The main hospital was already full of flu victims, overwhelmed by the sudden onslaught of the horrific epidemic. A smaller clinic was suggested - Santa Maria, housed in an old adobe Spanish hacienda on the outskirts of town. The ambulance, still idling, quickly drove off.
Nurse Agnes Scott watched as they brought Callie in on a stretcher.
She took a quick look at the flushed young woman and shook her head. Her train ticket had been pinned on her dress, for name identification.
The nurse studied the young woman's ashen face. “Callie Masterson. I'm sorry, but we probably can't save you. Put her in Ward C. There’s an empty bed in the far corner by the window. I doubt she’ll be with us for long.”
A few minutes later, Callie felt a cool hand on her fevered brow. There was a smiling face above her, with a calm, Buddhist like demeanor.
“How are you feeling, Callie?”
She could not answer. She wasn’t even sure if he was real, for his image kept coming and going. Every part of her body ached, but it seemed to be someone else’s body. The suffering was foreign to her. Was she dying? Did I leave California? Or was that a dream? Where am I?
Dr. Vincent Serena listened to the crackles of Callie’s ravaged lungs coming through his stethoscope. He looked up at Nurse Scott.
“The rales are pretty bad. It’s odd how a healthy young woman could become this ill so quickly. It’s as if this scourge is taking our most robust young people. We need to do a blood count, Miss Scott. And keep the cold packs coming.”
“Do you think she has a chance?”
“Perhaps, if it doesn’t worsen.” He removed the thermometer from Callie’s mouth. “Damn. One hundred and five.” He wrote down a higher dosage of aspirin and handed it to the nurse, then rushed off to see his other patients.
If Callie had been conscious she would have appreciated the view through the big window - the rolling hills of Central Texas, the bright green oaks against the darker junipers. The air filled with the songs of mockingbirds and cardinals, bluebonnets carpeting the open fields and the great bowl of blue sky. The fresh breeze blew in and ruffled her hair, but she was oblivious. Her arm hung limp over the side of the bed. Miss Scott replaced the cold compress with a fresh one and stared at her patient’s face. “I fear your pain will not be leaving soon, my dear. But I see something determined about you. Or am I just hoping?”
The room darkened and a small yellow light came on. Callie was wracked by convulsions of coughing fits. Late summer in the southwest is a time of sudden thunderstorms that extend into the night. The wind whipped rain against the glass and into the room. A nurse ran in to close the window. Lightning and thunder were simultaneous as the storm seemed to break right over the hospital.
Vicious chills attacked her and her moans were heard down the hall. The uncontrolled inflammation rolled through her body, causing terrific pain. Her moans became howls. She thrashed wildly. Dr. Serena could not give her a sedative, for her breathing was already labored.
Callie would break out of her stupor and see light one day, darkness another. When a face appeared she attempted to tell it what she wanted, but no words were forthcoming.
“She’s babbling again,” said Miss Scott when Dr. Serena walked in. “But I’ve gleaned a few names - Lillian, Dorothy, and especially Casey. Oh, and Bandido - who in the world could that be?”
“We still don’t know much about her. Anyone working on that?”
“There’s just no time sir. It’s all we can do to tend to the patients.”
“Of course. Her fever has been close to one hundred and five for four straight days. But she’s tough. She’s still with us, eh?”
The fever finally broke, but Callie’s respiration symptoms worsened.
Another storm blew in late on a Friday night. Driving rain, then hail battered the roof, and lightning strikes exploded close by. The lights blinked on and off.
A young nurse came in. She let out a quick scream and dropped the tray she was carrying. Callie was crawling across the floor toward the window, coughing up blood-tinged froth, her eyes wide open but unseeing, drawn toward the intense flashes of lightning like a lost moth, braying with a hoarse, inhuman wail that sent the nurse fleeing for help.
A doctor on the night shift and two orderlies rushed in. They lifted her back into the bed, which was stained with blood. “Get me a lamp over here, now!” ordered the doctor. A nurse held the light over her.
“Dear Lord. She’s cyanotic.”
Callie’s skin had transformed into a pale blue, there was so little oxygen in her blood. She was drowning.
“Get me one cc of epinephrine.”
He dutifully administered the injection and ordered a nurse to remain at her bedside. “I can’t imagine her lasting the night.”
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