St. Boniface General Hospital
They say lightning never strikes in the same place twice.
While that’s not precisely true the people working at St. Boniface Hospital that night prayed it never happened again.
Rain poured out of the sky as lightning streaked from cloud to cloud, illuminating the darkness brilliantly. Thunder boomed darkly in an audible retort to the vicious light show.
Nurse Gregg cried in the rain.
It was the middle of November. Everyone who wasn’t able to get the Christmas Holidays off was taking their vacation time now. This left the steady hospital and emergency room dangerously short staffed. Doctors worked doubles back-to-back. Nurses running off their feet for ten, even fourteen days straight. Interns and support staff were frayed at the seams, continually taking the brunt of frustration from patients and medical staff alike.
The lightning started after dinner time but the rain had been pouring down since noon. Big fat heavy drops of rain; the kind that soaked you instantly to the skin. Ponchos and raincoats be damned.
St. Boniface Hospital was already very busy assisting the sick, excessively drunk or nearly crippled patient. As the evening progressed things quickly got out of control.
As the lightning strikes worsened, more than a few traffic lights were down. Reports indicated that one of the power stations had taken a direct strike leaving several sections of the city in complete blackout. Including of course the street lamps around St. Boniface Hospital.
With more than a few car crashes taking place around the city ambulance drivers were in motion non-stop transporting wounded people from accident sites to the E.R.
A standard E.R. is callously forced to place people in a priority system. Severely hurt patients take precedence over someone with the sniffles. However as the night wore on hospital staff were forced to prioritize people in the horrible categories of Bleeding But Manageable and Seconds From Death. Sadly if patients from the first category were left long enough they eventually fell into the second category.
A relatively new member to the St. Boniface staff Nurse Gregg had been shielded from the worst examples of human tragedy. Even with the long shifts and oppressive patient volume Gregg had been very lucky.
No one had died on her watch.
With red rimmed and eyes Nurse Gregg hustled from patient to patient. Tales of vehicular accidents. Lightning strikes. Severely burned flesh. Fires breaking out in apartment complexes. Chaotic assaults prompted by booze filled hooligans believing the storm was a sign of the Apocalypse.
By one-thirty in the morning Nurse Gregg had witnessed doctors pronounce over a dozen people dead.
There was no break. Just when things began to stabilize another accident would occur. Power would shut down in another area of the city. Another fire would break out. One more brawl.
It was too much.
Unable to stomach anymore Nurse Gregg forced her way out of the hospital and into the open air. Electricity danced across the sky in an epic ballet while rain pounded the earth. Her chest heaved with sobs as tears spilled from her clenched eyelids, lost in the rainwater.
Moments before she had assisted Dr. Stevens with a patient involved in a three way collision, the man’s left leg had broken at the femur. One lung was on the verge of collapse, a two foot shard of glass protruding beneath his ribcage from his car’s windshield.
Gruesome cannot describe the task of applying pressure to the belly wound. Nurse Gregg watched Dr. Stevens feverishly attempt to reset the bone in the man’s leg while a burly orderly pressed firmly on the patient’s shoulders to hold him in place. Supplies of morphine and codeine were in short supply and saved for patients in recovery. Despite that Dr. Stevens had the man’s heart rate close to stable levels.
Dr. Stevens took a firm grip on the left ankle and inner calf. He paused to take a deep breath. Then a second. On the third, he gave a smooth but firm yank on the leg.
There was a wet and squishy pop as the leg righted itself and slipped into place.
Agonized, the patient started up with a horrific yell.
“Hold him!“Dr. Stevens bellowed while trying to keep the leg in position. The orderly leaned heavily onto the man’s shoulders, pressing him back to the gurney.
Nurse Gregg felt her hands grow warm and slick. She looked down.
In the commotion, the patient had twisted his torso. The wound had opened wider, and she was now pressing gauze into the very gash it was meant to staunch.
Dr. Stevens shouldered her aside and applied another bandage to the wound, hollering for more help.
There was no more help.
The patient bled out in minutes.
Nurse Gregg thought she’d never get the taste of bile off her tongue again. Or the iron tang of blood out of her nostrils. Her tears had finally stopped as the rain continued to pour washing at her face. Sluicing the blood of her hands. Soaking her scrubs to her body.
“Please,” an exhausted man’s voice called from a distance. “Please, help me!”
Blinking her eyes and focusing through the rain, Nurse Gregg watched a heavyset man trying to support an incredibly pregnant woman up the ramp from the parking lot.
She froze for a long moment. Her brain did not immediately register what it was seeing.
The woman’s knees suddenly collapsed as she cried out in pain. With a Herculean effort the heavyset man managed to get his arms under her, keeping her from hitting the pavement. The strain showed on his face, as he levered the woman back up to her feet. His eyes swung forward again.
Nurse Gregg shook her head once and stepped forward to take the woman’s arm.
Despite all the chaos, the sight of a very pregnant woman being carried through the E.R. lobby took precedent. People with obvious injuries pulled out of the way. A man with blood on his face and an obviously dislocated shoulder stepped aside allowing his spot in line to be taken. Two thugs involved in a violent pub brawl helped clear a path through the crowd.
Sadly, not everyone was a saint.
“I have been waiting two hours to see a doctor,” cried one man plaintively holding his wrist. His black leather jacket glistening wetly in the dim light. “I ain’t letting this broad in until you look after me!”
There’s an asshole in every crowd.
The two thugs stepped towards the leather clad complainant as the rest of the E.R. swelled menacingly.
It took a moment to calm everyone down. After things settled Nurse Gregg found an empty gurney in the hallway for the woman. It was in this inglorious and inappropriate location where her labor began in earnest.
“My God,” the man panted holding his wife’s hand and trying to smooth back her hair. Sweat and rain water soaked them all from head to toe. His wife rocked back and forth on the gurney, her legs spasming.
“How far along is she?” Nurse Gregg asked.
“Linda’s weeks overdue.” A pitiful cry of agony erupted from her lips. He made appropriate shushing noises while looking at Nurse Gregg frantically. “Is there a doctor available? Any doctor?”
“I’ll find one.”
It took nearly five minutes, but Nurse Gregg finally grabbed Dr. Stevens away from setting bones and suturing open wounds. He took one look at the pregnant woman and ran to the nearest intercom, hammering on the command key. “Clear a ready room immediately. I’ve got a woman crowning and a baby minutes from birth. Do it now!”
They wheeled Linda towards the ready room, her husband still gripping her hand. Nurse Gregg met the doctor’s eyes. No words were spoken. Nothing needed to be said.
Inside the ready room, Nurse Berry was preparing an IV drip. An EKG and heart rate monitor were also prepped and ready to go. Quickly the two nurses managed to get the woman hooked into all of the equipment as Dr. Stevens clinically cut away the billowing, floral skirt she was wearing while he rapid fired questions at the husband.
“Who’s your family doctor?”
“Dr. Robert Besant … He works out of the Medical Arts Building.”
“Did you call him?”
“He’s stuck with another patient. His wife wasn’t …”
“Fine.” Dr. Stevens eyed the man askance, taking in the bell bottom jeans and the tye-dyed shirts under his sodden denim coat. Gesturing with his head at the man’s shaggy and unkempt hair. “am I going to have to worry about hallucinogens in her system?”
The man scowled briefly. “This is the first shirt I could find after I called the babysitters for …”
Linda’s latest cry cut the air, high pitched and agonized. Dr. Stevens gave her his full attention. “Okay people, here we go.”
Linda’s husband spoke soothingly while smoothing back her hair. Nurse Berry monitored the equipment and maintained a steady hand on Linda’s arm. Nurse Gregg stayed at Dr. Stevens’ shoulder, needing to see this through.
And then the hospital’s generator blew.
Linda screamed, this time with fear. Dr. Stevens’ voice rose in alarm, still issuing soothing words; coaching her through the moment. A sense of panic filled the room as Dr. Stevens struggled to keep everyone focused.
Moments felt like hours while everyone remained motionless. Save for Linda who continued to push at Dr. Stevens’ command.
On a night like this it’s very common for eyewitness reports to be unreliable. There was chaos all around and often too many witnesses to get one clear picture of events.
But everyone saw the lightning bolt strike St. Boniface Hospital.
Out of the storm there came a brief pause. A moment where even the downpour seemed to hold. Like a child taking a deep breath before blowing out its candles on their birthday.
One brilliant blue-white bolt split the blackness and struck the radio tower on the hospital’s roof, illuminating the sky around it. A surging charge flowed over the rooftop, down the concrete and brick walls along with the rainwater. Powerless exterior lights around the building suddenly flared to brilliance, more than a few bursting from the overpressure and sending shards of glass into the night.
Investigators and engineers later speculated on what happened. It was universally conceded that somehow the lightning strike managed to reset the building’s generators. Firing them back into motion and providing power to the hospital. Life sustaining machinery returned to sudden activity and lights flared in hallways.
None of that could be explained scientifically of course, but no one questioned it too far. All that anyone cared about was that it happened. Enough people had died that night.
Nurse Gregg remembered the sounds. Linda’s screams. Her husband sobbing as the pressure and worry finally got to him. Dr. Stevens maintaining calm, his voice reassuring. Nurse Berry whimpering off to the side.
By the time she realized what the sensation of her hair trying to rise up from the back of her neck meant the light in the room became blinding.
Electricity arced from machine to machine. The darkened lights in the room flared up and burst into fiery fragments, glass shards spraying at random around the ready room. Nurse Berry screamed in fright as the EKG machine beside her lurched away from the wall, sparks blossoming in a fountain from the wall socket. Linda’s husband jumped up, covering his wife’s head and torso protectively. Dr. Stevens remained impossibly calm, leaning forward and hollering at Linda to push while thunder boomed impossibly loud inside that tiny room.
The light continued to flare. And then it was gone. Returning the room to darkness.
Nurse Gregg shook her head and tried to resolve the ringing in her ears. After a moment she recognized a new sound.
The throaty wail of a baby boy.