Earthquake Weather – Snippet 15


“All sorts of people who are not in the least degree worthy of the pet, are always turning up,” said Miss Pross.

“When you began it–”

“I began it, Miss Pross?”

“Didn’t you? Who brought her father to life?”

–Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

AT DAWN they awoke Plumtree by sticking another hypodermic needle into the vein on the inside of her elbow–this shot contained a potent mix of Versed and Valium, and she had only ten bewildered seconds to curse and swear at the two nurses and Armentrout, and strain uselessly against the damp canvas straps of the four-point restraints, before she collapsed into unconsciousness. After the nurses unstrapped the rubber tourniquet from around her biceps and unbuckled the restraints, Armentrout crouched beside her and held her swollen hand in both of his, rolling the bones under his thumbs and prodding between the knuckles with his fingertips; then gently, almost tenderly, he lifted the young woman’s limp body onto the gurney.

The ECT clinic was at the other end of the building, and Armentrout was pleased to see that the hallway lights didn’t dim as Plumtree was wheeled along under them. One of the nurses striding alongside was holding a black rubber Ambu face mask over Plumtree’s nose and mouth and rhythmically squeezing the attached black bag to assist the comatose woman’s weakened breathing.

The nurse anesthetist who was waiting for them in the fluorescent lit treatment room was a bearded young man Armentrout had worked with many times before, and the man leaned back against a counter and frankly stared as the nurses unzipped Plumtree’s jeans and pulled them down past her hips and then unbuttoned her blouse and lifted her up into a sitting position to tug her limp arms back and pull the blouse free; Armentrout allowed himself only a glimpse–for now–of Plumtree’s pale breasts when the nurses removed her bra. When they had laid her back down, positioning her head carefully on the perforated plastic cushion, the anesthetist stepped forward.

“What happened to her hand?” the man asked as he looped a Velcro blood-pressure cuff around her left upper arm and then inserted an Intercath needle into the back of her bruised right hand and taped it down. The blush of red blood that backed up in the IV tube cleared instantly when he opened the valve to full flow.

“She punched a guy,” said Armentrout shortly. “Just soft-tissue damage to her hand, no crepitation.”

“I hope he’s not pissed off–very shortly now she won’t remember doing it.” He taped onto Plumtree’s right forefinger the pulse oxymeter that would shine a white light through her fingertip and monitor her oxygen level by changes in the ruby red color of her flesh.

“This guy can’t remember his own name,” absently remarked the nurse who was peeling the backs off the wire-tethered plastic disks that were the heart-monitor EKG electrodes. She began pressing the disks sticky-side-down onto Plumtree’s skin at each shoulder and hip and then in a cascade pattern around Plumtree’s left breast.

“Get her on the ventilator,” snapped Armentrout.

The anesthetist obediently pried open Plumtree’s mouth and pushed in past her teeth the steel shaft of a laryngoscope that was guiding a balloon-tipped plastic tube into her throat; and when he had got the tube far down her trachea and inflated the cuff to get an occlusive seal, the ventilator began chugging and sighing as it forced oxygen in and out of her lungs.

“And inflate the blood-pressure cuff,” Armentrout said. “It’s time to get the succinylcholine running.” Armentrout was hunched over Plumtree’s head now, ruffling the thatch of her blond hair and at measured intervals poking down into her scalp the tiny needles of the EEG electrodes that would measure her brain-wave activity.

Plumtree’s semi-nude body shivered under the monitor wires as the succinylcholine hit, then relaxed totally–Armentrout knew that the motor end plates of all her voluntary muscle fibers had now subsided in depolarization, and only the insistence of the ventilator was even keeping her lungs flexing.

A nurse now leaned over the unconscious woman to fit a bifurcated foam-rubber bite block around the endotracheal tube and between the teeth of Plumtree’s upper and lower jaws.

Finally, Armentrout smeared conducting jelly on the steel disks that would deliver the voltage, and he carefully stuck one onto each of Plumtree’s temples–this would be a full bilateral square wave procedure, not one of the wishy-washy unilateral with one of the disks stuck onto the forehead. Armentrout knew it wouldn’t damage her– he had undergone a series of full bilateral-wave ECTs himself, when he had been just seventeen years old, after his mother’s death.

“Low-voltage tracing,” said the nurse who was watching the EEG monitor. “Huh!–with some intermittent sleep spindles at about fourteen hertz.”

“That’s to be expected,” said Armentrout, not looking at the anesthetist. “You’ll see some biphasics, too, if we make a loud noise.” He looked at his watch–it had been two full minutes since the muscle-disabling succinylcholine had gone coursing down the IV tube.

“Clear!” he called, and everybody stepped back from Plumtree’s electrode-studded body. For a moment Armentrout let his eyes play over her breasts, the exposed nipples erect in the chilly air of the treatment room, and the wisp of blond pubic hair curling above the elastic waistband of her TUESDAY-stitched panties, and then he twisted the dial on the plastic monitor box to two hundred and fifty joules, took a deep breath, and flipped the toggle switch.

Instantly, Plumtree’s left hand twitched and clenched in a fist, for the tight constriction of the blood-pressure cuff had effectively prevented the neuromuscular blocking drug from getting into her forearm.

“Total chaos,” calmly said the nurse who was watching the EEG monitor. Plumtree’s brain waves on the screen were a forest of tight, wildly disordered peaks. “A ten on the Richter scale.”

Then, slowly, the middle finger of Plumtree’s tight-clenched left hand unfolded and extended out straight. The anesthetist noticed it and laughed. “She’s flipping you off, Richard,” he told Armentrout. “I’ve never seen that happen before.”

Armentrout kept his face impassive, but his belly had gone cold and his heart was knocking in his chest. I can’t believe that’s not involuntary, he thought–but–who the hell are you, girl?

“Me either,” he said levelly.


Cochran put on yesterday’s clothes when he got out of bed; Long John Beach was in the other bed now, black-eyed and snoring like a horse behind a metal brace taped to his nose, and Cochran was careful not to wake him. when he had sneaked out of the room, he got one of the psych techs to let him rummage for fresh clothes in “the boutique”, a closet full of donated clothing; and twenty minutes after he had got a nurse to unlock the shower room and give him a disposable Bic razor, he shambled into the windowless cafeteria, freshly bathed and shaved and with his wet hair combed down flat for the first time in twenty-four hours, wearing oversized brown-corduroy bell-bottom trousers and a T-shirt with a CONNECTICUT PANSY IN KING ARTHUR’S SHORTS lettered on it. All the other shirts had been too narrow for his shoulders or were women’s blouses that buttoned right-over-left. He didn’t think the crazy people, or even the staff, would read the lettering, and he nervously hoped Janis Plumtree might be able to find it funny.

But when he took a tray and got into the line for oatmeal and little square milk cartons and individual-size boxes of cereal, he looked around the tables and saw that Plumtree wasn’t in the cafeteria.

He carried his tray to an unoccupied table and sat down, and began eating his cornflakes right out of the box, like Crackerjacks, ignoring the little carton of milk. He was breathing shallowly and dropping as many cornflakes onto his lap as he got into his mouth.