Saturday, January 29, 2011

Atropos' Shears

Today, I experienced one of the most horrifying events of my life. It shook me to a degree I didn't know was possible.

Before The Fall, I was a Nurse Aide. I took care of the elderly, injured, and sick for a living. It's certainly not an easy job, and while physically difficult, the emotional trauma of doing the job any length of time weighs down on you. Watching people you care for grow more out of touch with reality, seeing family members get sadder every day as their loved ones drift away and become lost inside's horrible. Seeing death is awful, but seeing it and being the one who has to care for the body after it's stopped being a person and become a shell is something that leaves a mark on your soul. You learn to deal with it better, but it never stops hurting.

When The Fall came, making the decision to stop going to work was one of the hardest I ever had to make. I didn't talk about it then and I don't really want to talk about it now, but I have to. You'll understand when I'm done.

In Frankfort, the zombies spread like wildfire. By the time they'd hit us, people all over the country knew something terrible, something world-changing, was happening. At the nursing home I worked at, the families of the residents were taking their loved ones in droves. By the time The Fall had reached a point where most people weren't going to work and most of the machinery of civilization was in chaos, there were only about twenty people left. Twenty souls who had been wards of the state, or whose families lived too far away to come get them.

Or had no one left to come for them. Worse, one or two just had families that didn't come get them. By choice.

I find it hard to blame them, honestly. I quit going to work when the numbers got that low, when everyone who was going to be taken from the facility was taken from it. By that point, society had taken a dive and was shuddering its last breath face first in the dirt. I was told by my boss that the remaining residents would be taken to a secure location run by the military. That the rest of my coworkers had been told to stay home, lock up, and keep themselves safe.

I told myself I believed that, but over time I came to doubt it. I think my boss was trying to save my life, and told me what I wanted to hear so I didn't feel as guilty about caring for my own first. What it boils down to is that I don't honestly know if those folks were ever rescued. I did the right thing in taking care of myself and my family. I don't feel that choice in itself was immoral or unethical. But I do feel like shit about it, and I should. I made the right choice, but that doesn't mean it wasn't a terrible choice to have to make.

All I know now, looking back, is that when we raided the place I used to work at, there were no people there. Not living, not dead, not zombies. No one. The doors were locked and everything was relatively neat. Maybe they did make it out. I hope so.

I'm telling you all of that so you can understand something: taking care of others is my nature. Protecting and saving people is ingrained deeply into me. I was a good CNA. Every person that died while I was doing the job has a place in my mind, their faces clear as day. When I think about them, it hurts. But I remember them with fondness also, because I grew to know them, to love them, to joke and enjoy their company.

I've seen a lot of death. At work, it was most often from the rigors of age or illness, once in a great while a complication from surgery. After The Fall, it was most often from zombie attacks or the violence of marauders. Today, it was different.

Jack, the man who has led the people of this compound to do amazing things, to survive against all odds, died in my arms.

I was working in the clinic overnight, since it's still too cold to go out on scout runs. It's been a while since I used my skills as an aide, but it's not rocket science. I moved from person to person, checking vital signs, adjusting injured limbs for comfort, even fluffing pillows. I did some wound care as well--between my mom and Gabby, I'm well trained for it.

Jack came in at about five this morning, complaining of a very upset stomach. Phil was the doctor on duty, and did his thing, checking bowel sounds and various other things. Jack took some medicine to calm his stomach, but it didn't help. Nausea, cramps, feeling full when he hadn't eaten anything, all of that got worse and worse.

At seven this morning, I went to check on Jack as he lay propped up on the cot we'd put in a corner of the clinic for him. He was laying crooked, his eyes distant, blood welling up from his mouth and running in dark rivers down the side of his face. I ran to him, turned him on his side and watched in horror as what seemed like gallons of the stuff poured out onto the floor. I screamed for Phil, but as I held him I felt his lack of breath, my free hand reached his neck just in time to feel the last few, feeble beats of his struggling heart before it stopped.

When it did, the face of every person who had died ran through my mind. Every resident from work, every fellow citizen from the compound, every friend and loved one over the years of my life. Now, this man, who had done the impossible in gathering and saving almost a thousand people with nothing but his iron will and a determination to survive that I have never seen matched, was gone.

I can't tell you why this particular death hit me so hard. I've lost less people than some, but my mother and my unborn son were among them. Those deaths wounded me, and I grieved. But seeing Jack die so suddenly, so messily...I don't know why. Call me a broken record. I can only say that my mind can't let go of the image of his face and the pool of blood beneath him. My fingers still feel an imaginary tingle from the memory of his pulse going quiet beneath them. My ears ring with the faint gurgle that dwindled to silence as that last uncatchable breath was given up for lost. The smell of old blood, rich and coppery, won't leave me.

So, I had to write. It's my way of dealing. Today, it isn't helping at all. People all over are grieving for the loss of a great man, and no amount of trying to distract myself will erase the impression of his passing from my mind. It hurts, and it disturbs me, and it makes me sick to my stomach.

So why can't I cry?

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