Blue Eyes–a short story

{This short story is one I’m taking to a writer’s workshop next week. I hope you enjoy it!} 

I check my appointments on my wrist cuff and head to my office to drop off patient records. Rubbing my low back that aches from the endless walking of patient rounds, I grab a new set of charts.

In the hall, I take one deep breath of sterile MAF air. Stretch my fingers and calculate the remaining hours of my shift. I’ve treated two minor mining accidents, one heart attack, and three minor colds so far.

“Dr. Steiler.”

I turn and watch Erryn catch up to me, her gray lab coat flapping as she hurries down the hall, her patient charts tucked neatly in the crook of her arm. I smile at the sight of a coffee cup in her hand.

“I see we got the new coffee shipment,” I comment.

She catches up and we walk together.

“Are you ok?” I ask, now seeing the way her hands are clutching her cup.

“What is it?” I prod.

She sighs. “Just diagnosed a girl from the mining region 23. At first I was stumped. The symptoms were bizarre. But then I recognized them and did a blood sample.”

“What’s the diagnosis?”

Erryn glances at me sideways. I don’t like the look in her eyes.

When she utters the name of the disease, I stop short, staring. “But we eradicated it from the camps years ago.” My voice is hoarse.

Erryn shakes her head. “I did the blood test myself. Twice.” She holds out the file and shows me the test results. “Her time’s running short. I gave her twelve hours unless we get a blood donor.”

“Well, check with the system for a match.” But I swallow hard. The only way to get a complete transfusion is to take the blood from a dying patient, and one that matches the blood type. The transfusion itself is a simple thing in and of itself, performed by a simple blood diffuser connecting the two patient’s systems. First, though, a donor must be available. I know the girl’s chances are close to none.

“I’m on the way to the lab now,” Erryn confirms. She pauses, staring at her records.

“What?”

She chews her lip. “I’m scheduled to make the run to the surface base. I have to leave after my shift.” She trailed off, not meeting my gaze.

A tremor runs through me. By regulation, when a doctor has to leave the base, their patients are handed over to their partner. Which in Erryn’s case is me.

I think of facing that poor girl, her terrified eyes, lips probably covered with the sores, the one tell-tale symptom. My hands shake as I reach to take the file. “Don’t worry. I’ll take care of it.”

Erryn clings to the file. Her eyes lock on mine. “You sure? You sure you can go through this again?”

I swallow, remembering his face. Remembering those fearless blue eyes smiling up at me. Feeling his tiny hand clutching mine while he fought for his last breath. Thinking how glad I was that our parents had died. That they weren’t here to see his death.

I struggle to force down the memories. “I’m sure.”

She lets the file slip out of her grasp. “Then I’ll see you when I get back.” She lays a hand on my shoulder, giving me a reassuring squeeze.

I watch her walk away. I clear my throat and find my next patient. Its two hours later when I find a computer in the lab, order a search for a blood donor for Erryn’s patient.

As I stare at the chart, the diagnosis sends shivers down my spine. Like the ones I always used to feel after my nightmares. I order the results to be delivered to my desk, wondering all the while what they will show. I try to ignore my medical instincts. But deep down, I know the chances of finding a match are 1000 to 1.

Its late afternoon and I’m in the back corridor of the complex, checking up on an overdue expectant mother. I’m walking back to my office when I stop suddenly, suddenly realizing that I’m in her corridor. I close my eyes, wincing as I remember the pain of watching a child squirm under the glare of death. The last thing I want to do is face that again. But I know that I can’t avoid this girl forever.

She’s sleeping when I pull open the door and enter her room. She shifts only slightly in her sleep as I examine her sores, the bruises that score her side. My hands are trembling and I pull away in horror, trying not to breathe, not to wake her.

She deserves a few last hours of sleep.

The door opens and I turn.

“Oh. Sorry, Doctor.” A nurse stands in the door, obviously surprised to see me.

I motion toward our patient. “You’re fine. Proceed.”

I wince as I hear the tension in my own voice. Feeling a sudden urge to escape from this room of suffering and memory, I silently move toward the door.

The nurse’s fingers fly and I linger as she silently slips some sedatives into the girl’s arm.

My mind is plagued by a question. “Does she have any family?” I murmur.

The nurse shakes her head as she collects her supplies. “She came in the last group of colonists with her Dad. He was the Captain of the ship, the Daedalus. He died shortly after arriving. Heart attack.”

The lump that forms in my throat unnerves me. I turn and stumble into the hallway. The halls are a blur. I clutch my files and propel myself toward the break room.

A cup of boiling coffee clears the fog in my mind. It gives me enough energy to force myself through the remaining hours of my shift. By the time I dismiss my final patient I can hardly keep my eyes open. But I drain another cup of coffee and drive myself back toward my office. A strange ache of dread fills me as I think of the results of the donor analysis sitting on my printer.

My heart thumps in the quiet of the halls. I press my fingers into my eyes as I stumble into my office. I know I’m a wreck. All I want is so see a good report on the analysis. Then I can go home. Go to bed.

But when I see the results, I sink into my chair, numb.

In all the blood pools in all the camps in the colonies, there is only one match. One possible donor who could save the little girl’s life.

Me.

 

The medical staff switches to the night shift. I sit in my chair, staring at the wall. This day has felt so surreal. I wish it were just one of my nightmares. But it isn’t.

I never thought I would again have to face those sore-covered lips, the glisten of feverish skin.

The disease, what we doctors classified as the D2 infection, was an infectious disease caused by a rare mutant of bacteria hidden in mines far below the surface of the planet. It killed nearly thirty-six victims in the first five days. Over 3% of the population of the planet’s colony died before we found the cause and the cure. After vaccinating all the colonists against it, we thought it had been eradicated.

But I had still faced it in my dreams every night. And now I’m staring my nightmares in the face. And I’m paralyzed.

My wrist cuff beeps. The noise pulls me back to reality, back to my office. Through the closed door, I can hear the quiet murmur of a normal night shift at the base. I swallow—a struggle with my aching dry throat—and shake my head with weariness. The results of the analysis still sit in front of me.

I read them again. Bite my lip as I stare at my name, the only name, under the list of potential blood donors.

That sight, the fresh horror, awakens a calling to action within me.

Urged on by this calling, I creep from my office, down the halls of the almost deserted MAF. I don’t even think. My feet lead me to her room.

I kneel by my patient’s bed. She is asleep, her chest rising and falling methodically. My eyes lock on her lips, the sores that ruin their perfect shape.

I can see him now, lying on a bed much like this, his lips the only outward sign of the disease wracking his body.

I try to push the emotions down. Hide them away.

I sat by him, powerless. No, not powerless. But unwilling, conflicted.

It was my baby brother’s life. Or mine. There had been only one match to the hurried search for a blood donor. Me.

If we had still been on Earth, the chances of finding a dying patient with matching blood type would have been so much greater.

But there we were, alone, my brother and I. We had no other family left. No one to keep me from saving him. But no one to compel me.

I remember sitting in the chair by his bedside, staring, trying to imagine what death would feel like. Trying to prepare myself for life-ending sacrifice.

I imagined for too long. Before I could make up my mind, find the courage to sign my consent, the lights on his bedside monitor started flashing.

Doctors crowded in. My sobs were drowned out in the shouting and the machines and the beeping. I stared as they went through the motions of reviving my brother. But it was too late.

Tears sting my cheeks as I remember. I am kneeling with my hand clutching the cot for support, fingernails white.

I lean my forehead down on the cot and try to imagine, once more, what death might feel like.

A sudden urge of haste runs through me. I know the guilt of having waited too long. I make a random attempt to brush the tears from my face and stagger to my feet.

I grab her chart with trembling fingers. Make a couple of notes. Pull tubes, needles, and the hand-held blood diffuser from the drawer. Carefully move my patient over and lay on the cot next to her sedated form.

Plug myself in.

A wave of nausea hangs over me as the blood begins to transfer.

I remain conscious long enough to see her eyelids flutter. Her eyes open.

I smile as fearless blue eyes lock onto mine.

Blue eyes.

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4 thoughts on “Blue Eyes–a short story

  1. AMAZING! That was the best short-story I’ve ever read! Nerve-wracking, thrilling and a very real and heart-felt moral! I love you dearly and we can’t wait for you and your sisters and parents to come up and visit us! Give my love to your family. — Yours, Diana

  2. Amanda…I am speechless!!!! You are an amazing writer.. I was there watching it all happen…thank you for sharing this!!!

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