September 30

The Milwaukee Protocol (Part 3)

 

[…continued from September 29 entry…]

 

An out-of-focus doctor stood next to Maia’s hospital bed.  She was so drained that she could barely process what he was saying — but she expected he would ask once again for her to consent to the experimental procedure.

“What we’re going to do is induce a coma,” he doctor explained.  “Since the rabies virus attacks an active brain, if we reduce brain activity, we anticipate the virus will do significantly less harm.  In the meantime, your body can build up immunities to fight the virus.  With the help of anti-viral medications, of course.”

Why not?  Maia already felt so many aches and pains, her body almost like it was on fire.  She was practically in a coma already.

Apparently it was her last chance.  Once the symptoms began, mortality rates were essentially 100%.  Only a handful of people ever survived — and of those survivors, several underwent the Milwaukee Protocol.

“Where do I sign?” Maia said.  Her hand trembled as she held the pen.  Unable to focus on the pen, she wrote her name from muscle memory.

“We’ll bring you back in a week or so, once your body begins to fight the disease.”

Other doctors and nurses came into the room — some there to adjust I-V medications, others observing as part of the hospital’s educational directive.  Maia was a guinea pig on display.   But she thought about her limited insurance at the diner where she worked, and her out-of-state parents who were too poor to contribute to medical costs.  She was lucky to have this chance.

A hint of optimism washed over her, perhaps the extra warmth through IV lines, a slow wave of oblivion numbing her to the world.

Before she lost consciousness, Maia wondered if she would dream…

 

#

 

Someone is tapping on her shoulder.  Gently, to wake her up.

The tapping becomes more insistent.  Maia feels it more in her eardrums than on her shoulder, and she worries that her body had become numb, her nerves deadened by the disease…or its desperate treatment.

She struggles to open her eyes, and she finds herself lying in a hospital bed.  Although she remembers why she’s here, she can’t figure out how much time has passed.

It could be a day.  It could be a month, or a year.  Her body is so weak, that she might even have aged a decade or more.

More tapping.  The lights have been turned down low, but she can tell there’s no hospital staff in the room.  Nobody to tap her shoulder or tap their feet — so where is the sound coming from?

The curtains have been pulled back.  They probably want sunlight on her during the day, and don’t bother to close them at night.  What does it matter, if the patient is in a coma?

But that’s where the tapping is coming from.  Insistent fingers continue tapping at the glass.  Maia remembers the intensive care unit is on the 7th floor of the hospital.   Have they moved her to a ground floor?

They aren’t fingers.  A cloud of night darkens the world outside the window, but strange gleams of light, like paired groups of red-backed fireflies, hover in shaking patterns.

She struggles to focus, remembering how poor her eyesight had grown during the late stages of her infection.  To her surprise, the window settles into perfect clarity.  The red gleams are pairs of eyes, and the tapping fingers are small, mammalian snouts that batter the glass again and again.  The faces are like those of tiny, evil monkey, and their mouths are flecked with rabid foam.

The tapping increases, and the window shatters.  Black shapes with leather wings swarm into the room and spread over her bed, descend on her with sharp bites all over her body, returning the disease the drastic hard-fought cure had hoped to banish.

 

#

 

That was the first of many dreams.  It was not the worst.  In all of them, an outbreak of rabies had spread through the world, infecting everyone.

 

#

 

“I think she’s starting to wake up.”

A nurse’s voice, but not one Maia recognizes.

“She’s responding well”  Her doctor speaks in general terms, as if she’s not there.  “I think she’ll make a full recovery.”

Maia tries to open her eyes.  She’s able to wiggle her toes, to tense her fingers.  This time feels real — an actual awakening after a countless series of nightmares.

The nurse taps on her shoulder.  “Do you think you’re ready for a visitor?”

Maia lifts a few fingers, a feeble attempt to wave.

She hears another person step into the room.

“You can talk to her,” the nurse says.  “Even if she doesn’t respond, she can still hear you.”

The visitor’s shoes click across the floor tiles, stepping closer to the bed.

Maia feels pressure on one side of the mattress, near her head.  A low familiar growl fills the room and flecks of foam drop onto her exposed neck.