World Travel
New Original Fiction
Books & Movies

Film Space
Movies in depth
Dreamscapes Two
More Fiction
Lifestyles Archive
Politics & Living
Sam Hawksmoor
New fiction


25 Years Online
••• The International Writers Magazine -
Hospital Blues

The Zombies Didn't Get Me
(And Neither Did the Brits)
• Lev Raphael
"Is everyone okay?  What about the zombies?"


Soon after seeing the zombie thriller 28 Days Later set in London, I suffered a sudden and mysterious attack that had my husband rush me to our doctor's office. The pain somewhere lower down in my belly was so sharp and intense I couldn't stand straight and could barely breathe. The doctor said that this was likely a gall bladder attack and ordered us to get to an ER immediately. He was a jovial, short man in his fifties who always had some joke to share, but he looked decidedly grim.

I imagined that being stabbed would be like the pain I was enduring and my head was filled with dark and ugly images as my husband tried to calm me down on the drive from the office to the ER. That half hour ride seemed endless, and with eyes squeezed shut in a failed attempt to disappear, I understood for the first time a phrase I'd read in many books: "crazed with pain."  It was all I could do not to scream or bite my arm.
Bite my arm?  Why would I even imagine that?  What the hell was happening to me?  Was I nuts? Not even zombies did that.  They never bit themselves — what would be the point?

At the ER, I was whisked from the lobby into a too-bright little room that smelled of plastic after offering up my insurance information at a desk I could barely see through befogged eyes.  And before I knew it, I was in a bed being asked what my pain scale was on 1-10. I gasped my answer: "Twelve, maybe more, I don't know."

The young blond doctor with the cocky stance of a weight lifter didn't seem surprised and said something to the attending nurse about morphine. It must have been a very heavy dose he was calling for, because her eyes went wide and I didn't know if I should be scared or grateful.

Everything turned vague very quickly, though I think I caught the doctor telling my spouse to go home and come back tomorrow when I'd have some tests. It was too late to start now and they would keep me overnight.

The next thing I knew, there was a very kind old woman in a red dress with lace at the collar sitting by the side of my bed. Her hair was back in a loose bun and she had a giant old-fashioned picnic basket in her lap whose fruity, sweet aroma of fresh-baked muffins or cake filled the room. I assumed it was all for me. But before I could ask what was inside, she disappeared.

In her place was a bearded, formally-dressed man who looked so much like Sigmund Freud that I figured it must be Himself. He held a pipe and though he wasn't smoking, I thought his tobacco was almost sweet as whatever was in that woman's basket. Was he a friend of that lady in red? He murmured something and whatever he said was reassuring enough for me to have fallen asleep.

I woke up at 2 am and everything was so quiet, I felt chilled.  I stumbled out into the empty hallway whose walls were—yes—hospital green and thought I was in the opening scenes of the zombie film where everyone had escaped or been killed. The quiet was too awful.
A nurse found me and asked, "Can I help you?"
"Is everyone okay?  What about the zombies?"

She quietly directed me back to my bed.

In the morning, with my pain still dulled, I remembered everything and as a story teller, I knew I wouldn't have to embellish the tale at all. 


A few years later, I tore the meniscus in my right knee 48 hours before a dream job-come-true: six very well-paid weeks teaching creative writing in London. It happened when I was stepping over a bench in the locker room of my ritzy health club: I heard a snapping sound and was stunned by the pain which was both hot and sharp at the same time.

I quickly got in to see a surgeon who had been giving me regular knee shots to counter my arthritis in that knee and he assured me that I could go live my dream if I wore a knee brace and avoided stairs. That sounded reasonable. We scheduled surgery for when I returned from London 6 weeks later. He also gave me a steroid injection in my knee and prescribed pain medication which I didn't realize would cause insomnia, and then as an afterthought he suggested I arrange for a wheelchair to traverse the many airports I would be visiting. I followed his advice.

The teaching was wonderful at Regents' College. My Michigan State University students were smart, funny, terrific writers.  They formed instant attachments with one another and their critiques of each other's work were helpful and smart. I found a friendly gastropub I liked and two Italian restaurants nearby, and was happy not to be microwaving dinner every night. The city around me, though, was hot and dirty, and between pain and the Aleve, I was not sleeping well.

Worse than that, the apartment arranged for me was a minefield. I had no idea it was going to be a duplex which forced me to use stairs no matter how careful I was to keep everything I needed on one level. After all, the bedroom was on a different floor than the kitchen. Short of sleeping on the kitchen floor or the hard, narrow, scratchy purple couch in the living room, I was stuck. So I had to constantly slowly navigate the shallow, tight staircase whose shit-brown carpeting was worn and slippery. Some days I just sat down on the landing midway, exhausted before continuing. More than once, the pain made me cry.

The living room where I did email and Skype calls, read student papers and listened to music, was over-decorated with Persian-looking tasseled rugs that weren't tacked down, plus half a dozen tasseled tablecloths that tangled my legs when I sat there to work. There was a bizarrely wicked cross breeze in the flat that scattered papers and actually rumpled the rugs which required constant straightening. I was desperate to avoid tripping. But if I kept the windows closed I would roast, since temps hit 90 that summer, I was on the top floor, and the flat had no air conditioning. There was a small table fan in the living room which didn't do much, though it was useful for cooling off my iPhone when it over heated.

I couldn't take the Tube nearby because the station only had stairs, no escalator or elevator, so I relied on a car service whose drivers were allergic to AC. Getting into their heated black interiors often gave me a migraine before I could convince the drivers to cool down the car. Most of them criticized me for taking so long to come down from the top floor when they texted me they were downstairs, and they seemed incredulous that my apartment was no. 1. "What's it doing up there?" they asked, as if it were my fault.

One night, putting books and papers away before going to bed, I tripped on the most fiendish rug of all, the one most easily bunched up by the malevolent breeze. Trying to avoid coming down on my bad knee, I grabbed at the table with my left hand but hit it hard instead, so hard that it went numb and began to balloon.

I had instructions for whom to call in an emergency and was on my way to a hospital within minutes, the pain starting to make me feel as if my hand was on fire. All I remember of the ER was the black, stackable plastic chairs and passing out soon after checking in. I woke when my name was called, still dazed by the pain in my hand.

A bearded ginger who looked obscenely healthy started the intake in a tiny side room and when he asked if I had any allergies, I snapped at him: "I'm allergic to London." At least I think that's what I said.
He gave me a cold stare and maybe my snark was passed on to the doctor who next examined me, because she palpated my hand so hard that I screamed. As magisterially as Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey, she said, "My, that seems to be exquisitely painful."

I showed up at my class the next morning not just limping as usual, but with my left hand and lower arm in a cast. There was silence until one student quipped, "Please don't die."

The class of sixteen was soon clustered around my chair signing the cast and before we could start work on the scenes of colorful individuals they'd observed in the city over the weekend, the school's band started practicing on the lawn right outside our window for some coming celebration. It was The Macarena.

And so they danced.

© Lev Raphael 2.22.24
Editor, Mentor, Writing Coach
Prize-winning author of 27 books
in genres from memoir to mystery

More life moments

Share |


© Hackwriters 1999-2024 all rights reserved - all comments are the individual writer's own responsibility -
no liability accepted by or affiliates.