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Thanks to Cairistiona for beta-reading.
It's very clear what triggered this story. I don't want to use the word "inspired" because in my mind, inspiration is something nice and positive. This story not at all. This story is very, VERY DARK.
Final note in the end.
Two more patients have just been brought in.
People in charge of transport their hands in gloves, their faces wrapped up so that just their eyes are free just like me nodded to me, turned around and went back to the city. I doubt not they'll soon return to The Houses of Healing. Not with empty stretchers, of course.
I stand in the corridor, watching the two men laid down on blankets on the floor. It's been some time now that there aren't any free beds in the rooms. New patients are put on the floor, because there simply isn't any other space. The nearest houses of this level of the city have also been turned into hospitals.
In my corridor, four patients are quite bad, but at least they are stable. Three are critical: they don't stop coughing, and their temperature is extremely high. As soon as I put some cold compresses on them, they are hot the very next moment; besides, they stopped responding to medicaments. Two are a little better than yesterday... only two. And only a little. And one of my patients died this morning.
I am not a healer. I am a nurse until two weeks ago, I was a mere assistant. But then everything changed.
It started as a common winter epidemic of influenza, not at all different than those in the previous years. Or in the previous decades or centuries. But this time it turned out not to be a common flu... which we didn't realize at once. If we had, perhaps we could have warned the Steward, and he could have issued a command to limit the circulation of people. By the time we finally realized, it was too late.
The symptoms are a little bit different than those of the flu. Differences are subtle, but after a few days we noticed they existed. More important than the small distinctions is that this particular contagion spread much faster than flu, and was more lethal. In the following week it burst through the city faster than a summer fire on a dry meadow. By the time Steward's command arrived, more than half of the population was infected, and many died.
Yes, it was too late.
I heard the director of The Houses saying and he knew these things best that something like this had never been recorded in the whole history of Gondor.
I am not a healer. But now we all act as healers. Because everyone, everyone possessing even the smallest knowledge of healing, was summoned to help. Students at the very beginning of their training. Also, those who hadnt worked for quite some time, whose hair is completely white and who spent their old days resting in their homes.
Some of us healers also live our last days; we are in contact with the sick all the time, and some of us got sick, too... and died.
Which means that there remain less of us who can take care of the growing number of patients.
Yesterday I realized that our reserves of healing herbs are near the end. We can cover only three more days. What will happen then... I don't know. I only know that in city parks there is not a single leaf or stalk of healing herbs left. All have been picked.
And we always proudly claimed that The Houses of Healing was the best hospital in the whole of Gondor. We were always careful about the amount of reserves, so that they can last throughout the whole winter and spring. But this time, so many more people came than the hospital can receive: not only from the city, but from nearby regions, too. This time the number of patients is so big that all supplies are spent.
What will happen once the next three days pass? I don't even dare to think about it... and I'm scared.
My eyes are closing. Every muscle screams for rest. I don't know how long it's been since my last meal. The last time I left this corridor was... two days ago? A week ago? A lifetime ago?
I don't know if it's day or night. I don't know if the stars still shine. I want to sit... to lie down... just for a moment. To have just a little bit of rest.
But I must not stop. Although my steps are slow because of fatigue, I go towards the two new patients. I have to check them.
But that's not the only thing that I have to do, and I turn around. Of course, I don't perceive any healer or assistant. I try to call. To no avail. Everyone is occupied in their rooms, in their corridors. No, I didn't really think that somebody would be able to come. It was only a fool's hope, lasting a mere blink of an eye.
And because there's nobody around, I have to make the most difficult decision of my life. A decision I heard some of my colleagues had to make these days. A decision I had hoped I'd be able to avoid.
In front of me lie two new patients, both very weak, and as yet untreated. They urgently need help. Behind me, there are three critical ones. And I am just one person.
How to make this decision? How to decide who will live and who will die? Because, in the end, my decision will mean just that: time spent with one patient means that I will not spend that same time with others who need my help equally urgently. How to go on, knowing that I ended someone's life with my choice? How to look into my own eyes every morning of the rest of my life?
A moment passes, and then one more. I delay my decision for just another moment hoping for the miracle that would bring a solution. It could be a messenger bringing news that a cure was found. Or the arrival of more healers from some other part of Gondor, who hurried to help us, coming right here and right now. Maybe... maybe it could even be my own weakness: perhaps thirty-six hours of work without a second of rest and sleep could finally take its toll, and I simply faint and don't have to choose. Yes, I'd like even that option.
But miracles don't happen, and the choice still lies upon me, heavier and heavier.
I look around me. The three critical ones are burning with fever, their breath so shallow that it could stop any moment. The two new patients don't look much better than them. I stoop and take a quick look. Their skin is hot, they cough so hard that their whole bodies shake, and the look in their half-closed eyes tells me that they cant see me, nor the rest of their surroundings.
I don't see any of them as just another patient in line. I'm aware that everyone of them is a person made of their qualities, deeds and memories. Each of them maybe has loved ones who fear for them and hope for their return.
Eru, save me...
No, miracles don't happen.
I rise, and I observe. And finally, I decide. The two younger of the three critical... and the left one of the two new patients. Because, unlike the other, he has a wedding ring.
While my heart beats like never before, I almost cant discern the cups and herbs because of tears in my eyes. I add cold compresses to the two men who are a little better, making them my assistants, and I tell them to put it on the brow and chest of the younger critical patients. I also give them cups of tea that should be given to the youngsters. And I turn to the man wearing a wedding ring, and start to work.
I work... time goes on. And on. In the moment when I finished, I knew that some of the people would live on... at least for some more time.
But I also had to find out what else happened in the time that had just passed.
I was aware of the probable outcome. Not giving help in time usually means just one thing. And I didn't want to look. As if as long as I don't look that what happened would not become real.
But I had to, and I looked.
I made a decision. And because of my choice, people would live.
And because of my choice, people died.
Because of me. Because of my decision.
I did all in my power... but I will never stop wondering if I could have done something differently.
This story is not a complete fiction. In Europe, Italy is the most affected country, where scenarios like this did happen: not enough doctors, not enough equipment, too many patients. People didn't take isolation-warnings seriously... and tragedy happened.
Be responsible. Don't put other people at risk. Don't cause this sort of pain and life-lasting trauma to health-workers. Prevent spreading of the disease. STAY AT HOME.
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