the media moved on to cover other topics that were more entertaining for the public. It was hard to know if the threat really had passed or not.
I felt pressured to celebrate like everyone else but I felt uneasy. Things had changed and not for the better. Things seemed twice as hard to do. Businesses were short-handed and employees made mistakes. The bank sent me someone else's credit card and the pharmacist handed me oxycodone instead of antifungal tablets.
Supermarkets couldn't stock all the shelves because of supply disruptions. Travel by airplane was dicey because of flight cancellations. The local hospital cut back on services because they had lost so many staff who quit or were still ill. I saw the consequences firsthand when I drove my neighbor to the ER one afternoon.
The waiting room was full of people with a line that continued out the door. It took hours for my neighbor to see the triage nurse. It was after midnight when she went for an X-ray. She told me to go home and she'd call me later for a ride.
On my way out, I dodged paramedics rushing in with a person on a stretcher. Behind them, police officers blocked the door. They kept a rowdy crowd from forcing their way inside. One directed me to turn around and leave by the hospital's other entrance.
"What's happening?" I asked.
"Fans from the losing team." She motioned for me to move on.
At home, I hesitated to sleep but couldn't keep my eyes open. When my alarm woke me at 7 am, I checked for missed calls, then texted. My neighbor didn't reply or answer when I called. I stopped by her house but she wasn't home, so I checked at the hospital on the way to work. The waiting room was still full and the surly receptionist refused to give me any information as I wasn't family. I decided to go on to work.
Traffic was so light that I double-checked my calendar on the way into the building to make sure it wasn't a holiday. Ever since I'd been sick I'd had a little trouble keeping track of what day it was.
Most of my coworkers had not arrived. I greeted two as I passed them on the way to my desk in the open-plan office. One grunted and the other ignored me while staring at his phone. Two more were arguing.
"No, I'm telling you it was on purpose! I saw the replay like twenty times."
"You're wrong, it was an accident! Hansen doesn't play dirty."
The first colleague shoved the second, who shoved back. They grappled. I looked at the other employees who ignored them.
"Guys, come on." I approached them. "Who's Hansen?"
"Striker for the Stingers," growled one.
"Cheating loser," snarled the other.
Then, my phone rang. I backed away to answer it when I saw the caller ID.
"Are you okay?" I asked my neighbor.
"Yes. My phone battery died and I took a taxi home."
I blew out a breath. "Okay. Let me know if you need something from the store or whatever."
There was a crash and my focus returned to my coworkers. One was standing, panting, and gripping a laptop in both hands. The other was unmoving on the floor.
Laptop guy looked at me and screamed, "He is NOT a CHEATER!"
I raised my hands and stayed still, "I totally agree." I had no idea what I was agreeing to but it didn't matter. I wanted his attention off me.
When he turned to glare at our other office mates, I started to back up towards the emergency exit stairs. A quick glance showed me that everyone else was ignoring him. No one went to check the other guy.
My heel touched the door and I pressed my back against the release bar. It clicked and I froze. But laptop guy threw down his weapon and stomped off in the other direction.
I waited till he was out of the room before I entered the stairwell. My heart was thumping so hard I expected to hear it echoing. I trembled as I dialed 911 and descended the three floors on shaking legs. There was no answer after ten rings. I hung up and tried again.
"All our circuits are busy. Please try your call again later."
Guilt was starting to bother me. My coworker probably needed medical attention and I had run away.
Maybe the police were busy because it was a holiday. I looked at my calendar. No. Wait, hadn't I already checked that? I must be in shock. I was tired, too. I decided to go home and rest.
The drive home went fast because there were only a few cars on the road. I turned on the TV. The news showed a recap of the prior night's game. Hansen was the midfielder whose sliding tackle sent the home team's star player to the hospital. The resulting citywide riots had kept the police occupied all night.
When the camera focused on the news anchor I didn't recognize her. Normally, the station covered the weather forecast after sports but the newscaster apologized.
"Due to, uh, illness, our meteorologist is unable to give us an update today. Also, our regular news team is unavailable." She glanced down at the papers she held. "But hopefully everything will be back to normal soon."
She took a deep breath before continuing, "The CDC recommends staying home, resting, and drinking extra water if you become forgetful or feel violent tendencies. Some people only experience anhedonia or extreme fatigue. These are transitory aftereffects of the viral infection and should pass within a few days."
It wasn't even lunchtime but I took a nap. After awakening, I decided to enjoy the sunny afternoon. It really was unseasonably warm for Christmas this year.
I walked past the neighbor's house. She was laying on a lounge chair in her yard with crutches nearby. Her skin was bright red as if she'd been sunbathing all day. She was pretty out of it. There was no way I could carry her inside so I found a blanket on the couch and covered her. I called 911 and all the circuits were still busy.
Maybe she needed something to eat. I strolled the few blocks to the supermarket. Fortunately, it was still open this late on New Year's Eve. The deli section was empty but they still had plenty of PopTarts. I grabbed three boxes and a two-liter of Moutain Dew. A sugar and caffeine rush might help my neighbor recover. It might clear my head, too. I was feeling a little fuzzy.
There was only one cashier. "Ooh, I love blueberry," he said. "Can I keep one box?"
"Okay," I said. There would still be two boxes, one for me and one for my neighbor.
The cashier bagged my items without scanning them. "That will be two thousand dollars, please," and he held out his hand.
I dug in my wallet. "All I've got is ten."
"That's okay." He accepted the note and stuffed it in a pocket. "Have a nice day!"
As I walked home, two cars zoomed past. One ran the other off the road where it clipped a telephone pole and plowed into a parked car. Two adults got out and screamed at each other. They seemed okay so I tried to edge on by without catching their eye. But then a young child started squalling from inside their car. They were so deep in their fight that they didn't seem to hear.
I peered through the open door and saw a toddler laying on the seat. Blood dripped from her face and she was screaming. Her arm looked twisted and I was afraid to move her.
"Hey, excuse me," I approached the angry man and woman. "Your daughter is hurt. You need to take her to the hospital."
The man turned to me. Spittle flew from his mouth. "Shut the hell up!"
The woman took advantage of the distraction and ran. He chased after her while still yelling threats. I didn't know if I should run after them. But the child had gone quiet.
Now the little girl was gasping with her eyes half-closed. I didn't even bother picking up my phone. Instead, I ran toward the fire station one block away.
A heavy rescue truck was parked in front. One solitary firefighter was sitting on the bumper staring into space.
"Hi. I need help. A little girl was in a car accident and she's bleeding and has an injured arm."
It took a moment for the firefighter to focus on me. "What?"
"It's just down the street," I replied.
She stood and squinted and shook her head like a dog. "Someone's hurt? I'll get the first aid kit."
The kit was a huge metal box mounted on the truck. She tugged at it futilely.
I told her, "We can take the truck."
She paused and said, "I don't know where the keys are."
So we raided the kit for bandages and disinfectant and a splint. Then the firefighter ran with me back to the crash site.
The little girl was unconscious. The firefighter checked her pulse and said that she needed to get to the hospital right away. She picked up the child and hurried with me down the street.
We slowed down to pass through the automatic door. As it slid open I saw an older woman laying across chairs in the reception area. She was very pale and still.
There was no receptionist so the firefighter ran straight into the triage area. She called out for help. I followed her into an alcove with an empty bed. She laid down the child and then looked at me.
"I don't know what to do," she said. "I can't remember."
"I'll go find someone," I told her and handed her my shopping bag. I was pretty sure doctors had to work on holidays. But as I went down one hall after another, I saw only bedbound patients. Some called out for me to help them. Some hollered obscenities.
When I got to the cafeteria, I finally found one man in scrubs. I tried to get his attention but he was giggling at his phone. Why was I even trying to talk to this guy anyway? Did I know him from somewhere?
I looked out the window and saw a beautiful sunset. What a nice way to wrap up Easter. Wouldn't it be good to go for a walk?
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