(The following are a series of journal entries of a nurse, Rosario Baez-Richards, who lived in southern California and worked at the emergency department of a hospital. The story is set 6 years in the future and records her reactions to an earthquake hitting her city. All of the people and events in this work are fictional.)
Diary of an Emergency Room Nurse
February 13, 2015
Where do I begin? The shift started normally enough. I went to report, where the afternoon shift had nothing out of the ordinary to report, aside from some new patients that had come in around 5 PM, a couple of 20-something year old men who had gotten into an argument that escalated to a rather severe fight. Knives were involved. Report was finished by 11:30 PM and I went to see if I had any patients waiting for me in the ER waiting room, yet. I only had 2 people at the start of my shift; a drunken man who’d been roughed up by some toughs at a bar and a young mother with her first baby who was very worried about what turned out to be a normal run of the mill cold. From how rudely the drunk spoke to me as I was treating him, I’m guessing his mouth got him into trouble at the bar. All in all, they were the things I usually see when I’m stuck working the graveyard shift.
Around 3 AM, I felt a rumbling in the ground. I thought it was just one of the occasional small quakes we get here from time to time. A couple of the new nursing grads we had hired this week, who were not from the area, screamed and were pretty much good for nothing for the next couple of hours. I’ve lived in this town for the past 10 years, so I have gotten used to the occasional small rumble. To be honest, I was more worried over what I was going to do for Valentine’s Day with my husband. We will have been married for seven years on the 14th. Things were pretty quiet in the ER. We only had one patient in, who had crashed her car into a street light. From the smell of her breath, I guessed she had been drinking pretty heavily before she got behind the wheel. Amazingly, she wasn’t hurt all that badly, but she did need some stitches. As I was checking in on “Little Miss DUI” about 3 hours later, I heard her screaming, “The room’s shaking! Make the room stop shaking!!” I felt a huge quake rattle the building right as she screamed. Tiles fell from the ceiling, half the equipment by the patient clattered to the floor and I was thrown off my feet and hit my face on the floor tile. It was all I could do to try to calm the woman down before I’d even thought I had been hurt myself. It must have looked worse than it really was, because the folks who were coming in for report at 7 AM kept asking me “Rosario, are you okay? Are you hurt?”
I feel so upset right now. Yes, an earthquake happened. Yes, the hospital is going to have to be repaired for the rest of the week. Thankfully, no one was hurt more than a few lacerations. Yes, I know the city is going to be busy repairing the roads. What I’m most angry about? My anniversary is tomorrow and I look like I married a wife beater!! I guess we won’t be going out to dinner to celebrate this year. Too many people would be giving poor Roger dirty looks once they saw me.
February 14, 2015
As grandma Baez would say, DIOS MIO! Today was terrible, and not just because my face is bruised on my anniversary! Roger woke me up this afternoon and told me to watch the news. Normally, he would not have dared to wake me up before I was good and ready to get up. I didn’t grouse at him because his face looked so ashen. I turned on the news and saw most of downtown in shambles. On the poorer side of town, a fire had broken out and destroyed easily 4 blocks, most of it apartment buildings and homes. Roger was frantic all afternoon. His little sister and her two boys lived on that side of town. He could not reach her on the phone. Finally, we went out, despite being told to stay home, and looked for them. We found them after sneaking past a few irate police officers. What a sad sight it was. Their little house was in ruins. Nothing was left standing. Mary was crying her eyes out while holding Trevor while Mark was trying to fish some of their belongings out of the rubble. We had to physically carry Mark into the car because he was determined to get his Dad’s navy uniform out of the rubble. He was angry at us; he kept saying “It’s the only thing of him we have left!”
Mary and our nephews are going to stay with us for now. This is terrible. Poor Mary! First her husband gets killed in the war, now this. I wish I could stay and help her and the boys, but, not surprisingly, I have been called into work. Some of the staff have not shown up and people are afraid they are among the injured. Some anniversary. I guess 7 isn’t as lucky as I thought it was.
February 15, 2015
My heart hurts. The other two hospitals in town were overflowing, so mine had to take in the patients that had been diverted away. We were already “up to our eyeballs in alligators,” as my uncle would say. I’m starting to miss Florida. At least the ground stays still there. There were aftershocks last night. The fire on the east side spread to the north part of town. The fires have been contained, according to the news reports, but the damage has been done. A lot of people have been hurt. I lost 4 of my patients in the first 2 hours of today’s shift. One of them was a girl who was only 6 years old. Damned Doctor Skye made me break the news to her parents. He didn’t have the spine to do it himself. I’ll be seeing the parents’ faces in my sleep for many weeks to come, I think. I saw at least 3 Mercy Flight helicopters carry people away to more equipped and less crowded hospitals to the north during my shift.
It was so hard to try to keep it together when I was working with the patients. By the time my break came around, I hobbled to the chapel and just cried my eyes out between prayers. I wasn’t the only person there doing that. Lots of families of patients were also there. I saw Doctor Hernandez praying with her rosary. It looked so much like the one grandma Baez had. I wish grandma were still here with us. I miss her being able to make everything alright just by holding me in her lap and singing to me in Spanish.
March 2, 2015
I didn’t sleep well at all. I keep seeing the faces of the parents of the little girl who died on the 15th when I dream. Trevor keeps waking up in the middle of the night screaming, thinking that he’s still in his old house when the walls came tumbling down. Mary and I spoke with Father O’Connell today to see if he could come give an anointing of the sick to Trevor. We are at our wits’ end. The child has been having the same nightmare since the 16th. He is only 4 years old. Why does he have to suffer this?
I have to admire Mary. She lost everything in that quake, yet she is the strongest one of us in the household. A couple of days after the quake, she managed to muster up her strength to find what jobs there were to be had. She is still looking, but she doesn’t get despondent even if a day’s worth of searching comes up with nothing useful. When I just want to sit down and cry after a shift, it seems she always has some words that help me make it through another day. No wonder she is Roger’s favorite sister. She keeps a careful eye on Mark and Trevor and is doing everything she can to help them. Mark is about as much fun as a box full of rattlesnakes right now. I can’t blame the boy, losing his father and the only home he’s ever known in the same 12 months. His mother is a saint! If I am even half the mother she is when Roger and I have kids, I will count myself as one of the most fortunate women in the world.
Roger has been working long hours with the city crews repairing the damage that the quake did. We haven’t been able to see much of each other because of that. He will be home soon, so I’m going to stop here for the day and go fix him some dinner for when he gets here.
July 30, 2015
Well, this is it. Tomorrow we pack up the last of our things and take the drive north. Mary is moving to San Francisco. After much debate, Roger and I also decided to move there. Mary finally found a job. She starts teaching 3rd grade in San Francisco in September. After much begging and nagging from Roger, I agreed to not work in a hospital in our new town. He says that he can’t bear to see me come home in tears from one more shift. I survived that quake. I know that much. If I made it through that disaster and still came out in one piece, I’m pretty sure that I can make it through anything. I think his insistence has more to do with our expecting a baby in December. All I can say is that the tears are easier to handle for me than this morning sickness! I also know that I WILL go crazy if I go too long without working. Roger didn’t say one word about working at a school. I think I’ll see if Mary’s school is in need of a nurse.
Comments? Questions? Rotten fruit? Roses?