Healthcare Workers and Zombies

Barbara Custer included lots of zombies in When Blood Reigns.Before I wrote Steel Rose and City of Brotherly Death, I wondered how healthcare workers would handle zombies. What would my role as a respiratory therapist entail in a zombie invasion?

Let’s consider a brain-dead patient, someone whose heart still beats, but the lack of brain wave activity defines him as legally dead. The patient breathes through a tracheotomy tube with mechanical ventilation until he goes to the operating room for organ donation. My duties would include keeping his airway clean and making sure his ventilator works. Supposing I did my job, never suspecting that the “dead” person could be a zombie waiting to feast on someone?

Let’s backtrack to possible events before the patient’s admission. Perhaps our patient gets assaulted by a zombie, and he blows its head apart. All well and good, but the zombie bites him. Our guy’s shaken up and has no business getting behind the wheel. But he does anyway and drives to the police station. Instead, he winds up in a horrible accident that leaves him with traumatic brain injuries and broken bones. The severity of his wounds necessitates a tracheotomy. The unsuspecting paramedics put him on a ventilator and rush him to a hospital. The doctors may not notice the bite until too late. They’re more worried about the patient’s possible brain death.

Hours later, the zombie’s bacteria infiltrate Trach Man’s system, most likely before the hapless therapist or nurse come in to suction him. Mr. Trach Man yanks out his breathing tube, lurches out of bed, and chases his caregivers, all the while spewing bloody secretions from his tracheotomy before feasting on someone’s brains and flesh. Other staff may hear the screams. Because guns are banned at most hospitals, most people will stand by wringing their hands while their coworker(s) dies. The braver ones might tack the zombie, mistaking him for a combative patient, and get bitten themselves.

Of course, the staff therapist can run. He could call Security or try to fight back. His tools (scissors and a screwdriver) won’t protect him from zombies. If he’s lucky, he’ll be employed undercover by the zombie squad, using the therapist’s uniform as a beard because that’s the only way he’ll survive.

Hospitals are supposed to have surveillance cameras, security officers, and training to handle such situations. They are supposed to be able to handle terrorists, right? Perhaps they could stop a would-be child kidnapping in progress? That may be; but given the potency of the zombie’s bacteria, most staff won’t figure out what’s going on until it’s too late in the ballgame for a lot of people.

For the respiratory therapist’s sake, I’m hoping that Mr. Trach Man started to turn on his way to the hospital, while the paramedic is administering CPR or inserting an IV. That would be disastrous, but most ambulance vehicles are equipped with a kind of circular saw, along with the standard life-saving equipment. The paramedic could ditch the ventilator and resort to sawing and tossing bits of the former patient out the backdoor. So much for the Hippocratic Oath department.

Suppose the zombie outbreak happened because of an alien conspiracy. Instead of bacteria, perhaps the aliens installed a computer chip or robotics to make the dead body come to life. In this case, whacking the zombie with a portable oxygen tank would disable the computer and immobilize him. If the therapist, nurse, or are other worker decides to fight the zombie this way, they had better strike true, or else end up as the zombie’s next meal. Of course, given most hospitals’ policies on violence, the caregiver might face termination of his job. But he could always even the score by pushing an administrator toward the zombies, right? The plot thickens.



Revisiting the I Gotta Bug: Information Dumping

Barbara Custer's horror fiction included City of Brotherly Death

In my post about the writer’s “I gotta” bug, I detailed the struggles I had working the ending to “One Last Favor.” I sent my story with a revised ending to Toni Rakestraw. A few weeks later, she sent me the edited tale with the line edits and thought balloons, and at the end, noted “I’m not quite satisfied” with the ending. An ending could be happy or sad, but I wanted my readers satisfied, and now is the time to fix the problems before the story goes to print. Once the book goes to print, the ship has sailed.

But this ship hadn’t left harbor yet. “One Last Favor” is a novella. Because of its length and its army of walking dead, it’s the last story in the City of Brotherly Death anthology. The zombies and revenants are chasing after Tara, the protagonist. All up, a delightfully creepy tale, but with an unsatisfying ending. It’s like someone handed me a red silk gown studded with gemstones, and telling me, “Here’s your present, Barbara. The dress is yours to keep on one condition: you can’t wear it.”

Very frustrating.

Toni and I discussed the ending by email. I asked her what she thought of the ending. She couldn’t give me a direct answer, but she asked me if I was striving for a happy or unhappy ending. She also asked me how I ended it originally. Well, at first I had Tara joining Kraven and the undead, and that ending didn’t wash. Tara was too dedicated a nurse, and most people in their right minds wouldn’t give up their humanity to join a race of flesh-eating monsters. She then suggested that I rework the ending but with Tara and her lover together. This I did and I’ve also gotten feedback from my writers’ group. One of them mentioned Jonathan Maberry’s Write and Sell Short Stories class and his discussion on information dumping.

You may wonder why I’m bringing up information dumping. Information dumping is one of the worst sins a writer can commit, and that’s precisely what I did with the ending I’d sent Toni. I wrote a paragraph summarizing Chris (Tara’s lover) proposing to her, moving her to a new apartment, and then fading into the sunset while she deals with the horrors alone. Capital mistake. A marriage proposal is a life-changing event and not something to be tucked in a laundry list of back-story. Not only that. Chris has become an important figure in Tara’s life, and a gentleman like him wouldn’t let her face those monsters alone.

I also needed to resolve the central conflict, that is, the dead overrunning the state and eating people. I can’t go into details lest I give away the story but I addressed this with my last rewrites.

Once I addressed the central conflict and wrote the marriage proposal scene out, the ending began to make sense. I’ve gone through two rewrites since Toni’s seen the ending, and now I’m letting it sit while I work on other parts of the project. I will want to show it to my writer’s group once more.

Sometimes you need information dumping in your first drafts just to get your story down, but then ditch it in your rewrites. My WOP, Blood Moon Rising, a sequel to Steel Rose, has plenty of information dumps, and I’ve got my work cut out for me once I finish edits on City of Brotherly Death and Steel Rose.

Has information dumping been a struggle for you, and if it has, how do you deal with it? I look forward to hearing about your experiences.


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