by Robert Bové (Feb. 2007)
Two young men swiftly pushed their trolley down to service elevator, often taking their eyes from hall ahead. It was risky not looking, but that hall was not so long it couldn’t be scouted at a glance. And though the two orderlies hated spending any more time than they had to in “hockers,” as they called the acute respiratory ward, neither of them could stifle the habit of looking into open doors.
Not much to see that evening, between shifts; the rooms were all taken, but there was neither doctor nor nurse in sight. It was quiet, too, and that was strange, considering how busy the ward had been for the last week, but this only spurred them forward. When the two reached the elevator, one of them pressed the down button, and each turned his head to the sound of female voices in the last room on the left, the combined wash and supply room. There were three nurses washing up, two with the standard issue bottled soap and alcohol mix which they complained aged their skin, the third with cake soap she’d brought from home. Behind them, piled tightly on shelves were several sealed boxes containing gloves, gowns, eye protectors and uncomfortable N95 masks. When the nurses heard the elevator bell ring they looked up, nodded weakly in recognition, and returned to their washing.
Once out the elevator, the two raced their trolley toward the exit. It was the end of their shift, the beginning of their weekend, and though neither had anything more exciting planned than going to a neighborhood tavern, that was enough to make their hearts race just a bit. Then, there was the game: the doors to the outside cargo bay swung open when an interior electric eye was triggered, but it was possible to get the trolley going fast enough, to give it one last strong shove so that it slammed into the doors before they fully opened.
That didn’t happen this time. One of the two hung onto the trolley for a split second too long and went flying with it out the now-open doors and onto the slick cargo bay surface, covered with dirty December slush.
The trolley struck the dumpster with enough force to loosen the orderly’s grip and send him sliding to the edge of the bay. His friend, now laughing, gave him a hand up and the two carefully trod the slush to their trolley to empty the contents of “little hazmat” into “big hazmat,” as they’d named trolley and dumpster. “You lost one of your gloves,” he said, pulling his sleeves tighter around his own gloves.
They quickly emptied the trolley, sleet having started up again, slapping their exposed faces. The one who had fallen started to walk toward the steps that led from cargo bay to ground. “Not so fast,” said his friend. “You screwed up, you bring the trolley back.”
“But I’ll miss my bus.”
“That’s rich. Miss the
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