by Henri Colt
I’m alone in the patient compartment of our rig, separated from my driver, who’s also a paramedic. He can only hear me through the thick glass window. The ventilator fan is set on high, just like we were told to do after the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a pandemic with fatal repercussions. We’ve been out since six this morning. I just chucked the last disposable gown in our emergency kit, and I’ve been wearing the same N95 respirator mask for three days now. Three 12-hour shifts, three days in a row, but I consider myself lucky. Friends of mine just have surgical masks, which we know provide no protection. Funny how some bosses suckered us into thinking they did some good, and besides, they said, what else are we to do?
The 60-year-old diabetic woman we just picked up is pasty-looking and wheezing. Her daughter claimed it was a bad asthma attack and she was out of inhalers, but when we called it in and said the gal’s got fever too, they told us it’s probably the virus.
I double-check her oxygen mask. Her breathing is getting worse, and she can’t talk. I take another blood pressure reading—it’s low.
I can’t feel a pulse.
“What did the dispatcher say?” I shout to my driver.
“It’s a forty-five-minute wait at the ER, and we’re still ten miles away!” he yells back to me over his shoulder.
“We’re screwed,” I mutter under my breath, knowing he can’t hear me anyway with the sudden yelp of our siren and the screech of our tires on the road.
“I’m giving her a breathing treatment,” I holler. He needs to know what I’m doing.
“That’s against regulations, remember? No nebulizers in infected patients. It might spread the virus.”
“Well, those were guidelines—we never got a written order. Besides, I don’t know if she’s infected, and she sure as hell doesn’t have COVID-19 positive tattooed across her forehead.”
“You’re gonna get us fired.”
“Just drive,” I say.
I break open the nebulizer bag and prop the woman up on the gurney. For a moment, I think she’s looking at me, but then her pupils roll up under her eyelids, and her eyes go white. “Damn, she’s coding.” I jam my fingers over her carotid and can’t feel a beat. A lead from the electrocardiogram monitor falls off. I start chest compressions. The rig lurches forward. I can almost feel my driver leaning on the accelerator.
“Let her go,” he shouts.
“I’m not giving up no matter what the boss might say.” I tear off my fogged-up goggles. “Maybe it’s not the virus, maybe. . .”
She perks up. She opens her eyes. I reconnect the EKG lead and see a waveform.
We pull up to a special entrance of the emergency department. The doors swing open. A doctor and two nurses wearing hazmat suits start dragging the gurney out of the rig.
“What happened?” the doc says, not taking her eyes off my patient.
“Just an asthma attack,” I say. “Nothing more.”
“You sure?” she says. I can tell she sees the nebulizer. I can tell she knows. I swallow hard.
“I’m sure.” We’ve got another call. I’ll file the paperwork when we get back.
“Stay safe,” the doctor says, pointing at my goggles before swinging the vehicle door shut, “and...” but the rest of her words drown in the wail of our siren as we take off.
About the author
Henri Colt is a physician-writer and wandering scholar. His stories have appeared in Rock and Ice Magazine, Fiction on the Web, Adelaide Literary Magazine, Active Muse, and others.