Slim's Broken Leg, Part 2
Journey To Purgatorio
Lockwood wheelchaired Slim through the double doors—into the Inner Sanctum. People were moving around in various states of protective dress, from hazmat suits down to a single mask, some of which looked limp and filthy, as if they'd been used for a month or more. Lockwood, the Vet’s assistant, said they were short on everything, from PCP to ventilators. Patients were left to languish on gurneys parked akimbo along the dimly lit halls. Doctors, nurses, orderlies, traversed the narrow path between them, darting along like mice through a maze. White-coated and masked, arms burdened with charts and opened laptops, they ran the gauntlet, shirking off drooling and moaning patients with a studied indifference. Somehow, they looked less like dedicated healers trained to save lives than a whipped and exhausted burial crew dispatched to survey the scattered wounded on a battlefield. Meanwhile, the florescent glow of their eyes, as they madly scurried here and there, revealed mostly expressions of weary desperation, verging on panic.
The thing that hit me the worst was the stench. When I asked the kid about it, he looked confused. “What smell?” he said.
“Can't you smell it, kid? It's all around us!”
“Oh—that!” He laughed. “I'll give you three guesses and you'd be right all three times. You get used to it after awhile, don't even know it's there.”
The commodes were backed up. Too many sick people and too few toilets.
“So, they're just layin' around in their own—?”
“Yep, you catch on quick.” He winked. He said they kept a plumber on staff 24-7, but they either quit from exhaustion or die of Covid. They'd been through at least a dozen so far.
“Right now, we got everybody on a number-system,” Lockwood explained. “Like at the deli. Take a number, wait your turn. Problem is, some of 'em drift off or pass out, then they miss their number, so they gotta pick a new number and start over. Most of 'em can't wait that long. A lot of these poor bastards can't even wait five minutes.”
As he wheeled me along, an odd sound came drifting in the air, voices singing, accompanied by a wanging electric guitar.
“What the hell's that?” I asked.
“That's the Cleeven Sisters.” Gospel singers from the Lovelorn Church of Christ. “The hospital promotes a different theme every week,” Darwin added. Last week's theme was ‘Be Strong!’ This week, it’s ‘Happiness.’” In honor of which the singers were brought in to entertain Covid patients.
“Happiness,” I repeated.
“Can you believe it, Slim? S’cuse my language, but have you ever noticed the fucktards that run everything always seem to be optimists? Brainless numbskulls who go right on grinning even while the world ends.”
The singing grew louder.
“They usually sing hymns,” Lockwood went on, “but that sounds like some old rock song I never heard of.” We paused and looked in the room where the singers were doing their thing. Three Covid patients were parked next to each other, all outfitted with IV drips and vital sign monitors. Just enough room for the nurse to squeeze between them.
In addition to the stench, the air was filled with out-of-sync beeps and four-part harmony. The patients, a man and two women, looked like death warmed over. On the other side of the room, four sawed-off spooks in identical hazmat suits harangued the lyrics to a song I remembered from my youth—Don't Fear The Reaper. I even recalled the group that recorded it—Blue Oyster Cult, a band so far removed from Lockwood's musical experience they might as well have been minstrels from the Middle Ages. How these brats came to know it is beyond me. It was hard to tell much about the little singers, except they were young—between six and ten. The smallest of the four hit some pretty wicked licks on a satanic red guitar that woofed and wanged through a cheap amplifier. The guitar was longer than the kid was tall. There was something odd about their hazmat suits, which, at that moment, I couldn't quite put my finger on.
So, the song ripped along. Real cheerful shit. Hard to tell if the patients enjoyed it or not. One of them was passed out, the other two stared blankly into space. As we headed on our way, Lockwood said the four kids had been living at the Pythian Home ever since their parents had cured themselves of Covid by guzzling Clorox bleach. Turns out Trump was right, after all. It sure as hell cured ‘em, all right.
All our times have come
Here but now they're gone. . .
Come on, baby, don't fear the reaper. . .
La la la la la
La la la la la. . .
40,000 men and women every day
Another 40,000 coming every day
Come on, baby, take my hand—don't fear the reaper
La la la la la. . .
(Next—Slim’s Broken Leg, Part 3: A Little Room For The Truth)