Thunderstruck

Part 3 – The Disappearance of Julie Peters

I’m sitting in a familiar, dark parking lot when I suddenly come-to.

The cold hits me in the face abruptly.

Sucker-punched in the jaw by reality.

I’m snapped out of whatever reverie I’ve been lost in for the past 30 minutes.

The contrast is stark, foreign… uncomfortable…   prickly. 

My ears are ringing.  Like a bomb has gone off.  

How did I get here?  Did I drive myself here?  What the fuck just happened…

Where have I been all this time?

I haven’t been sleeping.  I haven’t been unconscious.  I just… haven’t.

My hands are resting on the steering wheel.  The engine is dead.  Cold.  It’s nighttime.  Past midnight.  I’m shivering.  Is it time to go in?  Go to bed?  But how can you go to sleep if you’re not even truly awake?

I yank the keys out of the ignition and walk across the lot towards the lit entrance sign.  Mutter an incomprehensible reply to the cheery desk agent.  Board the elevator to my floor.

As the doors close I look up towards to the top right-hand corner of the tiny moving chamber.  9 hours ago, I’d been looking at the very same spot while the elevator moved in the opposite direction.  I’d noticed the tiny green sticker up there, with a brand name printed on it.  “Schindler” – it had read.  

It’s Schindler’s LIFT.   Ha… get it?!  I’d chuckled softly under my breath at the pure brilliance of my own little pun.  

But now, 9 hours later… I no longer see the humor in it.  I can’t see the humor in anything.  I feel… numb.  Out-of-it.  Dazed.  

The doors open with a loud Ding!  I quickly exit.  Cross the carpeted hallway.  Wave the little plastic key-card in front of the doorknob.  Ram my shoulder against the heavy, door like a bony battering ram.  

I peel my scrubs off and discard them on the carpet – a snake wriggling out of it’s exoskeleton.  I crawl into bed.

Close my eyes.  

The ringing in my ears continues.  It will not cease for the next 12 days.


September 6, 2019

Minneapolis, MN

An Undisclosed Hospital

9 PM

YOU FUCKERS ARE ALL GOING TO DIE!!  I’M GOING TO SHOOT YOU ALL IN THE FUCKING FACE!!

‘If you do that, you’ll go to jail!’ my coworker screams back at the man he’s got pinned by the chest to our CT Table. 

Another coworker is attempting, rather unsuccessfully to gain control of the patient’s legs.  

Call Security!’ My coworker screams in my direction.

I rip the phone off the wall, my hand pausing over the buttons, ‘What’s the extension?!’  

As she struggles to uncover it from the recesses of her memory, the man suddenly… stops struggling.  His lanky arms fall to either side of his body like flaccid tube-socks. 

His breathing slows.  The room is eerily silent.

You guys… do you want me to call or not?’ I timidly ask, keeping my volume low so as not to reawaken the dormant beast, lying spread-eagle in his sloppily-tied hospital gown.  

My coworker, paralyzed by indecision, finally sputters out, ‘I… well… he seems alright now.  I don’t… just, give me the phone…’I hold it out for her. 

Okay, listen… I’ve got a situation going on in MY room,’ I explain, ‘ This patient… she’s in distress.”

She nods absently as she grabs the phone, and as soon as I feel it’s weight transfer to her, I do a quick 180 and sprint back into CT ROOM B.

The young girl is, for the most part, exactly as I’d left her 2 minutes ago.  Seated on the CT Table, legs outstretched in front of her, hunched at the waist.

Except that now, she’s crying.  Hard.  Body quaking dangerously with each uncontrollable sob.  Breath hitching.  Hyperventilating. 

I finally make the executive decision to reach out to her provider.  Using the universal paging system that operates under voice recognition, I forcefully speak into the phone:

‘ ED — Triage — Nurse ‘ 

 I accentuate every syllable clearly, so there’s no confusion.  Wait impatiently as the phone rings, fingers drumming a nervous beat on the counter.

Emergency Room Triage… _______ Speaking!’

I identify myself and quickly describe the situation. 

Young girl, early twenties.  Panic Attack.  Hyperventilating.  Can we medicate?  She won’t tolerate the exam, as is. Panic Attack.

The reply? 

Yeah it says something about “PTSD” here in her chart.  Look, we don’t have anywhere to put her, or the staff to monitor her if we give her meds.  Just try to get her to relax. It’s just PTSD.  Nothing serious.’

I can practically see the eye-roll from where I’m standing.  Can hear the mocking tone with the word, ‘PTSD‘. 

A sudden surge of anger swells in my belly as the phone disconnects.  It crawls up my throat and trickles into my veins as I walk calmly back into the exam room.  It boils, menacingly, in my bloodstream as I explain to my patient that she has to get through the exam unmedicated.  That no help is coming.  We just don’t have the resources.

She agrees to try. If it’s quick.

Miraculously, she somehow is able to complete the exam, with moderate coaching. 

And just as I’m struggling to keep my anger from boiling beyond the tenuous boundaries of my calm exterior, and helping her back into the wheelchair, I hear the distant screams of the combative patient from next door, reawakened.  

I speed-walk the wheelchair around the intricate twists and turns of the hospital corridors, navigating towards the waiting area.  I bundle several warm blankets around her shoulders.

Do you have any family with you tonight, honey?’  I ask.

The panic, is immediate.

Her eyes grow wide as dinner plates.  ‘NO,’ she responds quickly, head shaking wildly.

Oh. I see. I get it now.

I have no choice but to leave her there, looking frail and tiny, buried beneath a mountain of white blankets, knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt… the source of her PTSD. And unable to do a single fucking thing about it.

As I sprint through the hallway and back my department, I pass by the ED Triage nurse that I’d phoned earlier.  She nods her head in the young girl’s direction…

... and rolls her eyes.


Suddenly, the sounds around me begin to dampen.  An invisible, all-consuming, outstretched hand reaches forward.  Clamps it’s ghostly fingers on my internal volume knob. Slowly twists it counter-clockwise.  Until it begins to melt away.  All of it. 

The essence of sound is still there, yet muffled, as though I’m floating underwater, aimlessly. 

People’s lips are moving in my direction.  But the meaning of their words escape me. 

I am afloat, drifting.  I close my eyes.

The world fades away.


3:00 AM

The Same night

I lie in the dark and stare at the tree branch silhouettes outside, dancing jovially in the summer air. 

Sleep, is so close, and yet I’m unable to grasp it. 

The memories of the night are returning to me, one at a time. 

Little silent movies, unexpected. 

Unwelcomed. 

Returning from the ER waiting room, to find security personnel with my coworkers.  Ahh, yes.  That’s right.  Their faces look angry.  The officers, they are chastising my coworkers for calling them about the combative guy.  I watch their lips as they mouth out the words, ‘Overreacted’. 

I blink.  The memory fades.

Another one, this time it’s our supervisor.  ‘Why did you not call a code green?’ She’s asking us,  ‘That’s what you are supposed to do when there’s a disruptive person…’  Something about breaking protocol.  I’m feeling angry.  Don’t understand.  Why does no one seem to care that we’ve been physically abused?  All of us? 

I wave the memory away angrily.

Another one, I’ve just realized I’ve done a scan, but forgotten to switch the accession numbers in the computer. 

No biggie.  Everyone does it.  It’s a quick fix. 

Blink.  Memory gone.

Another one. A traveler, who’s been here for months, makes a mistake on a scan. the ER is calling, I listen, aghast as he blames the mistake on me. ‘We’re training someone new…’ he says. BLINK.

Another one, I’m trying to complete a different exam in the computer, but I’m getting an error message.  Someone else has locked the person’s chart out. 

The radiologist calls.  Wants me to end the exam.  I can’t, I say.  I’m trying.  I ask the other traveler for help, he tells me to let ‘someone else deal with it’ and just do the other scans. I continue asking around, trying to find the answer. 

Finally I locate the person who has the chart locked out.  Ask them to unlock it.  I end the exam.  Then the supervisor walks in.  Wants to know why I waited so long to end the exam.  The radiologist is complaining.  Thinks I blew him off. 

But wait… this isn’t my fault.  I didn’t do anything wrong.  She doesn’t believe me…. 

Blink. 

The supervisor is looking at me and whispering with a coworker while I prepare for the next scan. 

Blink. 

I walk into the control room and they’re all whispering.  They stop, suddenly, at the sight of me. 

Blink.Blink. 

Another one.

Blink. Another one. 

Blink. 

Another one. 

Blink.Blink.Blink.Blink.Blink.Blinkblinkblinkblink


BLINK


I open my eyes.  It’s light out.  morning. 

What?  Wait.  Did I sleep.  What time is it?  Don’t feel like I slept.  

Peer at the clock.  Time to go to work again.  

Okay.  Get up.  Feet on carpet.  Ears still ringing.  Oh well.  

Cross room to bathroom.  Turn on shower.  Step into Spray.  


BLINK.


To be continued…

Domino

Part 2 – The Disappearance of Julie Peters

I’ve never met a person  that actually knows how to play Dominos. 

I’m talking about the REAL “match-the-dots-up” style Dominos – the original purpose for which the inventors intended.  

I know there’s some type of scoring system, which means there’s got to be a legitimate strategy involved, and I’m pretty sure the rules are printed directly on the box. 

So why is it, then, that I’ll probably be struck by lightning before I’ll ever meet someone who knows how to actually play?  

The answer, is simple.  

No matter what the rules say, we all know that the true fun lies in arranging those little rectangles up just right and then watching them fall over in perfect synchronous harmony. 

Take any five-year-old off the street (but maybe only do this metaphorically, cause that’s sort of weird)  and ask them how to play Dominos and that’s exactly what they’ll show you.  

It’s a hypnosis of sorts, watching those little pieces topple. One after the other. An elegant cycle of Cause and Effect and Cause.

But the true beauty lies in knowing that if just one of those blocks has been slightly misplaced, the chain is broken. The entire entertaining process comes to a screeching halt and the fun… is over.  

There’s a special name for this phenomenon in the airline industry, referring to all the tiny ill-foreseen events preceding a plane crash. 

Cascading Failures, it’s called.  

If I had an Indian Name, Cascading Failures would probably be it. 

I can hear it now:

Cascading Failures… get over here and finish your supper!”

Did you clean your room yet, Cascading Failures?”

All jokes aside, I’ve had the displeasure of experiencing the Domino effect firsthand in my own life as of late. 

It was a series of unfortunate events that lead, ultimately, to my disappearance. 

My very own set of cascading failures.  

And this, my friends,  is the story of that very first Domino.



September 6, 2019

Minneapolis, MN

An Undisclosed Hospital

Tiny beads of sweat draw a slow and agonizing line down my back.  They pause briefly as they reach the little peaks of my vertebrae, crawling up the miniature bony slopes determinedly, only to hurdle down towards the valleys in between before repeating the entire process over again. 

I fight the urge to awkwardly reach backwards and smother them as I dart around the CT room like a deranged bumblebee, preparing hurriedly for the next scan.

A glimmer of stainless steel in my peripheral vision announces the entrance of another patient, and I barely have time to bark out a quick ‘hello’ before the worker pushing the wheelchair disappears like an apparition. 

I don’t blame him, of course.  He’s already informed me that it’s his first day on the job, and he couldn’t have picked a worse shift to act as his introduction to the medical field.  Poor kid has been running back and forth all night.  

Not that I have much time to grace him with my sympathies.  I’ve also been inundated with back-to-back patients all night.

Despite the annoying back-sweat and complete lack of time for eating, drinking, or peeing, I’m actually quite enjoying myself.  I’ve trained at a Trauma 1 center in downtown Detroit as a student, and had always thrived in fast-paced environments as a server before that.  Busy days make for quick days and for that I am eternally grateful.  

The end of the shift tonight will mark the near-end of my second week at this site.  I’ve already told my dad and mom that I’m quite enjoying this travel assignment.  I’ve already voiced my interest at extending here, should the offer be made.  I’ve never had a travel site NOT ask if I’d like to extend my contract beyond 13 weeks.  Not once in 5 years.

Of course there had been that incident earlier this week, in which a nurse had been choked by a patient in one of our CT rooms –  with her own stethoscope.

And then oddly, that very same day, I had been moving a patient onto our CT table when he suddenly cocked his arm back and struck me sharply in the pelvis with his fist.  The sudden and brash violence had stunned me into silence. 

It hadn’t been until several hours later that I had thought to mention it, and when I finally did, it was more or less regarded as a ‘necessary evil’ that went hand-in-hand with working in our industry.  I mean, I get it. It happens, you know?

Yet while all that had given me pause, the good had continued to outweigh the bad here. Honestly.

For now, I stand on the other side of the CT table and extend my arms out coaxingly to the young girl on the other side of it.  She easily transfers from the wheelchair, as I launch into autopilot and explain the CT process. 

I ramble on as she stares at me with dazed eyes, giving no sign whatsoever of having comprehended a word of my monologue. 

As a precaution, I fold the large seatbelt-like velcro straps over her tiny body and secure them round her waist.  She flinches, slightly, at the contact.  I think nothing of it.

I speed-walk to the control room and shut the door, plop into the flimsy computer chair and roll myself towards the monitor.  with practiced ease, I perform my quick set of preliminary pictures that I’ll be using to set the parameters for the scan. 

But just as I prepare to hit the button and initiate the exam, something on the CT table stirs.  Having caught the motion in my peripheral vision, I quickly hit the “abort” button and squint through the lead-impregnated glass at my patient.  

I leap out of my chair so quickly it goes rolling across the carpet and with a loud thud, and crashes into the counter on the opposing side.

As I tear the door open and run into the room, I am immediately relieved to find that my patient is not having a seizure, as I had originally thought. 

But the relief doesn’t last. 

While she may not be showing seizure-like symptoms, the violent,  involuntary shaking I’d just witnessed from the control room had not been imagined.  My patient’s chest is heaving wildly and she is trembling so wretchedly that I fear she may vibrate right off the table and fall directly to the floor.  

I rush over to her.  Pull her to a sitting position and place my hands on hers.  

Are you alright, ________?‘  I ask.

No response.

‘_______, talk to me.  What’s going on?  Tell me how I can help.  I want to help you, okay?  But I can’t do that if you won’t tell me what’s wrong.

 Her eyes are wide with panic. 

Lips trembling.  Breathing shallow. 

The blood is draining from her face and the hyperventilation seems to be worsening.

And then, I realize it.  Curse myself.

How could I not know? 

I get these weekly.  

It’s a panic attack. 

A full-blown, terrifying, and yet all-too-familiar panic attack.

As the realization dawns on me, a look of recognition crosses my face.

She notices.

Okay,’  I say.  ‘You don’t have to tell me.  I get these too.  I know.  I know.  You just have to breathe through it.  It’s scary.  So scary.  But it goes away after a while. Lets breathe together, okay?  You and I, right now.

We inhale.  We exhale. 

 We inhale.  We exhale. 

Together.  

And slowly, ever-so-slowly, I watch as the blood returns to her face. 

Her breathing slows.  The trembling peters out.

I smile. 

 ‘See?‘  I say, ‘You did that on your own.  Look at how good you’re doing. I’m so proud of you.’

A hint of a smile.  Of trust.  

And then…

From two rooms over, where my coworkers are performing a scan on another patient:

DON’T YOU MOTHERFUCKING TOUCH ME!!  FUCK YOU!!  FUCK YOU I’LL KILL YOU RIGHT NOW YOU MOTHERFUCKERS I’LL SHOOT YOU IN THE GODDAMN FACE!!!!!

My patient and I jump in unison and I watch in horror as she reverts back to the state I’d just spent several minutes coaxing her out of. 

Worse, actually.  The hyperventilation returns and this time, it’s showing no signs of stopping… of slowing. 

God DAMMIT.

Just then, both my coworkers voices ring out in unison. 

Julie!  Julie, we need you! Get. In. Here. NOW!!

I flinch and start off in the direction of the voices. Stop briefly to touch my patient’s hand.

I gotta go for a second.  I’ll be right back, you hear me?  Breathe.  Just Breathe.

As I run backwards out of the room, she stares after me, trying desperately to catch her breath. 

It’s easily one of the worst moments of my professional career.  Watching that trust crumble away. Watching helplessly.

Yet as I tear through the CT control room and catch a glimpse into the second exam room, an even more horrifying event is taking place.  

My male coworker is struggling with a large and overwhelmingly strong, combative patient, to keep him from tumbling to the floor, and he’s dodging blows from every which way to do it. 

The crazed patient’s angry screams are reverberating off the walls of the tiny room, and the sheer violence of it all is almost paralyzing. 

This patient, is hell-bent on killing my coworker. 

Of that, I am sure.

shit shit shit shit shit shit.  

I run into the room. 

And directly into hell.


To be continued….

Renegade

Part 1 – The Disappearance of Julie Peters

September 16, 2019

Potosi, Missouri

The steering wheel is hot and sticky in my hands as I wrench the tiny rental car to and fro around the unfamiliar winding roads of some random town in Missouri.

My body whips violently from right to left, a slave to the centrifugal force of this spontaneously curvy highway. The seamless vibrant green splash of endless thriving farmland paints a blurry streak of bright green across this dazzling earthly canvas. The engine hums loudly near my toes, joining the loud homogenous buzz inside my brain.

The one picture I managed to snap while on the lam…

My eyes struggle to adjust to the foreign landscape as my mind reels tumultuously from one hurried thought to the next. The cadence of these rapid, urgent thoughts is perfectly synchronous with the turbulent forces exerted upon my body.

Both physically and mentally, I am helpless against the violent forces pulling me in all directions. They are indestructible, these forces. Strong enough to bend the very fabric of one’s reality. I watch in amusement as it bubbles around me like boiling water, stretching and shrinking and threatening to tear its delicate fibers apart, as it borders on the limits of its own fragile elasticity.

I’m exhausted. Hours, days, weeks of running. Go go go. Never stopping. Never slowing. Always going.

What am I running from?

I don’t remember anymore.

Where am I going?

Couldn’t tell you.

Have I ever known?

When does this end? Where does it stop? I need it to stop. Want it to stop. I’m so very tired.

That membrane that was bubbling outwards… roiling and stirring ominously? It’s so close to bursting and I’m not sure I want to know what’s underneath.

What lies beyond the boundaries of reality? What happens when the very tendrils of space-time are penetrated? Can the tear be stitched? Or does it spew out its contents irreversibly like Pandora’s box?

So many questions. Too many answers. Too much. Too fast. Too far. Too wide. Too. Much. Too. Much. Too Much.

I can’t take much more. Can’t handle this. The car is barreling down the road, the thoughts are ripping through my mind.

Faster fasterfasterfasterfaster.

And then… those flashing lights.

Blue and red in my rearview. So many lights. From so many directions. Police cars on top of more police cars.

They are coming for me. Finally. It’s over.

I slow the car to a crawl and wait for the lights to draw near. Relief washes over me. I close my eyes. Breathe. Sweet, pure oxygen fills my lungs. It’s over. Finally over.

The buzzing in my mind fizzles. A ringing calm takes it place. Help, is here. Finally. It’s over.

There’s no beginning to this story. Nor is there a middle, or an ending. I have always been this way. It was always going to turn out like this.

There are triggers. Things that make it more noticeable. But the pot is always simmering, threatening to bubble over the rim. Certain things, they heighten the flame. Stir the pot. Bring it to a boil. But the water was always simmering. Always.

I’ll tell you all about my little stove. How it was fanned and fed. And how it tipped me past the boiling point. To the point of no return.

For now, the cops have arrived and they’re slowly, cautiously approaching my vehicle. Their hands are on their guns, which makes me chuckle. For Christ’s sake it’s not like I’ve killed someone. I haven’t even broken the law.

As I roll down the window I flash them a giant grin. “The jig is up, and news is out. You finally found me…”