Up One Side Of The Mountain (part 1) ... another coma dream retold
Almost immediately I was drawn back to earth by the foreman screaming for me to carry the next load of sheetrock across the parking lot and into the old school building. Load in tow, I formed part of a long ant chain of plaster board carrying laborers. Each of us looked identical to the person in front of him. Dusty jeans with white splotches across the thighs... beige boots with the laces barely tied... t-shirts faded and torn... and each with our sheetrock hatchet dangling from our belt.
The old high school was being converted into a new community hospital. The crew I was working with had been hired on to tear out the old plaster and lathe, rewire the building, replace all the old utilities, upgrade the services, and in my specific case, hang new sheetrock and get everything ready for the paint crew which would be there in a week.
As dozens of sheets of the gypsum board began piling up on the stripped down walls, there was a pungent odor... an odd smell to be certain. At first, I was fairly sure someone had nicked a gas line. The smell was egg-like. Maybe sulfur from a gas leak. The plumbers came in and found nothing. No one else seemed to be able to smell the odor that to me was growing stronger with each load of gypsum board brought into the building.
The following day I awoke with a piercing headache which began right behind my eyes. Where normally I would experience just a dull throbbing or a tightness at the neck, this was like someone sticking hot needles through the backs of my eyes. I washed my face in the sink, assuming that during the night I must have rubbed my eyes with something on my hands from the day before.
As I finished my coffee in the truck, my eyes continued to water and burn. After a round of eye drops they were no better. The pain was almost enough to make me call in sick, but I figured if I made it in to work, I could handle sticking it out for the day. Maybe go home early after lunch.
My job for the morning was cutting access holes for the utility boxes. Quick work with a jab saw and fairly low mess. I would catch the worst of the dust with my hat as I was cutting, then dump the dust and debris out as I worked along the wall, revealing the electrical boxes. My eyes continued to burn, seemingly worse as the day pressed on.
When I went outside for a break, I put my hat on, shaking out the little bits of paper and gypsum. The very next thing I knew I was lying in a hospital bed, arms tied to my sides, tubes in my nose, and nurses frantically rushing my gurney down the hall. I tried telling them that my eyes were burning. One nurse said something about trying not to blink. The hallway felt like it was lit with neon sparklers. Every single light fixture in the ceiling glowed white hot. The only smell that I could discern was that of smoldering ash and sulfur.
The nurses muttered something about exposure and told me not to scratch my eyes... that the ointment would need to be reapplied every few hours for a few weeks. The grit that they said I was feeling was completely normal and would go away in time. I was expected to relax. All around me, I could see the walls smoking... an eerie grey-yellow mist. They said my eyes were closed, but I could see, smell and taste this rotten cloud everywhere I looked.
I asked what hospital I had been taken to. One of the technicians replied that it was the newest hospital in town. It was in fact, the ground floor of the very building I had been working in earlier. This was the intensive care unit. I was the second patient brought in for observation due to contamination. No one knew what we had been exposed to. When I asked the tech how long they were going to need to keep me, he told me that he had no idea. He'd only just started working that floor a day earlier. Fresh out of school, he had no idea what was going to happen. I asked about the first patient. The tech replied that he hadn't made it through the night.
Before he left my room, I asked him if he could close the windows and turn the lights out so I could sleep and perhaps get rid of the terrible headache. He drew close to my bed. Very quietly he let me know that the lights were off, the windows were closed, and that my eyes were taped shut. He then pressed a button near my head which beeped five times. Moments later I felt the room turn slightly, blur and then fade to black.
To be continued.