Shaken awake. My somewhat still unconscious mind rippling with hope that previous events is fault of its own. Reality begs to differ. I am still in an ambulance. This one is different. It is moving at high speed. I’m actually in a bed this time. The cab is in front me this time but I can’t see much through the corridor to the front. There are no children. Instead, there are a couple large canvas bags taking up most of the floor space. I have an IV. I should be at the hospital. Confused. Where am I? Who’s driving? I want this nightmare to just end.
My mind is beginning to come to terms with my demise. I feel a small part of me almost willing it. I haven’t made it to the hospital. I can feel my body being drained from fighting. I am weak. It takes everything but a conscious effort to even take a breath.
‘Ah. Adam, you awake back there?’ Her raspy voice is more matter of fact then the last person’s. From her tone she sounds more calm, more controlled.
‘...yeah.’ I struggle to speak. I feel weaker than before. ‘I’m here.’ However, I have no sharp pain accompanying every syllable. ‘Are we almost to the hospital?’
‘We’re not going to the hospital.’
‘But, I got shot. I need medical attention.’
‘I understand. You’re stable.’
‘Yes, your wounds have been treated. I’ve begun an IV drip to replenish your fluids. You’re going to have a choice to make.’
I let those words sink in for a few moments. The lady sounded older than the last. More assured. I wondered if it was possible to trust someone from the sound of their voice. I trusted this one. Why am I in a different ambulance? How did she know my name? If we are not heading to the hospital, where were we going? Why so fast? Did Anna get my voicemail? Are Ben and the guys alright? What decision was I going to have to make?
‘Why wouldn’t you take me to the hospital?’
‘That’s where I got you.’
‘Yeah, you were unconscious in the back of another ambulance with blood seeping through your bandages. I almost left you, but would have felt bad. Never one for leaving a man behind.’
‘That’s where I was supposed to be. That’s what you do with a gunshot victim, you take them to the hospital.’
‘The hospital is collapsing.’
‘What do you mean? What in the hell is goin’ on?’ Panic. ‘Are you even a paramedic? How’d you know my name? What decision am I goin’ to have to make?’
‘Okay, now. Slow down. None of this is going to be easy to comprehend. Especially with all that you have going on.’
My heart takes a few deep pumps in my chest. My wounds tremble with deep pain. ‘Am I going to die?’
‘To be honest, Adam... I don’t know.’ I sense a tough sincerity in her voice. ‘I did my best Adam, I have seen people in worse conditions pull through in tough situations but…’ Her voice trails off. I feel the ambulance slow down. ‘What the hell?’ Her rhetoric aside is draped with an eerie curiosity.
‘What? What is going on?’ My own curiosity is encased with fear and confusion. I look through the small part of the windshield that I am able and all I see is orange light glowing brighter by each moment.
‘Don’t worry about it, hold on.’ The vehicle is ramping up as the engine starts to howl. A dull thud comes from the front of the ambulance followed by a series of lighter ones raking against the floor. ‘I have never seen anything like this. They don’t even flinch.’ Still speaking to herself, she sounds awestruck.
‘Hey, I’m really in need of some answers!’ I am trying to cut through my discomfort with assertiveness.
‘Yeah. You are right. Adam--’ How does she know my name? ‘--you need to trust me here. You were left at the hospital in the back of an ambulance. I’m guessing whoever tried to patch you up thought you were helpless without an ER.’
‘Look Adam, I don’t really know what is happening right now but the entire city is out of sorts. I was called into work due to emergency conditions. Before I reported to shift, it all got out of hand. They were telling us to reroute patients to Westover. Something about an outbreak. I had just pulled into HMC when I got the call. The ambulance I found you in was in the parking lot. That’s as far as I got. If I didn’t spot you in the back, you would still be there, probably dead.’
I could tell that she was trying to piece together the fragments of her own reality. I felt as I was losing my own. Maybe I was dreaming? Maybe I was in the hospital, lying unconscious under the supervision of the medical staff. Or even, maybe none of this took place and I was having an outlandish vision wrapped in deep sleep, safe in my bed. I should wake any moment. Previous dreams where I realize I am asleep, I always wake up. That’s it, any moment. I chuckle in relief but the all-too-real pain jolts me to accept that this is authentic.
‘Whoever patched you up before did a sloppy job. I fixed it up and got you something for the pain.’
‘Doesn’t feel like it.’
‘Well, honey, you’ve been shot. The pain is going to be there for a while.’
‘How long will it take?’
‘Without surgery? Could be a couple weeks before you start feeling yourself. You got lucky as far as where the bullets went in. Your shoulder may not make a full recovery but, if you can find a safe place and fight off infection, I think you’ll be alright. You seem tough.’ The ambulance slowed to a roll, took a turn, and came to an easy stop. ‘So, Adam, it’s time for you to make a decision. I am leaving town. It doesn’t seem safe here. You are more than welcome to come with me. My Uncle has a cabin in the mountains about an hour and a half South. I’ll look after your wounds and we are good there until things settle down here.’
Anna. ‘I have to call Anna.’ Where is my phone? Is it in the other ambulance? Check my pockets. Nothing. My wallet is gone, too. That’s how she must know my name.
‘Well, cell service has been down for a few hours. Not much on the radio, either. Just a few looped recordings telling everyone to stay in their houses and not to leave under any circumstance.’
‘What is happening? Where is my phone? Or my wallet? I don’t even know who you are or if I can trust you.’ I must be feeling better this is the first time I have felt anger since Anna and I last spoke.
‘My name is Alice. My friends call me Al. I was a field medic and now I am a Paramedic. I did save your life, I think that qualifies me for trust but I understand if you are still uneasy. The world is turned upside down right now for you and me both. I have your wallet and don’t know where your cell is.’ She turned around and leaned her head into the corridor of the ambulance. I hardly make out her face. Her hair was pulled back into a tight ponytail. The dim light from outside lit up her silhouette enough to reveal her aged skin and from what I could see, she looked calm and pleasant. ‘Adam, before I lost service, I got a text from another medic, a friend; Westover is down, too.’
Al’s head dropped, facing the floor. ‘He said that people were eating each other.’ Her voice quivering in disbelief. ‘I’ve seen some terrible things, Adam. Some really, really bad things.’ Still not able to see her in explicit detail but I know she shifted her gaze to look me dead in the eye. ‘I don’t know if I can do this. I have to go. I have to get out. I’m not going back into the city but, if you don’t want to come with me, I take you somewhere safe close by.’