Beaten Back

Prompt: Unconscious | Word Count: 500 words exactly | Genre: flash fiction

May 16, 2020

As she stared at her son, now unconscious, through the plastic biohazard tent surrounding his bed, Cherie knew she’d made the wrong decision. She thought back over the chain events leading here.

Justin was a young adult, pulled home from college to finish out the term online. The abrupt disruption of his recently found freedom was harsh, but whisking him away from his girlfriend was worse. Still she believed it necessary. He thought she was overreacting.

He begged to be allowed to visit her. Cherie held strong. But as the news continued to report new cases every day and governments around the world struggled to figure out how to open, he sank deeper and deeper into darkness. When he finished the school year, he asked again. At some point he’d have to close out his apartment lease near campus, so a trip felt inevitable. They weighed the risks. Not many travelers, so exposure was less likely. Airports and airlines were hyper-vigilant about sanitation. He was young, healthy, and lonely. He could quarantine on return. His girlfriend was healthy and had tested negative. She lived alone and she’d been careful too.

So they said ok. He was away less than a week and returned happy to have gone and to have seen his girl. They tried to get a test, but testing was scarce, so he’d isolated in the basement.

Then he started coughing. He ran a fever. It climbed higher. They called the doctor, who tele-visited with him, then couriered over a test. He swabbed his nose, sent it back. Twenty-four hours later they got the call. He’d tested positive for Covid. There was no proven treatments, but they suggested he sleep on his stomach and wait to see if symptoms worsened.

When nothing eased his difficult breathing, they called an ambulance and he was whisked away. They asked for doctors to administer Remdesivir. They were desperate to keep him off a ventilator, given their long term consequences. So far they’d succeeded.

It had been 19 days since he’d been admitted. Every morning she woke and her first thought was for him. Her second thought was regret at ever allowing him to go away. While the medical staff worked to stabilize her son, she assisted with contact tracing. She’d cleared her own test. Now she needed to stay occupied and feel useful.

Her heart lightened when his symptoms finally improved. She came each day for the permitted brief visit, hoping to support his recovery from afar. She wore a mask and gloves and a disposable gown and slippers, but still wasn’t allowed into his room.

Today, he looked more active. Waiting anxiously to hear from the physician’s assistant, she willed a miracle. The nurse delivered the news: he’d slept well and was breathing more easily. His temperature was ebbing. Her prognosis was optimistic.

As Cherie watched her son’s recovery from the unseen virus, she wondered again and again if he’d think the trip was worth all this.

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