The bus comes to a stop only a few hundred feet from the hospital, but the rain is so intense that I can’t even see the front doors from there. When the driver opens the doors, the rain whips inside like it’s been waiting for me, chilling me immediately. I take a deep breath as I swing down the steps and out into the monsoon, my crutches kicking up water as I hustle the best that I can. If you’ve never tried moving around on two sticks shoved in your armpits while pails of water viciously seek out every gap in your coat, you can’t fully comprehend how miserable I am right now. And if you have, my condolences. It sucks.
I’m drowned-rat-level soaked by the time I’m halfway there, and I might as well not even be wearing a raincoat for all the protection it’s providing. I’ve got my head hunched into my shoulders and my eyes on the door, though, and I’m focused on my goal. I’m probably about fifty feet out when I see a welcome sight: Brian is hanging out in the covered area just outside the front doors, talking animatedly to a coworker who’s smoking a cigarette. I’d considered the possibility that he wouldn’t be on shift, but since I didn’t have any way of contacting him to find out, I’d decided to just come down and wait. Fortunately, it looks like I won’t have to! Things are finally going my way.
That’s the last thing I remember thinking before I wake up on a hospital gurney surrounded by chaos. There’s a smell of ozone and singed rubber, my shirt’s been cut open and there are doctors and nurses yelling around me.
I open my eyes in time to see a pair of paddles being pressed violently into my chest. There’s a soft whump, and I suddenly get a surge of vitality. I sit bolt upright and knock the paddles away. “Whoa! I’m fine! I’m fine!”
Shock is written clearly across the faces of the hospital staff around me, but I have no idea why. I look around in confusion. “I am fine, right? What happened?”
“What’s your name? Can you tell me your name?”
“It’s Dan, Dan Everton. What happened?”
“You were hit by lightning, Mr. Everton. Twice, in fact, in rapid succession. You may be badly hurt.”
“What? No. I’m fine. I feel fine. I need to see Brian.”
“I’m right here, man,” says Brian from behind me. “You need to chill out and get checked out, you know? You’ve got some serious burns, and we don’t know what kinda damage you’ve got internally.”
Burns? I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but I feel fine. That is, until I look down at my chest and see the two large, angry red and black marks on it. Red from the burns, and black from where part of my raincoat has melted and stuck to my chest. And as if I needed a visual cue for it to start hurting, the pain kicks me like a mule and I gasp for breath.
“I’m fine!” I really am a broken record. “I just — I think I’m burned.” I sounded less stupid when I was saying I was fine.
“We’ll take a look at that, and see what else needs to be done.”
I lie back down as the doctor wheels me off into an exam room, and try to convince my chest that yes, I know it’s hurt, and it can stop reporting on that now.
Several hours and what feels like several hundred tests later, the doctor reluctantly admits that all of my damage appears to be superficial. She’s not thrilled about the diagnosis, partly because half of her machines wouldn’t work properly on me. She ends up deciding that this is due to “residual electromagnetic interference,” because saying I’ve got lightnin’ in my bones doesn’t look good on a medical chart. Of course, that’s exactly what I do have. It’s just that it was there before I took the strike.
She gives me a tube of burn cream, instructions on how and when to apply it, and directions to the front desk to get my information sorted out before I leave. I hobble my way down the hallway, the muscles in my chest pulling at the burns with every swing of my crutches, and sing a little song of swear words under my breath as I go. It helps the pain a little bit.
As I’m giving my insurance information to the guy at the desk, I suddenly remember why I came here. “Hey, do you know an EMT named Brian?”
Man, why don’t I know anyone’s name? “Brian…the…EMT. I’m sorry, I have no idea what his last name is. He was here when I came in.”
“Blond guy, 20s, kinda long wavy hair?” he says, motioning just above his shoulders.
“Yeah! Yeah, that’s him.”
“Brian King, yeah. I can page him, let him know that you’re looking for him. It won’t get him back here any faster, but when he does get back, he’ll know to look for you.”
“So — is there a place I can wait?”
“In the waiting room, yes.”
He manages not to roll his eyes at me, but I’m not sure how; I’m rolling my eyes at myself as I make my way over to a seat. Once there, I collapse gratefully into it, and absent-mindedly reach for my phone. My pocket’s empty, and I have a moment of panic before I remember that my phone’s at home, and probably toast. I sigh and, resigning myself to reading printed material like some sort of a caveman, look around for a magazine.
I realize I’ve fallen asleep only when Brian shakes me awake. Or when he tries to, technically; what actually wakes me up is an electric snap to my shoulder as he reaches down to touch me.
“Ouch! Hey, man, looks like the lightning’s not quite done with you yet, huh?” he jokes, but there’s something weird in his face, like he means that a bit more than he’d like to. That expression doesn’t bode well for me. It’s the look of a guy who’s just realizing that the water he’s swimming in is deeper than he knew, and there are sharks. I recognize it; I’ve been seeing it a lot in the mirror lately. And I know that if I were in Brian’s shoes, I’d bail.
“Hey, um. I had a, like a medical trivia question for you, I guess. How much electricity does the human body produce?”
Brian looks me squarely in the eye and says, “No. No way. You gotta tell me what’s going on.”
I hesitate, and he adds, “Or I walk away right now. You want my help, you tell me what I’m helping with.”
“All right, um,” I say. “So I’m pretty sure that I can conduct electricity, or something.”
Brian stares at me for a long second, then rummages in his pocket and produces a paper clip. “Show me.”
Without even thinking, I pull it towards me. His eyes get wide as it jumps out of his hands and into mine, but as he watches it float there an inch above my palm, slowly turning, all he says is, “Huh.”