The vehicle shook violently. A faint whistle, like a hot tea kettle on a stove, grew louder with each passing second. Valerie opened her eyes just as a plane glided low over the street and crashed into a field she knew was just out of sight. She felt the impact in her chest. One after another, more aircrafts went down. Some she could see, and others were mere ground shaking rumbles in the distance. With every explosion, she jumped a little but remained transfixed on the destruction outside her small compartment.
Frozen, Valerie was helpless. Horrified. Her stomach ached knowing how many people could fit on a plane. She waited for the sick feeling to pass before assessing her own wellness. From the looks of things, her plan had worked. Though the airbag had deployed, she had no pain and would have guessed the accident was minor. The state of her car hood told a different story. The small mile marker appeared to have cut nearly halfway up the front end of her sedan.
She turned off her emotions to keep herself together and noticed other wrecked vehicles. Some were worse than others. Knowing those people might need medical assistance, she counted to herself. After exactly one minute without hearing or seeing another crash, Valerie pushed as hard as she could on her seat belt, but it did not budge. Unhooking the rescue tool from her keychain, she made easy work of her restraints.
Something horrible was going on. Regardless if it was just in the immediate area or broader spread, Valerie was obligated to render aid to those who needed it. Though her car would offer a slight barrier from debris, she determined if a plane landed on top of her, there was no kind of shelter that would stop it from killing her. This measurement she did not take lightly. Her mom had been killed just outside her vehicle the year before, helping others in a snowstorm.
Once free, Valerie shouldered her bag and assessed the scene. There had not been any impacts for a few minutes. Passersby worked together to assist people who were in similar situations as herself.
“I’m a nurse. Is anyone injured?” she called out as far as her voice would carry.
“No, ma’am,” a few soldiers hollered back.
“There is a small ER on the top of this hill. You can send casualties there. The next closest hospital is General.”
Once her instructions were met with affirmation, she began the short walk to the facility. She came upon a mother crying and holding a baby to her chest while a little girl and a slightly older boy clung to each leg.
“Are you okay?” Valerie’s heart was crushed. She could not imagine having her son with her in this mess.
“I don’t know. I’m fine, and they were in their car seats, but she won’t stop crying.” The woman held her baby up for Valerie to see.
“Come with me. There’s an emergency room at the top of this hill. She’s probably just scared, Mama.” Valerie took the child and cradled her against her chest. The baby quieted immediately. She looked down at the little girl who returned her gaze and cooed.
“Oh, she’s super cute.” Valerie smiled at the woman. “I think she’s just fine. Come on.”
The woman picked up the middle child and held the oldest by his hand, and they followed Valerie. She kept her emotions at bay. She made small talk about their names and where they were from because, in a military town, few are actually from there.
Valerie turned into the parking lot of the emergency room, still holding the baby who played with the zipper from the shoulder strap of Valerie’s bag. The facility had once been an old movie rental store converted into a seven-bed emergency room with X-ray, lab, and CT scan capabilities. Stand-alone emergency rooms were a new concept in the area, and most of the community was skeptical of the novelty. The ER shared the parking lot with a chain drugstore, which people were running into empty-handed with just as many coming out with their hands full of random merchandise—looting, no doubt. Chaos had erupted in the strip mall across the four-lane intersection. People were screaming and running frantically.
Valerie quickly shuffled the mother and children into the emergency room waiting room, which was surprisingly empty.
"I'm Valerie. I’m covering for Shawna today," she announced to the grey-haired lady at the front desk. The woman said nothing but stared at Valerie and pushed a button to activate the door from the waiting room to the nurse's station. The night shift nurse and a tall Hispanic gentleman who popped his tongue and waved his wrist around while checking equipment were the only people she saw in the facility.
“Where’s the doctor?” Valerie demanded. She did not have time for pleasant small talk. They would start receiving casualties any minute.
“I didn't know there was a student on shift today,” the night shift nurse said at Valerie but to no one in particular.
In the midst of everything, Valerie completely forgot about her age regression. She no longer looked like a seasoned emergency room nurse, but a young college girl without the required experience to work for the company. Valerie knew the events of the day would catch up to her emotionally, but now was not the time to think of all the things that could have gone wrong. She had a job to do and lives to save. This fellow medical professional would, hopefully, share the same ethic.
“I normally work in Denver; I’m just filling in for Shawna.” Valerie was not offended. She did not have time to be.
“Well, are you going to do this medication count or not?”
“You’re not leaving,” Valerie informed her counterpart. “There are planes down and car accidents. We need to start prepping to receive patients.”
“Are you even old enough to work here?” the woman challenged.
Valerie could no longer mask her frustration.
“What is wrong with you?” Valerie yelled. She took a breath and coaxed her emotions back under control. She clenched her teeth. “I’ve been an ER nurse for thirteen years. I am thirty-five years old and fully qualified to do this job. Now, are you done interrogating me? Because I’m sure your job is not human resources. There is a mass casualty situation right outside the front doors of this place.”
“I just can’t handle this. Not today,” the nurse said to the ceiling and let herself out the back doors where the ambulance was parked.
“You’ve got to be kidding me!” Valerie threw her hands in the air. A ball knotted itself in her throat, and her heart raced. She wanted to follow the woman out the door and drive home. Any other logical human in any other field of work would be doing just that. Besides, the facility was not meant to support an emergency of this magnitude. She thought about the twelve planes, the car accidents, the static that shot from her hands.
“Umm, Ms. Valerie,” the older woman said with a shaky voice. “We’ve received an e-message from the main hospital outlining the disaster plan for our facility.”
Valerie followed the woman to her desk that sat in front of a window to the waiting room.
“I’ll have you back in just a second. Are you doing okay?” Valerie called out to the waiting woman.
The mother nodded and smiled.
Valerie took a seat at the desk. The receptionist walked out to the lobby to have the woman fill out some paperwork to have her children seen. The radiology technician sat with his back to Valerie at another computer, headphones on and pounding his keyboard fast and dutifully.
The office where the doctor worked remained closed. The separation aggravated Valerie to a point almost unbearable. All she could think about was opening the door. She was uncomfortable not knowing if there was even a physician in the building since she had met neither the night shift nor the day shift doctors. She stood up to knock on the door but sat back down. There was something wrong. Like when Scott first brought her transformation to her attention. With a deep breath, she willed her raging thoughts to stop. He needed to be out here, to know what exactly was happening outside the door. But there was something else making her want to tear down the door. Valerie was not usually a nervous person. In fact, there were few who were as calm as she was under pressure, but still. She had a feeling deep down that the worst had not come. Something else was not right. Even the atmosphere in the facility kept the hair on her arms standing up. No one else seemed to notice the lack of patients or the absence of the physician.
Valerie tapped her fingers on the desk in front of her, trying to still her nerves. She needed to calm down and read through her next instructions before knocking on the door. That way...