The buzzing had stopped, but my
thoughts were thick like oil, and my legs and arms had turned to lead. I opened
my eyes to the too-bright world and took a breath.
“Do you know who you are?” asked a female voice next to me. It took all my
energy to turn my head to look at her. In the chair beside the bed sat an Asian
woman with kind eyes and shoulder-length black hair. Her voice soothed and
strengthened me. She had a clipboard and was writing things on it.
I nodded. “I’m Maddie Malone.”
“That’s right. I’m Dr. Ng. Do you know where you are now, Ms. Malone?” She
stopped writing, her pen poised in the air.
I cringed. “Yes, Carville General Hospital. I… I work here. I’m a nurse.”
Dr. Ng nodded. “Great. Can you tell me what happened back in Emergency? You had to triage the patients, is that correct?”
“Yes. I had a lot of things to do, so many people needing help… I snapped. I couldn’t think anymore. Nothing made sense.”
My mind went back to that terrible moment, back in triage, when I had drifted
down the hallway like a sleepwalker, shrouded in dreams. Around me, other
people yelled and made gestures. They moved back and forth, carrying trays full
of instruments and bits of paper. I walked past them, keeping my head down. The buzzing inside my brain began: izz-izz-izzz. Fear bit at me like an
animal; moving under my skin and burrowing into my stomach.
I remembered all the people in the bright, white room staring at me; their eyes
like coals. I was trembling inside. A woman, holding a clipboard, approached
me. She spoke, and this time I heard a word I knew—Maddie. I breathed in
relief: I had a name. Then the woman thrust a paper into my face. I could read
words like, “clopidogrel bisulfate” and “thrombolytic.” I knew the shape of the
words, their sound, but not their meaning. I tried to eat the words, to make
them talk, but the bees in my brain were becoming louder than my thoughts:
Dr. Ng’s soft voice pulled me back to the present: “That’s good, Maddie. Go
on.” I knew what type of doctor she was, even though I had never set foot in
this part of the hospital. Dr. Ng. was a psychiatrist. We were in the psych
“I thought I would lose consciousness,” I said, my voice a bare whisper.
“I was sure I was dying… I was dying inside.” I remembered how
the fear-animal thrust its quills into me. The lights above me were too bright;
they were daggers to my eyes. I covered my face with my shaking hands. What did these people want from me?
Then, I knew. I
was the only one who could help. I had to save these people from Death. I had
seen Death that morning. Its claws had been around the face of an old woman;
her skin lined and thin as paper. I had tried to help her, but Death was too
strong. I had heard Death, too, creeping around the children with bald heads. I
had tried to help them, but Death had taken them away.
the bees asked me. I shook my head, but it was pointless. The bees wouldn’t
leave my ears.
Death was coming
for me. My breath came harder, faster. My hands and feet tingled. My body
vibrated in time with my frenetic heartbeat. I could see Death now, his
enormous body draped in shadows. His eyes glowed red from too many tears and
from the hell-fires of the damned. He smelled of antiseptic and rotting wounds.
His claws were already closing around my heart. I would lose consciousness, and
then he would kill me…
after that?” Dr. Ng prodded.
“I thought I was dying…” I whispered again, trembling, trying in vain to shut
out the memory, the moment before the world went black. I remembered how men
with white robes came to hold me down, how they stole a quill from Fear and
stuck it in my arm.
“They stuck me
with needles…” I said in a bare whisper. “Then I woke up here.”
Dr. Ng regarded me thoughtfully, then wrote something in her notes. She asked
me a few more questions, and I answered them the best I could. Then she gave me
medication and left me to sleep.
I drifted in and
out of sleep over the next few days. During times of wakefulness, there were no
flowers, no cheerful faces saying, “Get well soon.” For a while I hoped, and
feared, that a few of my coworkers might come to visit: Maybe Rita or Susan,
who had commiserated with me about management and day-to-day stresses.
I needn’t have
worried. No one came. No one wanted to see the woman who had gone crazy. I was
alone, and I was in pain. I didn’t quite want to die, but I wanted the pain to
stop. It was like someone had implanted magnets in my body, and the magnets
were pulling me down, down, down to the core of the earth.
Only my mother
stood by me. When I was lucid, she was there, sitting beside me. Her eyes were
red and puffy, but she still looked beautiful. She even managed a smile.
“It’ll be okay, Maddie,” she said, patting my hand. I nodded, biting my lower
lip. I turned my head away, into the pillow, so she wouldn’t have to see me