Estimated reading time — 7 minutes
”Am I going to die?” The kid asked me as he was being rolled into the operating theater.
It was a question I’d heard a thousand times before, but answering it truthfully hadn’t become any easier, even after years at the hospital.
”Of course not, we’re gonna fix you right up.” I lied.
He’d been crushed in a horrific car accident, and though we would put all our effort into saving his life, hope was a limited resource. The fact that he even remained conscious despite losing most of his blood was bizarre enough, but after ten years on the job nothing surprised me anymore.
The anaesthesiologist quickly put him under while we scrubbed in for surgery.
Damien would be the surgeon, a specialist in poly-trauma cases, and I’d assist. No sooner had we opened him up before we shared a look of disappointment; There was no chance in hell he’d survive through surgery.
Despite our lack of faith, we tried our best, but after only half an hour on the table, his heart gave out.
”How was he still alive when he arrived?” Damien asked.
He pronounced the time of death and left us to clean up the mess. I took the responsibility of cleaning the kid up for the morgue, a task I’d committed to countless times before. It wasn’t something I personally enjoyed, but to me it was my final chance to pay respect to the dead.
The kid couldn’t have been more than fifteen, and as I’d hear he was just learning to drive. Unexperienced, and attempting his first drive on a slippery road, he managed to steer off into a ditch. His father died on impact, but he himself lived long enough to face surgery.
As I put the needle to his open abdomen, his body twitched for a moment. I retracted the needle in surprise, wondering what had caused a post mortem spasm.
Then the boy suddenly gasped for air as his eyes shut open, he let out the most violent scream imaginable as he suddenly returned to life.
”Help me!” he begged with a guttural voice as I stumbled back in panic and slipped onto the floor.
I called for help and the rest of the team came running into the operating theatre, each panicking as they witnessed the dead boy scream on the operating table.
His spine was fractures, so though he yelled in agony, he could do nothing to move. The anaesthesiologist quickly attempted to sedate him while we checked his vitals. Despite all evidence pointing to the contrary, his heart had not started beating again.
He was supposed to be dead.
I started chest compressions, desperately trying to get his heart going. I cringed to the sound of his ribs cracking beneath my hands, and the boy’s screams turned to gargles as he was unable to gasp for another breath.
“He’s not going under!” The anaesthesiologist yelled as he gave the kid a second dose of propofol. Of course, without a functioning heart, there’d be no way for the drug to flow through his veins, even as I tried my best to pump for him.
After an hour of compressions, the chief of surgery had intervened, and ordered us to stop. At that point we caused more damage than we helped.
”W-what’s happening to me?” The kid stuttered, still conscious.
None of us responded, we couldn’t find any words to describe the horrific sight before us. Most of the staff had left due to the sight. We’d faced many challenges in our career, but nothing quite like this.
”What’s your name?” I asked, despite already having seen it in the file. I just wanted him to focus.
“Brian Dawson.” He responded.
I took a deep breath, doing my best to keep my composure.
”You were in an accident, Brian.” I told him.
His eyes darted frantically around the room as he started to realise where he was, he tried to lift his neck, but due to the spinal fracture he was completely paralysed.
”I can’t move, I-I can’t move.” He cried.
I walked closer, standing directly above him.
”Brian, your heart isn’t beating.” I said.
The chief of surgery, George, grabbed me by my shoulder and whispered into my ear.
”We need to isolate the OR, whatever is happening here is beyond us, and it could be contagious.” George said.
He rushed into the preparation room picked up the phone. Through the glass door I couldn’t hear what he said, but I assumed he was calling security to shut down the ward.
”W-what about my f-father?” Brian asked, trying to hold back tears.
I was taken aback by his question. I’d just told him his heart was destroyed, and that was essentially dead, yet his first concern was regarding his father.
”I’m sorry Brian, he died on impact.”
He sobbed quietly.
“So, what’s going to happen to me, I’m going to die, aren’t I?” He asked.
I didn’t know what to say, I’d never been in any similar situation, so I just gave the only answer I thought mightbe of some comfort.
“You’re not alone, I’m staying here until the end.”
George had been quick to shut down the operating theatre, and the Centre for Disease Control had long since been alerted to our situation. We had nothing to do but to wait, and pray to any God that Brian wasn’t contagious.
I had already been exposed, so I examined Brian, checking for any chance of improving his situation.
“Can you feel this?” I asked as I checked all his limbs.
“Not a thing.” He responded. “But, it hurts so much on the inside.”
“Where exactly does it hurt?” I asked.
“Everywhere, please do something!” He begged.
I gave Brian a dose of fentanyl, but without a heartbeat to move the drug around, I had little hope it would take any effect at all.
To keep him distracted from the pain, I asked mundane things about life, what his hobbies were, family stuff. He was smart enough to realise my intentions, but went along with it, either out of fear, or because he actually hoped someone could save him.
Hours passed while we waited for someone to tell us what to do, half the surgical staff had been put into quarantine, terrified that they might be infected.
Finally the CDC arrived on scene, fully geared in hazmat suits, They allowed us to roll Brian into his own space; a pre-operation room had been evacuated, so he could stay somewhat comfortable. The rest of us would be put into the surgical office while the situation was being assessed.
I decided to stay with Brian, no one should have to suffer alone; Especially with the CDC agents probing hime with all sorts of needles, enthusiastically taking samples.
The only reason they allowed me to stay, was because I kept him relatively calm.
We talked through the night, after the procedures were finished I couldn’t sleep, and I doubt Brian was physically capable of it.
“My eyes feel a bit weird.” He said.
“Do they hurt?”
“No, the edges are just kind of blurry, it’s weird.”
I left to talk to George who was still working around the clock, calling around, making sure the other patients were redirected elsewhere.
“What if we put the kid on a heart, lung machine?” I asked.
George put the phone down for a moment and sighed.
“Then what? He has no functioning liver, his aorta is cut into pieces and his intestines shredded, even if we got him a new heart, he’d never survive.” George responded. “Just keep him company while you can.”
I knew he was right, but some of my professional knowledge was put aside due to the insane nature of the situation.
“Doctor!” Brian shouted.
I rushed to his side.
“I-I can’t see!” He stuttered.
I pulled out a flashlight and examined his eyes. Both pupils were unresponsive, and his eyes had started to almost deflate, which was one of the stages of decomposition.
Brian had started to rot.
“Please, I’m so scared.” Brian was a brave kid, but he started to lose his composure just like everyone else in the ward.
I kept talking to him, but the inevitable truth was that if he kept decomposing, he’d soon lose all his senses, all the while being conscious to experience it. As horrible as it might sound, I begged that it might finally allow him to pass on.
We kept talking. I asked him if there’s anyone he wanted to call, but as I already knew from the others: Brian’s mother had died during childbirth, and his father had been in the same accident as himself.
As we talked, Brian’s voice kept getting louder, as if he was struggling to hear.
“Are you hearing me alright?” I asked.
“What did you say?” Brian basically yelled.
His hearing had deteriorated within minutes, going from impaired to deafness, before I could even begin to help.
With him being blind and deaf, we no longer had a way of communicating. No matter my attempts, I couldn’t comfort the dying kid, and the CDC quickly decided that my presence had become unnecessary.
Brian kept screaming in terror and agony after I left. For each passing second his own body started digesting itself, and nothing we could do would take the pain away.
By the morning, his screams had silenced.
I barged into the room, much to the dismay of the agents. Brian was hooked up to hundreds of cables, monitoring his heart, brain, muscles and vital values.
Of course, his heart showed no activity, and the decay had progressed to shut down all his muscles. He had quieted down not because the pain was gone, but because he wasn’t able to scream anymore.
The only part of his body still working, was his brain.
“What the hell happened?” I asked.
“Get him out of here!” One of the men demanded.
The other man complied, but went outside with me to explain the situation.
“You don’t have to worry about it being contagious, we’ll lift the quarantine in a moment.” He said.
He looked weirdly somber as he spoke those words.
“What about Brian, what will happen to him?”
“He’s still conscious, but he has no respiratory function anymore. So we have no means of communicating.”
Brain was still alive. Blind, deaf and dumb he had to suffer in loneliness, unable to die.
“How long does he have to suffer I asked?”
“We’ll know more when we move him to our specialised facility.”
The senior CDC agent demanded that his colleague kept quiet before they could tell me anything else.
They left with Brian, covered him in an airtight capsule, so no one would see the horrors that had just occurred within our surgical ward.
As soon as the quarantine was lifted, I headed home to write up my letter of resignation.
I had a well connected contact within the CDC, but upon trying to get more information, he claimed no such case had even been presented to them, that no one had ever been admitted to their facility under the name of Brian Dawson.
About a month later a lawyer, accompanied by a doctor, showed up at my door with a bunch of documents; All regarding doctor-patient confidentiality.
The lawyer looked tired, worked down to the bone, as if he’d made many such trips before. He asked me to sign the documents, and to never speak of this again, saying I’d lose my medical licence if I did. Not that it mattered to me, I’m done in that field for good.
I was given an injection by the doctor, he told me that Brian’s disease was not unfamiliar to them, and that it was extremely contagious, but only upon death.
He explained that half the population is infected with a disease that keeps the brain conscious for hours, even days following death. Brian’s case was special in the sense that he actually retained some motor function, and was able to speak to us.
The injection given was not a cure, it’ll only prevent me from spreading the disease, but once I die, I’ll suffer a fate similar to Brian’s.
I just hope someone will stay with me when it happens.
WRITTEN BY: Richard Saxon
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