Sunday, July 25, 2010

doctors and nurses

I was a doctor working at a hospital, which was an absolute nightmare. I mean, the outbreak of the plague was one thing; they barricaded all the doors and wouldn't let anyone leave so we wouldn't spread the infection. But I also didn't really know how a doctor should behave.

I walked into the cafeteria, full of friends and family members of patients whose moods seemed to range from tired to anxious to visibly distraught. In my mind, being a doctor was kind of like volunteering at a children's day camp or a retirement home, and my job was to go make small talk with all these people and prove to my supervisors that I was making myself useful. But no one wanted to talk. And then the nurses started yelling at me for annoying the visitors.

The nurses kind of ran the place. I kept asking which patient was staying in which room, but the nurses would grab their charts away from me and tell me the information was confidential. I tried to go out into the courtyard for a minute to clear my head, but yet another nurse blocked my way, scolding me for not putting on my coat. So I decided to go fill prescriptions, the one mindless task I knew I could do correctly, and one that would take up several hours of time where I wouldn't have to pretend like I knew what I was doing. But the nurses were having a secret conference in the pharmacy room, trying to decide what to do about the plague, and they shooed me away.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

yet another apocalypse

When the bombing started I was on the road in Nebraska. I stopped in at a bar and watched on TV as the bombs descended on Berlin and London. They fell slow and placid, looking like a swarm of giant fat black jellyfish that turned to bright orange flame when they landed on buildings and public squares. The other people in the bar stared blankly as panicked Europeans ran at and around the screen.

The response across America was hard to gauge. I stayed with friends in Nebraska, a family that lived on a compound in the middle of nowhere. One woman there was worried about her children, who her good-for-nothing ex-husband had shipped off to boarding school in England. She wondered if her children were still alive, if she should begin to mourn. I wondered how her ex managed to afford boarding school on the limited salary of an unemployed alcoholic.

I stopped off in a high-end mall on the way back to New York. The associates at the Nordstroms there seemed more upset about a new competitor who had taken over the bulk of the under-occupied mall at half their rent, drawing away their customers with fancy white pillars and warmly glowing display cases. But that was the result of another catastrophe, well on its way and nearly forgotten by the time this other situation arose.

Back in New York, we carefully moved the tomato plants from the roof into the bathroom, just in case. But I kept going to work. Everyone carried on almost like normal. The TV stopped getting an international feed. The military started up the draft again, but it was only to stop domestic violence, the potential looting and pillaging that one expects when it seems like the world is about to end.

At work I engaged in some emotional looting and pillaging. I'm not proud of it. But for some reason a few of us in the editorial department felt justified in going down to the production department and intimidating their staff. We acted all tough and entitled. We messed up paperwork, drew mustaches on design mock-ups, played around with people's computers. A supervisor came by and asked just what we thought we were doing, and we fled back upstairs, ashamed.