Written by Emerald A. Behrens
Last night, I dreamt I had to find someone in the hospital. I work in healthcare for hospice patients, so this wasn’t strange for me.
* * *
This hospital is a large facility and I can’t find my way around.
I ask the front desk staff but they aren’t helpful. They can’t be bothered to help, I think. Then I see the piles of folders and paperwork they are still working on. Hospital billing codes. I wonder what kind of training I would need for these kinds of jobs. I was slightly envious of them until I saw the piles of paperwork they would be stuck with. Their room isn’t very pleasant to work in and office staff are notorious for having, work-drama.
Turns out one woman there recognizes me from the agency I work at.
“Oh hello there, E–!” She greets me. She is a blond curly-haired woman, slightly plump, but in an attractive way with her nails always done and wearing strong perfume. Unfortunately, she doesn’t know where the patient is either. She directs me to another man working, who also doesn’t know where the patient is.
That’s right, just pass the problem on to the next person who has no answer either. Just like the organizations I had to deal with right after I witnessed the—
I am getting frustrated. I make an excuse and leave, resolving to find the floor that the patient is on myself.
I don’t have much luck.
Instead, I pass groups of people, all unmasked. Come to think of it, none of the hospital office staff are wearing masks either. We are still in a pandemic but groups of people are milling about in the hospital lobby—all not wearing masks.
It has been several years since the first outbreak in 2020, but even years later, we are still in this pandemic with all its multiple variants. People are used to it now. Some people live and some people die.
It’s just how things are now.
I can’t find the floor the patient is on. I wander through hospital hallways with patients in their rooms. Is this the emergency floor? It looks too casual though. It must be the holding rooms.
In the hospital lobby are masks for sale, but they are over-stacked on shelves, along with retail items you can find in any store: belts, shirts, shoes, etc. It is like the hospital is trying to make more money on everyday items people need once out of the hospital (for a higher price, of course). Belts are over fourteen dollars and I know I can get them cheaper at the discount store nearby.
I try to remember the directions of the buildings, was I facing east or west? Moving to a new city will disorient you and I’ve done this several times in my life.
I’ve made no attachments to any towns or cities I’ve moved to in California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico. I don’t care for the red states much, obviously, and I’ve spent less time in those places. Most towns are conservative but even big cities aren’t that liberal. I’ve seen enough of them to know that Portland isn’t that great for artists and Seattle is more conservative while liberal San Francisco is run amuck with conservative techies.
Only rich people can live comfortably in the big cities while poor working-class people like myself have to commute two hours a day, six days a week, for work.
I’ve made very few friends. I can count on one hand all the friends I have (social media doesn’t count, you know).
I’ve noticed more and more workers are very young, teenagers even. The janitor guy at the hospital is a young teenager and my heart aches with envy. He’s a lot shorter than I am though and I’m very old for a single woman with no children—a spinster.
I’ve never settled down in any place or with anyone. I got my freedom at the expense of an unstable life. Still, I notice a lot of things. I’m a writer after all.
This hospital is strange and makes me uneasy. I still haven’t been able to find the floor the patient is on. The construction guy outside was more helpful in directing me to the right building. Now I just have to find the floor… there are nine floors in this building.
As usual, the front desk staff don’t have a clue where my patient is at. They’re overfull and can’t keep track of who’s coming in or out.
So many people have come into the hospital now and I feel guilty seeing all the old people in the hospital. With a heavy heart, I look at the over-priced masks: ten dollars! I know I should buy one and wear it before I see my patient. I browse through all the N95 masks and a group of teenagers (none wearing a mask) get right in front of me and start pawing through merchandise, making fun of all the masks on display.
You don’t have to be on tubes in the ER, I think silently as I look at the teenage girls. They aren’t afraid of anything but they should be. Death is closer than you think.
I find a mask they haven’t pawed through and pay for it with my card. I never carry cash anymore. I notice the disinterested hospital staff and nurses who look bored—or burnt out. I put my mask on, and climb the stairs to another floor but it looks like the cafeteria instead, so I should go up another floor.
All around the hallways and even in the lobbies are glass-covered beds—oxygen beds, for patients to breathe in, while they wait to see the doctor.
It’s clear they are COVID patients.
Iron lungs. That’s what they used to call these things during the time of polio. Now it’s the time of COVID.
In the background, on the speakers throughout the hospital, Dr. Fauci is making another national announcement.
“I know it’s hard for us to believe but we are still in a pandemic. Now is not the time to go out to the bars or gather in large groups at indoor events—we must wear our masks to save lives—millions of Americans have died and we cannot risk any more deaths.” He may as well be talking to a brick wall.
Pretty much everyone in the hospital ignores him. A couple of housewives snicker at Dr. Fauci’s announcement. Clearly, they have a low opinion of the CDC.
If Dr. Fauci was here, he’d throw a fit for sure.
“He’s a different demographic than we are!” They state blithely.
I wonder what on earth is their demographic then I look around me and agree. Housewives too busy with baking bread in their kitchens and having babies while their husbands work. Husbands too busy ignoring their wives while watching football and eating pork rinds while daydreaming of screwing a teenage girl young enough to be their daughter.
Yes, that demographic.
I get away as fast as possible from the housewives and go outside, taking off my mask.
I’ll have to make an excuse to my employer why I couldn’t visit the hospice patient in the hospital.
It’s a nice sunny day out and I’m glad to get out of the hospital building.
* * *
I woke up from this strange dream and realized it might be a message from the future. We have become so desensitized to the pandemic that the public at large really doesn’t care. I’ve seen indifference and mismanagement on all levels to the point that I’ve also become apathetic.
I see things for what they are but I know what I feel. In my dream, I felt extremely isolated from the people around me and this hasn’t changed. I know even after the pandemic I will still be isolated, no matter how many people are around me.
None of them could be bothered to care. They always think it can’t happen to them.
People don’t know their apathy can kill. It almost killed me during the pandemic shutdown… right after I witnessed the sex trafficking crime next door to me in San Francisco cops couldn’t be bothered to find the victim. She was never found.
I tried to stay at a friend’s place in Oakland to escape. That friend and his landlords almost kidnapped, raped, and murdered me. It turns out you never know who someone is until they try to kill you. Again, cops didn’t care. The previous woman who stayed there before me was murdered.
All the organizations, city officials and law enforcement couldn’t be bothered to investigate. They just passed me onto another person and another person—but no one could actually help me.
Just like in my dream.
* * *
Today I get up, remember the huge list of things to do today while trying to work on my creative projects with my cup of coffee. I put aside the horrors of the crime I was recently witness to and compartmentalize my thoughts and tasks for the day—lest I get overwhelmed into depression.
I’ll always remember the pandemic as a time of horror where I saw the true evil nature of the humans around me. I’ll never trust another person ever again.
All I have now is myself. I try to be grateful for the life I have now, as lonely and isolating as it is.
I think back to my dream and wonder if it’s a reflection of my subconscious thoughts on how people are handling the pandemic. I am filled with dread at the future and think of my dream as a bad omen.
I try to be thankful that I’m not in a glass box, stuck in the hospital with over-worked nursing staff and apathetic doctors. I can walk around in the sunshine and have the freedom I want.
My dream highlighted and magnified the problems our country is facing and I was more startled by my reaction to people in the dream than by anything I saw in it—realistic as it was.
My dreams aren’t always this realistic and I haven’t been witness to people stuck in oxygen beds at hospital lobbies (yet). Though it could happen…
That’s the scary thing about dreams… they may foretell the future.
Emerald A. Behrens won the Flash Fiction Contest for “Death and the Miser”, published on Byzarium, a webzine dedicated to fantasy, sci-fi, and horror fiction. Their media production with Grim Goblin Jack has been seen worldwide in Japan, the U.K., and in Eastern Europe. Their album, “The Stand” is available on Bandcamp.