Stanley was a good nephrologist. He came to Grady Memorial right out of Yale School of Medicine; really he grew up in this department. He was a good friend, a good man. He was one of those—one of the many—healthcare providers who crossed over due to SARS-COV-2.
Several days after the funeral, though, he started coming back in to consult on cases. Because he was just so devoted, so completely wrapped up in helping others. Salt of the earth, I mean truly. Plus, on the spectrum maybe a little. Probably.
Things had been slowing down a bit, nationally, with physical distancing, and New York City closed its field hospital in the Javits Center, and the ship called Comfort sailed away to Virginia. All of this was in the news: we'd turned a corner, time to get back to normal.
And so the governors—our governor and a couple dozen others, egged on by President Trump to disregard the guidelines his own administration had issued weeks earlier—they all started opening up parks, and theaters, and clothing stores, and what-have-you, hot dog stands.
Most of the team can't see Stanley, but it's kind of funny who can: just one other kidney doctor (Shari), and one of the janitors, and me. The janitor caught me talking with Stanley, and I thought, lord-have-mercy, what'll he make of me now, but he never took his eyes off the dead man long enough to notice me. He got pale in a comic-book kind of way and said, "Dr. Lewis, it's—what are you doing here?" And Stanley answered, called him Jimmy (who knew?), and said it was good to see him. He explained that something must be not quite right; he'd expected to float right off to heaven or whatever-the-case-may-be, but that didn't happen, flight delayed. He got curious about how one of his patients was faring and came in to have a look, and fell right back into all his usual patterns. He joked with Jimmy that at least he wasn't drinking all that caffeine anymore.
I can see Stanley, and I can feel the others—sometimes even guess who's who. That male nurse with the earrings, chip on his shoulder. The ditsy blonde CNA who used to give me shivers every time she winked at me. Angie, best damn cardiologist south of the Mason-Dixon. Some days, coming into the hospital lobby is a little like crossing a picket line.
COVID-19 is doing really fascinating damage to kidneys, along with all the other organs, give or take; it's like nothing we've ever seen before. I can see why Stanley would have a hard time just turning away from that mystery, that challenge, and moving on.
After the Georgian "warriors" rushed to the beaches, after the restaurants and shops opened back up, you guessed it, here came the patients testing positive. We were slammed. For weeks. Just lots and lots of people in really bad shape, and we couldn't save most of them. And since Kemp had been playing along with Trump's magical thinking about testing and masks and gloves and so forth, we weren't really able to protect ourselves. We did our best, but it was slipshod. We were vulnerable to it, really high viral load, and it knocked the knees out from under us. A lot of us. I was down with it myself when Stanley got sick. But I was lucky.
One day Stanley—he'd been coming in for say, three weeks, wouldn't tell me where he went at night or whether he slept, anything like that, just wanted to talk peritonitis, shared dialysis circuits, and suchlike—said he had to go away for a little while, to help some people take care of something. He said it really serious, like maybe he wouldn't be coming back, so I didn't tease him about making more friends in the afterlife than he had in his mortal coil. I gave him a hug, although hugging him was a little like hugging a draft from a window accidentally left open in a storm—just a little bit of damp, plus a little bit of chill.
He was back in a few days. Wouldn't say a word about where he'd been—not at first.
He smiled a lot more than he did when he first came back from the other side, even though he still teared up as he watched intubated patients "sleeping." And he paid a lot of attention to the news. Within a couple of days of his mysterious mission, he was so focused on the television that I made the evening rounds without him. I thought, in the long run, given his situation, it was probably better for him to turn his attention to other things.
Well, after about a week, the word started filtering out through the media membrane. The first one to test positive was Steven Mnuchin, which was fine with everyone at the hospital, fine with everyone in my family, fine with everyone I knew who'd ever heard of the man. I mean, thoughts and prayers of course, but he appeared to have had some undiagnosed pre-existing condition. And he was kind of elderly, right—late 50s I think? What a warrior. After that, they dropped like flies for two weeks, three or four a day: Pence, McCarthy, Pompeo. Nunes, Fauci (unfortunately), Conway. Then McConnell, Cruz. Melania. Barron (which is really too bad). Don Jr., Bill, Jared.
Brian Kemp. I hate to say it; it isn't kind—but that was a happy day.
The President lay low for a few weeks. Sure, there'd been a few tweets, but they were too coherent to serve as proof of life. All the words were capitalized where they ought to have been, and there was no connection whatsoever to anything airing on FOX News at the time they were posted. FOX News, by the way, was significantly disrupted. Tucker and Sean and Jeanine, Laura... all out sick. The new talking FOX heads seemed a little more squeamish about all the outright lying, now that COVID-19 seemed to be wiggling through locked security gates and around masks and gloves.
The dead—rage-filled brigades of the dead, a livid division of dead doctors, and nurses, and respiratory therapists, and whatnot—could barely operate in the manifest world. But that weekend when Stanley went missing from Atlanta, they had exerted themselves mightily; together they'd succeeded in smearing virus-laden bandages and swabs, soiled PD bloodlines and pillowcases, and the like, on the motherfuckers' faces as they slept.
Even though FOX didn't cover it, the news of the deaths came rolling out from the other outlets, a couple weeks behind the positive tests. One by one, every one of those motherfuckers who'd contributed to the deaths of 100,000 Americans, including thousands of healthcare workers; who'd taken away years of fulfilling service, years of tenderness with lovers, years of joys and heartaches with children and grandchildren—who'd consigned those good people to an early grave and at the same time postponed their eternal motherfucking rest—one by one, those motherfuckers entered hospitals just like the other COVID-19 patients did. And they—to a man, to a woman—every one of them, died in there.
Because the dead caregivers whispered into the ears and minds of the living caregivers, who neglected those patients just a little. The dead caregivers, in the rooms of the neglected patients, with great effort, working together to overcome the friction that is the hallmark of the dimension you and I still share, pulled plugs from sockets, chargers from computers, and IVs from arms. And so on. Painstakingly, they removed labels from IV bags and tubing. Capriciously, they added new labels.
And when the hospital administrators sat down to document all of the day's errors, the dead whispered into their hearts: Check on 3C. Or: You're so exhausted. If you don't get some rest, you won't be able to help the poor people who are gonna get admitted tomorrow.
I asked Stanley about them—America's "leaders"—after they'd crossed over. Were they angry, too? Should I be afraid of the evil dead? Nah, he said; they're not around. Their kind seem to move on right away. Express train.
The metaphysical trains or planes seem to be running again, generally. Now, as I make my way inside to work each day, fewer and fewer of my lost co-workers are present.
Stan, I said to him this afternoon, time for you to get the hell out of Dodge.
Trump himself never made it into a hospital. Yesterday, President Pelosi announced that, just like that warrior Hitler, Trump had shot himself. Holed up in some linen closet in the West Wing, terrified of the virus. Maybe—sometimes I wish anyway—maybe he'd gotten a glimpse of the dead nurses and doctors and medical assistants dragging their red bags to his bedside, so he was terrified of healthcare professionals in the end. Provisioned with an AR-15 (of all things!), he blew his own face to pieces.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to the surviving members of his family at this difficult time.