The Man Who Wouldn't Wake Up

Matthew Donnellon

Photo by Sinitta Leunen on Unsplash

*this is a work of fiction

I was tired.

Too tired.

I pressed the red button on the instrument panel and the machine’s cockpit opened. It was a strange machine that somewhat resembled a tanning bed but much, much, more useful.

There was a slight whirring noise as the machine anticipated my arrival. I set the machine for one hour and climbed into the apparatus. Once inside, I grabbed the mask and tried to strap it over my face. Mine never seemed to fit quite right.

After a minute the blinking yellow light above my head turned green. This was the worst part, a noxious, foul hydrogen sulfide gas poured into the mask. I don’t get why they can’t come up with something better.

Soon, the gas took effect, like someone was pulling the plug. Things got slower. I felt an icy tingle as it got colder. With each breath, the world slowed down a little more.

My thoughts foggy, my hands and legs no longer working, I was slowly freezing to death. My body was shutting down. The tiny monitor next to my head held all my info. My respiratory rate dropped, I went from 20 breaths a minute to 2.

The scary part is the temperature. Watching yourself drop from 36 degrees Celsius to just 2 degrees is pretty disheartening. I was now cold-blooded, essentially a reptile, a lizard. This new predicament clouded my mind just as I felt the dark circles at the edge of my vision. I felt myself spiraling down, no longer thinking. I was just...there. And it all went black.

Beep. Beep. Beep. It was all I heard.

A whirring noise kicked in the background and the door of the compartment lifted. Oxygen flooded over my body. My eyes snapped open. It took awhile for my hands to work. This part felt a little strange. Instead of waking up, you felt like you were being born. Life just materialized around you. One minute I wasn’t here and the next I was.

The clock said 11:19 AM. Perfect. I was only out an hour but it felt like I had just slept for twenty. The best part of the system is that while the world around me passes, I stay the same. The whole world aged an hour, and I didn’t age a second.

It was a short walk to work. I was in the locker room when Chet, my partner, walked up behind me.

He tapped me on the shoulder when I was pulling on my jumpsuit.

“You’re late again.”

“Sorry,” I said, as I zipped up the front. “I had to get my hour in.”

“An hour?” he said. “No one needs an hour.”

“I do.”

We headed to the ambulance bay. One of the other shifts was coming in as we geared up. “Tough day?” I asked the other driver.

He laughed. “There aren’t tough days anymore,” he said. “It’s not like how it used to be.”

He was from before, a paramedic, back when they did things. He remembered the old days. I looked at Chet. “Is this us?”

He looked at the call log “12–82,” he said. “Yeah, this is us.”

We climbed into the still running ambulance. Mike called back to us, “Good luck.”

I looked at my watch: 12:37, still twelve hours to go. This was the boring part of the job. The waiting. It was a funny feeling, waiting for someone to get sick. Something to end the monotony, someone’s pain to end my boredom. In the middle of my thoughts, the radio crackled to life. “Incident at 13 Reve Street” the operator said. I looked at my watch: 12:55, that was fast.

“Unit 12:82 responding,” Chet said. He looked at me. “Get ready.”

I hit the button on the dash and the compartment between us opened. I grabbed the full body scale and the syringe bag.

We pulled into the Detraum Hills suburb. It wasn’t hard to tell which house was ours;, an older woman stood crying in the driveway in front of an all-white new construction house. Chet maneuvered the ambulance next to her.

Chet got out and was opening the back of the van. I walked up to the woman. “What seems to be the problem, ma’am?”

She looked up at me with teary, red eyes. “It’s Jeffery, my…my… husband. I think he’s having a heart attack.”

I put my arm on her shoulder. “It’s okay, ma’am, We’ll take it from here.” I said. “Where is he?”

She brought us to a rather large, crumpled body at the end of the stairs. I tossed the scale on the floor next to him. It inflated to its full width and Chet came up behind me.

“Is he having a heart attack?” she asked.

Chet looked up at her. “Hell if I know,” he said. “We’re just transporters.”

“We have to get him on the scale,” he said. I grabbed the man by the arms and Chet grabbed his legs. He was still breathing, his eyes wide, his chest heaving. We laid him on the mat. The machine read 107.023 kg.

“107.023,” Chet said and waited for the second number. “13 milligrams of vitamin M.”

I pulled the pouch from my waist and yanked out one of the syringes, pulling off the cap with my teeth. I dipped the needle into one of the canisters of vitamin M and pulled out 13 milligrams of the stuff.

This was the one moment of panic throughout the whole episode. The tricky thing about Hydrogen Sulfide is that the same properties that allow it to send people into suspended animation make it’s highly toxic. It took the Morpheus Corporation years to get it through testing. The worst thing is that in an emergency we can’t just pump gas into him. I have to use the syringe to get the Hydrogen Sulfide, vitamin M, as we call it, to get it into peoples’ systems.

Chet tightened a length of the surgical tube around the man’s arm and slapped it until the veins showed. This was my chance. I saw the man’s eyes, desperate. One long, bulging vein branched down his arm. I found a vein, slipped the needle into it, and pressed the plunger.

The reaction was instant. His breathing dropped, almost stopped. It was like watching someone freeze. From what I’ve read, there isn’t much difference.

“What’s happening?” his wife asked.

“He’s being suspended,” I said, getting up from the floor. “It’s no different than your suspension chamber.”

“I hate those things,” she said, “makes me feel like I’m sleeping in a coffin.”

“I used to hate it,” I said, “but I don’t miss being tired.”

She followed us while we placed her husband in the back of the ambulance. There wasn’t any equipment back there, just room for the patient and a bench for me and another person. We didn’t need ambulances, really, but one of the old timers told me they couldn’t figure out what to use them for. She sat next to me as I strapped her husband to the bed.

“Sometimes I think we’re supposed to be tired,” she said. “It’s what reminds us to slow down.”

“I guess that’s one way to look at it,” I said. “How much do you take?”

“Just the hour,” she said. “I couldn’t bear to be in there any longer.”

I knocked on the window between us and the cockpit. Chet started the ambulance and we were on our way to the hospital. As we were pulling away, she looked at me. I said, “You could look at it this way. That one hour over fifty years probably gives you another two years. And if you bumped it up like Halfers do, you could double your lifespan.”

At 1:12 PM, we pulled up to the hospital. There were two ambulances ahead of us at the drop-off. One at a time, the bodies would be unloaded and taken to their respective rooms.

“What’s taking so long?” she asked.

“It’s not like there’s a hurry,” I said. She leaned forward and held her husband’s hand. Before vitamin M she most likely would have just watched her husband at the foot of the stairs, waiting for an ambulance. I could hear her saying something to herself. It sounded like, “It’s just not right.”

Chet pulled the ambulance in front of the take-in center. One of the doctors walked from the entrance while I pulled the patient onto the stretcher. I recognized her immediately. She was a newer doctor assigned to take in the patients. “Hey, Lisa,” I said.

She frowned. She hated when I used her first name around other people. She turned to the woman with me. “Madam, I’m Doctor Sanchez. We’ll take good care of your husband,” she said. The wind was picking up as we moved the patient into the hospital.

“Take him to C.U. 3.10,” she said. She asked the wife what the problem was while I rolled the patient into the elevator. She agreed that the most likely scenario was a heart attack given the age, weight, and level of exercise she got from the wife.

The cardiac unit was stark white. The floors gleamed and the whole floor smelled slightly of disinfectant. I wheeled him into a large room filled with all kinds of doctors and nurses. There was a crash cart in the corner and all the machines to take care of the patient once he woke up.

“This our guy?” the lead doctor asked.

“Yes,” I said as I rolled him into the middle of the room. I was walking out of the room when one of the doctors stopped me.

“Do you have any anti-M?” he asked. “We ran out and they haven’t brought more up yet.”

I pulled one of the red syringes out of the pouch on my hip.

“Here,” I tossed it to him.

I vaguely heard the lead doctor say “Rise and shine” on the patient. Lisa stood outside of the room looking in. The doctors worked on the man. The anti-M hit him right away. Oxygen replaced the cytochrome oxidase that kept the man in suspended animation.

It was like watching someone waking up from a bad dream. Immediately, he started coughing and clutching his chest. The portable MRI showed he had a blood clot in his right coronary artery. One of the doctors shot a clot buster into his bloodstream. Minutes later, he was fine and full circulation returned to his heart.

“Why didn’t you tell her it was a heart attack?” Lisa asked.

“What?” I said.

“You knew it was a heart attack,” she said. “It might have eased her mind.”

“Hey, I just weigh’em and stick’em,” I said. She turned her whole body towards me now. I could see well beyond her short frame.

“You know more than half the people in this hospital, Lucas,” she said. “I don’t get why you want to be a Transporter.”

I stepped in towards her. “Someone has to pay the bills, sweetheart,” I said. She hated when I played that card. She turned back towards the glass.

“Whatever,” she said.

I looked at my watch; I had to get back to the ambulance. “When are you coming home?” I asked.

“My shift is over at 13:00 hours tomorrow. I’ll grab an hour here and then I’ll come home.”

“See you later,” I said as I kissed her on the forehead.

The ambulance was still running. “You really ought to shut that off,” I said. I climbed in next to Chet.

“I don’t pay for gas,” he said.

We patrolled the city for another two hours. Chet had a habit of listening to really old country music while we drove. I half wanted to take a hit of M and have Chet wake me when something happened. I was staring out of the window when the radio crackled again. I looked at my watch, 3:37. Time really flies.

Incident at 58 Sogno road,” the dispatcher said.

“Copy,” Chet said.

58 Sogno road was a quiet neighborhood on the outskirts of the city. We were the closest unit but it was still a bit of a hike. It was a large split-level grey building. The screen showed it was the residence of Denise and Michael Sands. We walked through the front door. A woman was at the foot of the stairs, crying.

“Are you Mrs. Sands?” I asked.

“He won’t wake up,” she said.

“Who won’t wake up?” I asked.

“He, he…. he won’t wake up,” she said.

I put my hand on her shoulder “Who won’t wake up, ma’am?”

She didn’t stop crying but pointed up the stairs. I looked at Chet. His grim face told me he was thinking the same thing. Sometimes we got there too late. Every once in a while, the person never had a chance: heart attacks in their sleep, gunshot wounds, or serious falls. We still had to face death occasionally.

I figured that’s what she meant. We walked upstairs to the bedroom with her behind us, still crying. A Morpheus company sleeping chamber sat in the middle of the room, the same one I had in my bedroom. His readout was still on the screen, heart rate 40 bpm, respiratory rate 2, and an O2 level of 97. This man was very much alive.

Chet walked up to the body. “Ma’am, sometimes the alarm doesn’t go off. All you have to do is hit the red button.” He hit it. It hissed and the chamber’s door opened. The man still didn’t wake up.

“What’s wrong with him?” she asked.

“It's okay,” Chet said. “Sometimes the oxygen in the room isn’t enough to wake them up. Hit him, Luke.”

I pulled a syringe from the bag. He was young and fit and I could see the veins in his arms. The needle slipped into the vein without much give. He should have woken up within minutes.

I looked at my watch; the anti-m was in his system for 13 minutes. “I’m going to try a jolt,” I said. I only had one jolt in my bag, a bright orange syringe, a mixture of anti-m and adrenaline.

“Are you sure?” Chet asked.

“We don’t have much choice,” I said. I slipped the cap off the syringe and stuck the needle in his arm. The reaction should be immediate. If this didn’t work, I didn’t know what would.

Nothing. He was stuck. I pulled out my phone and dialed a familiar number.

“Hello,” she said.

“Lisa, we need help,” I said. “I have a patient here and he’s stuck.”

“What do you mean?” she said.

“He’s suspended but he won’t come out,” I said.

“Did you try a jolt?” she said.

“Of course I did,” I said.

“Get him to the hospital right away,” she said.

We arrived at the hospital with the body in the back of the truck. I sat next to Chet while I left Mrs. Sands in the back with her husband. For the first time in mine and Chet’s careers, we didn’t know what to do.

The scene at the hospital differed from the last time we were here. Instead of just Lisa, there was a team of doctors and nurses waiting for the ambulance. Other units were pushed aside to make room for us. I jumped out of the door as soon as the truck stopped. The doctors were already getting the body out of the back. He was rushed to the doors and Lisa was left to stay with Mrs. Sands.

“Doctor, what’s going on?” she asked.

“I’m sure they will tell us something as soon as they know,” Lisa said.

“I don’t get it,” Mrs. Sands said. “We’ve been using those things for years.”

“How long did your husband spend in the chamber,” I asked. I noticed that Lisa wasn’t taking her to a specific room. She kept Mrs. Sands in the lobby.

“12 hours,” she said. She was starting to get a hold of herself. “He spent 12 hours in it every day.”

“And you?” I asked.

“I only stayed for four hours,” she said. “I hated those things.”

That was strange. It was customary for couples to sync the time they spent in the chambers to prevent aging at different speeds. Lisa and I spent an hour in the machine. Long hours at work meant little personal time if you spent too long in the Morpheus chamber.

Lisa turned towards me. “Why don’t you keep Mrs. Sands company and I’ll go see if I can find out anything.”

We waited for a half hour while Lisa checked on Mr. Sands. Chet came in to see what happened.

“What’s going on?” he asked.

I shrugged my shoulders. This whole thing seemed strange. I had never heard of anyone not waking up before. Lisa appeared in the hallway. She walked past us and went straight to Mrs. Sands. She was followed by a team of doctors. I turned to see Lisa hugging Mrs. Sands, who started crying again.

The Chief of Medicine spoke. “Mrs. Sands, I’m afraid we cannot make your husband wake up. His state of suspended animation is at a level we have never seen before. We did our best, but he is still suspended. Despite our best efforts, he’s non-responsive, and I recommend moving him to a holding facility until we can run some experiments and research this further. Is this okay with you?”

Mrs. Sands still had the tissue in her hand, her eyes wide open, poised for tears, “Yes” she said, “if that’s what you think I should do.”

“That is my recommendation,” he said. “I’ll have these transporters take you to the nearest facility. The hospital will cover the cost.” He looked at Lisa. “Dr. Sanchez, would you mind overseeing the transport?”

“No sir,” she said.

We loaded Mr. Sands into the ambulance. I chose to ride up front with Chet and left Lisa with Mrs. Sands in the back. We left; the nearest holding facility was ten miles away. It was a long, silent ride.

Eli Shane-Fields Holding Facility was an immense building, monstrous really. There was a single loop in the front for deliveries. We arrived at the facility at 5:35, and a woman met us out front.

“Welcome to the Eli Shane-Fields holding Facility, my name is Karen Morris,” she said.

Lisa was the first one out of the truck. “I’m Dr. Sanchez. Did Dr. Wallace explain the situation to you?”

“Yes,” she said. “We’ll take care of the patient for now.” Two men came out to retrieve the body.

I didn’t like holding facilities. It was where people went if they had a terminal illness. You could be placed in a pod and then kept until a new treatment was found . Stacks of people were kept on shelves in permanent cold storage, like a giant grotesque refrigerator.

“Mrs. Sands,” Karen said, “the hospital gave us your information. We ask that you say your goodbyes now.”

“Right here in the parking lot?” Mrs. Sands asked.

“Yes, we cannot allow unauthorized personnel into the holding facility. Please be prompt. The sooner you say goodbye the sooner we can place him in storage,” Karen said.

Mrs. Sands cried without a sound while she held her hands on the capsule that held her husband. The two men behind Karen Morris came forward to take the body. Mrs. Sands wouldn’t let them take her husband. Lisa had to hold Mrs. Sands as the men took the capsule from her.

“This is for the best, Mrs. Sands,” Karen Morris said, as she turned and followed the men into the building.

“It’s not right…” I heard Mrs. Sands say, “just not right.”

That night I sat alone in the dark while Lisa worked in her office. The door from her office was half closed and the light escaping it created a line down the middle of the room. I heard the click of her hands on the computer keys. “Lucas,” I heard her call from the other room. “Come in here please.”

I walked into her office and it appeared that she was quite busy. Next to her computer, she had out both a microscope and the portable blood scanning machine I got her for her birthday. “What are you doing in here? I thought you were studying for boards or something,” I said.

“No,” she said, “I’m working on Michael Sands’ test results.”

“Isn’t that something you could do at work?”

“Something’s not adding up. His cells show signs of rapid decay. Even though he was suspended, his body is eating away at him.”

“How do you know?” I said.

“I took blood and tissue samples from Mr. Sands while I was at the hospital,” she said.

“You have his samples here?” I asked.

She pointed to the vial of blood in the scanning machine. “I didn’t want it to be true but I was right, Lucas. Vitamin-M is killing people.”

Sometime later

My neck itches as I try to adjust my tie. The suit was stiff and didn’t fit that well. Lisa was lucky I even had this in the back of my closet. The lobby was chilly and the metal furniture didn’t help much. The lobby of the world headquarters of the Morpheus Corporation was immaculate, the floors shone, every surface meticulously polished, and the stark walls were flawless.

Lisa sat next to me. It had been six months since she figured out that vitamin-M was deadly to humans. She quit her job at the hospital to research the case full-time. One of her colleagues put her in touch with an independent lab.

Today was the big day. We were going to meet with the president of the company.

The receptionist walked up to us. “You may go in” was all she said. I looked at my watch, 12.10. We walked into a room with one long table that was flanked with men and women in suits. At the head of the table sat the man himself, Mr. Eli Shane-Fields. He was tall, slim with grey hair.

The man on Shane-Fields’ right stood as we sat down. “Hello, my name is Bob Lessoah, senior general counsel to Morpheus Corporation. We heard that you may have some troubling findings. What you see before you is the legal team for this company, plus we have two firms ready to handle litigation. I say this to you right now because I want you to think long and hard about what you are about to do…”

Shane-Fields raised his hand cutting the lawyer off.

“Bob, I think that’s enough. This is not official. This young woman simply has some information that she would like to share with us. That’s all, isn’t it?” Shane-Fields said.

Lisa nodded her head. Just as she was about to speak, Shane-Fields cut her off. “Miss Sanchez, before you start, I think that this situation would be best handled by the least amount of people. Give us the room.” As soon as he was done speaking, the entire room rose from the table and left the room; even Lessoah went under protest. “Please come down here.” He motioned to the empty seats next to him.

Once seated, Lisa opened her portfolio. “Sir, I…”

“Miss Sanchez,” Shane-Fields said.

“Dr. Sanchez.”

“Dr. Sanchez, I believe that I know quite well what you are about to say. This is not the first time that this has been brought to my attention. But, I cannot let something as trivial as this get in the way of my company.”

Lisa stood up. “Trivial! Are you serious?”

“Dr. Sanchez, sit down. This is not the time, nor the place for such histrionics”

“You’re talking about human lives.”

“Do you know how much Morpheus is worth? Last year, this company was worth 15.7 trillion dollars. Our capsules are in every home in the world. There is a Shane-Fields holding facility in every major city in the world. We provide the most lucrative, important drug in the history of the world. My product single-handedly changed not just the way healthcare works but also the very nature of human existence. Now, are you going to try and convince me that human lives are worth stopping this?”

We were both silent.

“Now the best way that I see to handle this precarious situation is the most simple,” he said.

From inside his coat pocket, he pulled two slips of paper. He handed one to each of us.

“I believe that this is more than fair for your discretion,” he said.

I looked at the piece of paper in my hand. He had given each of us a check for $50 million.

“Now if you wouldn’t mind leaving,” he said.

On our way out, Lisa looked at Eli Shane-Fields, “Mr. Shane-Fields, may I ask one question?”

He shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t see why not?”

“Have you ever used Morpheus before?”

He looked at her and smiled. “Not once in my life.”

That night, I disconnected the Morpheus machine. I was in the process of figuring out where we would sleep when Lisa walked in. She was smiling for the first time today.

“Why are you so happy?” I asked.

“Tonight I just sent a copy of all my research to the largest news outlet in the United States.”

“We should probably cash those checks first,” I said. She laughed.

That night we laid on the living room floor in each other’s arms and for the first time that I could remember. I slept.

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Matthew Donnellon is a writer, artist, and sit down comedian. He is the author of The Curious Case of Emma Lee and Other Stories

Detroit, MI

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