After the generators burnt the last drops of diesel what was left of modernity went up in a poof of black exhaust. The medical facility once a sprawling compound where the lost arts of chemical and atomic medicine was now a candle lit derelict where nuns and priests tended to the sick with prayer. As pain killers and antibiotics were depleted, holy sacrament took their place.
Mary was the last registered nurse left in her wing of the hospital and as far as knew the last medical professional on the grounds. When the tools of medicine she was trained to use vanished she found herself being replaced more and more by the clergy. They still consulted her now and then but for the most part, she didn’t have any solutions beyond a cool damp rag on the head and maintaining a positive outlook. Hope and prayer were the only feasible treatments given what they had. For some that made the outlook much bleaker than it had been but for those who had been deemed terminal before the death of modern medicine now seemed to have a 50/50 shot.
Mary and a sister of the convent were busy washing old cloth bandages for reuse. Mary tried as hard as she could to scrub out the blood that seeped into the cotton, but no matter how vigorously she worked she could only dull the crimson stain. Mary watched the nun at the other wash basin. She was much more ambivalent to the blood as if she already accepted the futility of the work.
“Nurse Mary,” Mary turned from the murky water. The mother of the convent was standing in the doorway
“There is a young man the father wants you to see,” the solemn woman said.The claustrophobic hallways were bursting with humans rendered infirmed by illnesses and wounds, abandoned they were left at the mercy of anyone who would endeavor to give them any kind asylum. The growing mass of the tormented dwelled in a growing mound of corpses. Many deaths went unnoticed, and the bodies would be left where they were until the disposal detail noticed until the body bloated and the flesh discolored.
“Please, please please” was the tireless plea. Some mustered their last ounce of mortal energy to beg for any amount of attention from the stone-faced nun and the nurse that followed her. Her gray eyes did not stray to meet the gaze of anyone calling for them. She waded through the horrors with unbending discipline and with clear prioritization.
“I can see why you’re the head nun,” Mary commented.
There was no reply.
“Here,” she said flatly. She held the door open and motioned for Mary to walk past. Father Marshall and another sister were standing by the far left wall of the office. The nun wore a surgical mask that wrapped around her habit like a white cotton veil. They were standing over a boy with matted black hair and waxy pale skin with highlights of rose red in his shallow cheeks.
What are you doing?” Demanded Mary.
“Ma’am the sister here thinks this boy has typhus. I wanted you to see if she’s right or not,” Father Marshall said grimly.
“I didn’t want the germs to get on any of the cots,” the nun’s mask billowed.
She tried hard not to, but Mary could see the nun was right. The opportunistic killer was born out of the decay. It thrived on rot and deprivation, it’s the disease that comes to claim the body after the soul has died
“Father we have to get him out of here,” Mary said sternly.
“So it’s true then,” the nun wept.
“Father he shouldn’t have even been brought in this building,” Mary said over the crying woman.
“”We don’t have any antibiotics this thing is gonna spread like wildfire, and we won’t be able to do a thing about it.”
“Ok, ok,” Father Marshall said defensively. “So what do we do then?” He asked meekly.
“He has to be removed from the premises,” replied Mary.
“You mean left to die,” Said Mother Superior grimly.
“We can’t treat this,” Mary said with rising frustration. If he stays in here a lot more people will die.”
“I’m not disagreeing Nurse Mary,” she said calmly. “I just believe it’s important not to use euphemisms where life and death are the concerns. She turned her gaze to Mary “I want everyone to understand very clearly what we’re doing.”
“Fine, Marry huffed “if that’s how you want in.” She snapped around and walked out the door. She grabbed the handle before it closed behind her. “Oh hey while we're all sanctimonious just remember whoever you make this kid will probably die.”
Despite her show of anger, Mary was inwardly panicked. There was no more defense plague, and pestilence was riding unhindered. The hospital the last place she had in the world was compromised. Reality finally shattered the illusion she was going to ride anything out. No matter how long she hid inside the outside world had breached her fortress. She walked faster and faster, starting straight down the hall as if on the other end was her escape.
A high pitched cry pulled her back, and she stopped. Standing outside a closed door, the nun who was washing bandages in the basin opposite her was holding a baby still glistening with the fluids of the womb. The nun gently rocked the crying infinite and gently repeated “shhh.”
The crying infant’s bloody footprints stained the white of the sister’s habit.
The only empty part of the hospital was where radiological medicine used to be. The once state of the art facility was abandoned and buried under several meters of earth and concrete. The hallways were dark empty catacombs where cutting edge medical equipment sat idle and became relics of a past age.
Mary navigated the darkness by the glow of candlelight. She couldn't remember the last time she was down here. She told herself she wouldn't need to come back but the present situation exposed that bold faced lie.
She came to a door with a nuclear hazard warning sticker plastered on the door. She took out a key and opened the door undeterred by the menacing symbol. She held out the candle to give her a deeper view in the pitch black room. She a black metal filing cabinet in the right corner of the room. She rushed over and knelt down to the bottom cabinet. She took out a small key and opened the drawer.
She breathed a sigh of relief. Lining the bottom of the drawer was a cache of medical supplies including the much-coveted antibiotics. She packed away the supplies and walked out into the stifling starless summer night. She took a last look back at the building. The candlelight flickered in the windows with a modest breeze.
“Out with the new in with the old,” Said Marry. She turned her back on the building and her old existence venturing off to a find a place in the unknown.