Peter Hughes


“Zero-Three,   Forty-Seven”


            “Zero-three, forty-seven.”  I wrote as I spoke.    “3:47 a.m.  Time of death.”  Geeze, almost four a.m., hell of a way to spend Christmas.

            My pen wrote, “Cardiac arrest secondary to heroin overdose and alcohol, polytrauma and rape.  Consistent with drug induced kidnapping, rape, beating and murder.”  I sure could use something more green and red,  alcoholic, sweet or maybe fragrant right now.

            What a pity, she must have been about seventeen to nineteen years old, difficult to estimate, her facial features were so mutilated.  She wasn’t a drug user, no needle tracks on her arms or legs.   A single injection in the right hip, the mark was jagged.  She must have struggled, the injection site being ripped in all three dimensions.  I would do the Doctor thing, photograph and record the severe bruising on her arms and legs.   The bruising, a result from violent hands that  held her down, as she kicked.

            The rape, so violent her flesh was torn. 

            Cuts and bruises so severe she probably couldn’t see out of her right eye, when it did happen. 

            “Merciful God.  I sure hope the heroin had kicked in before they started in on her.”  Probably a pretty,  naive,  young college girl caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.

            Even my years with the Army Air Corps in Vietnam had not prepared me for the wanton, vicious violence of the City.         

            She was brought in at twenty-two thirty-four hours; I  thought she would make it.  We got fluids in her arms, oxygen, epinephrine and atropine.    Her blood work looked good.  The surgery we performed was successful; we got her bleeding under control and started supportive fluid and respiratory therapies.  We admitted Jane Doe #2 to Intensive Care, third North, 342.

            Only four hours later, “Code Blue, ICU!... Code Blue, ICU," rang through the hallways.  I dashed from the emergency department to the third floor.

            She was convulsing when I arrived.  She stiffened and relaxed.  The heart monitor settled down from the current generated by the seizure and  indicated that she had started to fibrillate.  The crash cart arrived.  Two ampules I.V. bicarb, we readied the epinephrine for chest puncture and fired up the paddles to 340 watt - seconds. “Clear!”  The power slammed into her chest. The frail body leapt off the bed and landed like a sack of flour. 

            Hopefully, the tiny sino-atrial node would wake up,  fire,  exciting the other nerve fibers of the heart and resume normal sinus rhythm.

            “Clear!”  The same.

            “Clear!”  The line was flat, not a hint that the little node was getting our message.  “Start CPR!”

            The node didn’t wake up; the heroin had put it to sleep.  She had been living on borrowed time while we worked on her.  Work on her we did.  After fifty-five minutes,  we had done our best.  The medicines, the naso-gastric tube, the gases, the I.V.s,  all that we knew, we threw at her.  But the node would not awaken and finally her brain grew tired and the erratic peaks on the monitor turned into smaller wavy lines, drifting off, becoming flat.

            I took off my gloves.  Talc covered fingers scribed, “Zero-three,  forty-seven.  Time of death.”  I filled out the certificate, recommending the police do their investigation immediately.  Attempt to find a family, perhaps we could use her organs, perhaps the corneas.

            “Lets get a type and HLA started so we may find her a recipient in case her relatives allow us to remove her organs.  Pack her in ice, and put her in the cold room.  Maybe they’ll be able to identify her and locate the family in time.”   I filled out the orders in her chart and handed it to the Head Nurse. 

            I stepped to the restroom and washed my hands, scrubbing to the elbows,  as if trying to wash her off my mind.  “I’m finished here tonight, give me a call at home if I need to cover something.”

            “Yes, Doctor.”

            I left the nurse’s station and rounded the corner to go down the stairs to the Emergency Department. I noticed that the door to Room 342 was slightly open.

            I halted and walked toward the room to close the door, sealing it from onlookers.   I noticed that there was someone in there that wasn’t wearing a white uniform.  I peeked my head in.  It was a woman, leaning  over the bed, her hands on the shoulders of the deceased.

            “Excuse me,” I asked politely, “but you shouldn’t be in here.”

            “Yes, I should,” she softly spoke, “A mistake has been made.”

            “We tried our best.  Leave the patient alone.”

            Her hands massaged the girl’s shoulders through the fabric covering her body, deeply, with pressure and purpose. 'You just said “leave the patient,' not 'leave the deceased'...  even you can feel it.  But you don’t know what to do.”

            I  took a step toward her,  “I feel sorry.  But still you mustn’t be here.  We did everything possible.”  The idea to call Security flashed across my mind and then disappeared.  Curiously,  I didn’t feel fear for  the woman.

            “You don’t have what it takes.“

            I was still speaking softly, as if I felt there was no need to create alarm. “We used the entire body of medicine.  Now.   Please.  Please leave the room.”

            Her hand left the girl’s right shoulder and pulled down the shroud.  The hand paused and then the fingers separated,  touching the eyelids.  With a gentle, smooth motion,  she opened them.  She looked deeply into the dull, rolled back eyes of the girl, shaking her head in pity as she gazed into the eyes, “Using stones and spears to repair something much larger than any body of medicine.”

            I began to feel the heat of alarm, the woman was now touching the body.  I walked authoritatively, stopping adjacent to her. “I tried,  we all tried.”  My voice grew louder and sterner,  “You really must leave so we can attend her.”

            “It’s healing, Doctor, not medicine.”  She removed her hand from the girl’s shoulder and gently pushed my chest. 

            The scalding heat of her hand I could feel as her palm penetrated through my flesh and into my chest.  I felt vaguely dull and confused.  I was paralyzed. My mind could see and hear things going on in the room, but I was in a dream state.  The reality was confused with ghosts reaching out of my mind.

            The dream,  swimming in a dream.

            I was washing my arms again and wondered if I had plenty of soap.  There may not be enough left over to wash my hair.  I had to wash it off, all of it so that I could live with it.

            “There has been a mistake.” She whispered to the girl, “Do not let him take you...”

She tilted her head toward me, but never finished,  “As for you, just wait…..”

            I could see the buzzards circling gracefully and soon found myself with them.  I flapped my arms in swimming motions as I left the Earth. Circling over the bed, I watched myself, the woman and the girl.  Watching me stand there with my eyes open and mouth open made me see how silly I really looked.  I thought the woman should close my eyes,  lest they dry out and become painful.  I could not feel my eyes.

            “Feel my hands, and look at me, it was a mistake.”  Her massive hands grew to large dimension and absorbed themselves into the girl.   Reminding me of a faith healer in the tropics massaging through the flesh, removing a bit of wire or chicken liver pieces in the magic of healing.  I laughed a little at the woman, what a charlatan!Everyone knows that trick with the fake rubber thumb.  How much money could a charlatan healer make using a fake thumb?

            I felt the need to wash, but there wasn’t enough soap to get it all off.  The need to absolve.

            The woman whispered to the girl, “That’s right, leave the reaper.  Leave him behind.  Come to me.”  Her hands formed around the girl, much like holding the hands in prayer.  The  lifeless form inside the cupped palms, pulsing with the massage.

            I was suddenly immersed in a pool of bodies, inside of a prison, with high brick walls and barbed wire.  I didn’t know why I was in the prison, but I was... we all were.  There were dead bodies,  swimming in a pool of blood and bile.  I recognized each one, including the Vietcong we treated.  All past patients turned deceased.

            The woman said, “Heal, my daughter.”

            The patients turned deceased,  pleaded with me to help them, but I already had.  I was out of any more medicine to give them.  I had no more. They could feel that, but still they called for it...  “Doctor!...  Doctor!...  Medic!...  Anybody!  Please!...  Help me!”

            I felt the need to wash myself of them.  I waded through the grueling mass of rotted flesh,  and the stench.  I could not breathe, much  as if  wheezing through an asthma attack.   Heaving, choking, wishing for death.

            I asked a guard, “Where’s the hose?” I choked,  nearly drowning in my fluid.

            “You need a wash, you are so vile.”  The guards began spraying us with fire hoses.  The pain!   I cried out, “Leave me alone!”

            “Hush,” she said,  “I have much work to do.  Heal, little one. It is only a mistake.”

            I hollered over the thrashing of the water, “Did I make the mistake?”

            He screamed at me, “You Goddamned right!  You maggot!  Here! You use the hose.”

            I yanked the hose from the prison guard, forcing its stream on my face, hair and beard.  I tried to wash it all off,  but the prisoners were angry and overpowered the guard.  They took my soap.  Hence,  I had to wash with no soap at all.  I was not refreshed.

            I had mowed them down so much as grass with my scythe.  But they clung to me, and I had to wash again to get them off,  all of it off.

            The girl, in the comforting uterus of the healing woman, began to open her eyes.  She spoke,” Thank you.”

            I was curious as to how that happened.  The woman cradled the girl, “Once healed, is as if it never happened, medicine just makes one take more medicine.”

            The woman turned to me and raised her hands,  “Come to me.”  The prison vanished, and  I was in a tailspin above my body. My hair was unwashed, my hands were dirty with the bodies of those whose lives were slain before me.

            And the dream dreamed on.

            The radio was loud at my temples, “Captain Huxley,  You have to pull out of it.”

            I began spinning faster into the vortex of the tornado.  I could hear her, but my arms were trying to hold me into the air by swimming.

            “Captain, Push forward and Pull to level!”  The headphones in my helmet were unmistakable as the screaming A10 fighter wove into the air, spiral after spiral of plume, much like hemp.  The vibration of the hundred million dollar chunk of flying steel as it spiraled, panicked me a little.

            “Hit your after-burners!  Gain power!  Then Pull level and right turn!”  I couldn’t move, the bodies of those I’d slain held me fast. “Dammit! Captain! Pull up!”

            My arms pushed the throttle and pulled back on the flaps.  The engines hurled and so did I.  I felt the gravity stalling me.  Holding me, caressing me in its grip.  Red blood cells slammed into the walls of the vessels in my brain.  I visualized black coming in from the sides.  Black telescoped until all I could see was Earth, the size of a pea, spinning in deep space.

            My fighter came screeching into the hospital.  Warnings flashed and signaled that my descent was too steep and moving into a civilian area.  I pulled back the throttle, went right on the ailerons, but the wall of the hospital came too quick.  I slammed the plane through the fifth, fourth and third floors.  I could no longer cleanse myself of the affliction.  I rode her all the way in, kissing the windshield with my helmet.

            My ejection came too late and I found myself standing  beside the bed of Jane Doe #2.  My body was still there, eyes open, my mouth was still hanging open, looking pretty stupid.  The girl had awakened, but was a bit questioning as to why a  fighter pilot in full battle gear was in her room.

            The woman turned to me, her attention no longer on the young girl,  “Come to yourself...”  Her hands directed themselves toward my fatigues.  “You will both be spared.”

            My eyes blinked once;  I felt no pain.  But I could feel the tiredness in my arms and legs after a hard day at surgery.  I found myself wishing for sleep.

            As I was standing, she reached out toward the window... "I must go now...”


            “Hey!  Doctor Huxley?  Are you OK?”

            I blinked once, twice, and for a fraction of a second, did not know where I was.  I was near the nursing station, pouring coffee.  “Yeah!  Hey! We made it!  Merry Christmas everybody!”  I yawned and stretched, looking at the clock as I poured, “Time of death.... Zero-three,   forty-seven.  Another drained, dead pot.”   I emptied the last drops of the pot into my cup.  I waggled the empty coffee pot toward the Head Nurse,  “How many of these do you think we kill in a night?”

            “I don’t know.  But I’ll bet it’s a lot on a slow night like tonight.  Merry Christmas, Doctor.”  She slipped the chart into the revolving file.  I began to wash out the pot.

Copyright © 2010 Peter Hughes

Peter E. Hughes is a Clinical Laboratory Biochemist, Ph.D., North Carolina State University.  

He is a NASA Scholar and Senior Scientist.  He researches and writes for the Mad Scientists as a representative of the United States and is an editor of Biochemistry and Medicine for the Encyclopedia of Earth. Major interests are photography, writing about life experiences, electronics and Radio Astronomy of Close Space Events.

He writes short stories, poetry and humor.