bookclub, extracts

THE SOUND OF THUNDER

The sign on the wall seemed to quaver under a film of sliding warm water. Eckels felt his eyelids blink over his stare, and the sign burned in this momentary darkness:

TIME SAFARI, INC.

SAFARIS TO ANY YEAR IN THE PAST.

YOU NAME THE ANIMAL.

WE TAKE YOU THERE.

YOU SHOOT IT.

Warm phlegm gathered in Eckels’ throat; he swallowed and pushed it down. The muscles around his mouth formed a smile as he put his hand slowly out upon the air, and in that hand waved a check for ten thousand dollars to the man behind the desk.

“Does this safari guarantee I come back alive?”

“We guarantee nothing,” said the official, “except the dinosaurs.”

He turned. “This is Mr. Travis, your Safari Guide in the Past. He’ll tell you what and where to shoot. If he says no shooting, no shooting. If you disobey instructions, there’s a stiff penalty of another ten thousand dollars, plus possible government action, on your return.”

Eckels glanced across the vast office at a mass and tangle, a snaking and humming of wires and steel boxes, at an aurora that flickered now orange, now silver, now blue. There was a sound like a gigantic bonfire burning all of Time, all the years and all the parchment calendars, all the hours piled high and set aflame.

A touch of the hand and this burning would, on the instant, beautifully reverse itself. Eckels remembered the wording in the advertisements to the letter. Out of chars and ashes, out of dust and coals, like golden salamanders, the old years, the green years, might leap; roses sweeten the air, white hair turn Irish­black, wrinkles vanish; all, everything fly back to seed, flee death, rush down to their beginnings, suns rise in western skies and set in glorious easts, moons eatthemselves opposite to the custom, all and everything cupping one in another like Chinese boxes, rabbits into hats, all and everything returning to the fresh death, the seed death, the green death, to the time before the beginning. A touch of a hand might do it, the merest touch of a hand.

“Unbelievable.” Eckels breathed, the light of the Machine on his thin face. “A real Time Machine.” He shook his head. “Makes you think, If the election had gone badly yesterday, I might be here now running away from the results. Thank God Keith won. He’ll make a fine President of the United States.”

“Yes,” said the man behind the desk. “We’re lucky. If Deutscher had gotten in, we’d have the worst kind of dictatorship. There’s an anti everything man for you, a militarist, anti­Christ, anti­human, anti­intellectual. People called us up, you know, joking but not joking. Said if Deutscher became President they wanted to go live in 1492. Of course it’s not our business to conduct Escapes, but to form Safaris. Anyway, Keith’s President now. All you got to worry about is…­”

“Shooting my dinosaur,” Eckels finished it for him.

“A Tyrannosaurus Rex. The Tyrant Lizard, the most incredible monster in history. Sign this release. Anything happens to you, we’re not responsible. Those dinosaurs are hungry.”

Eckels flushed angrily. “Trying to scare me!”

“Frankly, yes. We don’t want anyone going who’ll panic at the first shot. Six Safari leaders were killed last year, and a dozen hunters. We’re here to give you the severest thrill a real hunter ever asked for. Traveling you back sixty million years to bag the biggest game in all of Time. Your personal check’s still there. Tear it up.”Mr. Eckels looked at the check. His fingers twitched.

“Good luck,” said the man behind the desk. “Mr. Travis, he’s all yours.”

They moved silently across the room, taking their guns with them, toward the Machine, toward the silver metal and the roaring light.

First a day and then a night and then a day and then a night, then it was day­night­day­night. A week, a month, a year, a decade! A.D. 2055. A.D. 2019. 1999! 1957! Gone! The Machine roared.

They put on their oxygen helmets and tested the intercoms.

Eckels swayed on the padded seat, his face pale, his jaw stiff. He felt the trembling in his arms and he looked down and found his hands tight on the new rifle. There were four other men in the Machine. Travis, the Safari Leader, his assistant, Lesperance, and two other hunters, Billings and Kramer. They sat looking at each other, and the years blazed around them.

“Can these guns get a dinosaur cold?” Eckels felt his mouth saying.

“If you hit them right,” said Travis on the helmet radio. “Some dinosaurs have two brains, one in the head, another far down the spinal column. We stay away from those. That’s stretching luck. Put your first two shots into the eyes, if you can, blind them, and go back into the brain.”

The Machine howled. Time was a film run backward. Suns fled and ten million moons fled after them. “Think,” said Eckels. “Every hunter that ever lived would envy us today. This makes Africa seem like Illinois.”

The Machine slowed; its scream fell to a murmur. The Machine stopped.

The sun stopped in the sky.

The fog that had enveloped the Machine blew away and they were in an old time, a very old time indeed, three hunters and two Safari Heads with their blue metal guns across their knees.

“Christ isn’t born yet,” said Travis, “Moses has not gone to the mountains to talk with God. The Pyramids are still in the earth, waiting to be cut out and put up. Remember that. Alexander, Caesar, Napoleon, Hitler­none of them exists.” The man nodded.

“That” ­ Mr. Travis pointed ­ “is the jungle of sixty million two thousand and fifty­five years before President Keith.”

He indicated a metal path that struck off into green wilderness, over streaming swamp, among giant ferns and palms.

“And that,” he said, “is the Path, laid by Time Safari for your use, It floats six inches above the earth. Doesn’t touch so much as one grass blade, flower, or tree. It’s an anti­gravity metal. Its purpose is to keep you from touching this world of the past in any way. Stay on the Path. Don’t go off it. I repeat. Don’t go off. For any reason! If you fall off, there’s a penalty. And don’t shoot any animal we don’t okay.”

“Why?” asked Eckels.

They sat in the ancient wilderness. Far birds’ cries blew on a wind, and the smell of tar and an old salt sea, moist grasses, and flowers the color of blood.

“We don’t want to change the Future. We don’t belong here in the Past. The government doesn’t like us here. We have to pay big graft to keep our franchise. A Time Machine is finicky business. Not knowing it, we might kill an important animal, a small bird, a roach, a flower even, thus destroying an important link in a growing species.”

“That’s not clear,” said Eckels.

“All right,” Travis continued, “say we accidentally kill one mouse here. That means all the future families of this one particular mouse are destroyed, right?”

“Right”

“And all the families of the families of the families of that one mouse! With a stamp of your foot, you annihilate first one, then a dozen, then a thousand, a million, a billion possible mice!”

“So they’re dead,” said Eckels. “So what?”

“So what?” Travis snorted quietly. “Well, what about the foxes that’ll need those mice to survive? For want of ten mice, a fox dies. For want of ten foxes a lion starves. For want of a lion, all manner of insects, vultures, infinite billions of life forms are thrown into chaos and destruction. Eventually it all boils down to this: fifty­nine million years later, a caveman, one of a dozen on the entire world, goes hunting wild boar or saber­toothed tiger for food. But you, friend, have stepped on all the tigers in that region. By stepping on one single mouse. So the caveman starves. And the caveman, please note, is not just any expendable man, no! He is an entire future nation. From his loins would have sprung ten sons. From their loins one hundred sons, and thus onward to a civilization. Destroy this one man, and you destroy a race, a people, an entire history of life. It is comparable to slaying some of Adam’s grandchildren. The stomp of your foot, on one mouse, could start an earthquake, the effects of which could shake our earth and destinies down through Time, to their very foundations. With the death of that one caveman, a billion others yet unborn are throttled in the womb. Perhaps Rome never rises on its seven hills. Perhaps Europe is forever a dark forest, and only Asia waxes healthy and teeming.

Step on a mouse and you crush the Pyramids. Step on a mouse and you leave your print, like a Grand Canyon, across Eternity. Queen Elizabeth might never be born, Washington might not cross the Delaware, there might never be a United States at all. So be careful. Stay on the Path. Never step off!”

“I see,” said Eckels. “Then it wouldn’t pay for us even to touch the grass?”

“Correct. Crushing certain plants could add up infinitesimally. A little error here would multiply in sixty million years, all out of proportion. Of course, maybe our theory is wrong. Maybe Time can’t be changed by us. Or maybe it can be changed only in little subtle ways. A dead mouse here makes an insect imbalance there, a population disproportion later, a bad harvest further on, a depression, mass starvation, and finally, a change in social temperament in far­flung countries.

Something much more subtle, like that. Perhaps only a soft breath, a whisper, a hair, pollen on the air, such a slight, slight change that unless you looked close you wouldn’t see it. Who knows? Who really can say he knows? We don’t know. We’re guessing. But until we do know for certain whether our messing around in Time can make a big roar or a little rustle in history, we’re being careful. This Machine, this Path, your clothing and bodies, were sterilized, as you know, before the journey. We wear these oxygen helmets so we can’t introduce our bacteria into an ancient atmosphere.”

“How do we know which animals to shoot?”

“They’re marked with red paint,” said Travis. “Today, before our journey, we sent Lesperance here back with the Machine. He came to this particular era and followed certain animals.”

“Studying them?”

“Right,” said Lesperance. “I track them through their entire existence, noting which of them lives longest. Very few. How many times they mate. Not often. Life’s short, When I find one that’s going to die when a tree falls on him, or one that drowns in a tar pit, I note the exact hour, minute, and second. I shoot a paint bomb. It leaves a red patch on his side. We can’t miss it. Then I correlate our arrival in the Past so that we meet the Monster not more than two minutes before he would have died anyway. This way, we kill only animals with no future, that are never going to mate again. You see how careful we are?”

“But if you come back this morning in Time,” said Eckels eagerly, you must’ve bumped into us, our Safari! How did it turn out? Was it successful? Did all of us get through­alive?”

Travis and Lesperance gave each other a look.

“That’d be a paradox,” said the latter. “Time doesn’t permit that sort of mess­a man meeting himself. When such occasions threaten, Time steps aside. Like an airplane hitting an air pocket. You felt the Machine jump just before we stopped? That was us passing ourselves on the way back to the Future. We saw nothing. There’s no way of telling if this expedition was a success, if we got our monster, or whether all of us ­ meaning you, Mr. Eckels ­ got out alive.”

Eckels smiled palely.

“Cut that,” said Travis sharply. “Everyone on his feet!”

They were ready to leave the Machine.

The jungle was high and the jungle was broad and the jungle was the entire world forever and forever. Sounds like music and sounds like flying tents filled the sky, and those were pterodactyls soaring with cavernous gray wings, gigantic bats of delirium and night fever.

Eckels, balanced on the narrow Path, aimed his rifle playfully.

“Stop that!” said Travis. “Don’t even aim for fun, blast you! If your guns should go off ­ ­ “

Eckels flushed. “Where’s our Tyrannosaurus?”

Lesperance checked his wristwatch. “Up ahead, We’ll bisect his trail in sixty seconds. Look for the red paint! Don’t shoot till we give the word. Stay on the Path. Stay on the Path!”

They moved forward in the wind of morning.

“Strange,” murmured Eckels. “Up ahead, sixty million years, Election Day over. Keith made President. Everyone celebrating. And here we are, a million years lost, and they don’t exist. The things we worried about for months, a lifetime, not even born or thought of yet.”

“Safety catches off, everyone!” ordered Travis. “You, first shot, Eckels. Second, Billings, Third, Kramer.”

“I’ve hunted tiger, wild boar, buffalo, elephant, but now, this is it,” said Eckels. “I’m shaking like a kid.”

“Ah,” said Travis.

Everyone stopped.

Travis raised his hand. “Ahead,” he whispered. “In the mist. There he is. There’s His Royal Majesty now.”

The jungle was wide and full of twitterings, rustlings, murmurs, and sighs. Suddenly it all ceased, as if someone had shut a door. Silence.

A sound of thunder.

Out of the mist, one hundred yards away, came Tyrannosaurus Rex.

“It,” whispered Eckels. “It……”

“Sh!”

It came on great oiled, resilient, striding legs. It towered thirty feet above half of the trees, a great evil god, folding its delicate watchmaker’s claws close to its oily reptilian chest. Each lower leg was a piston, a thousand pounds of white bone, sunk in thick ropes of muscle, sheathed over in a gleam of pebbled skin like the mail of a terrible warrior. Each thigh was a ton of meat, ivory, and steel mesh. And from the great breathing cage of the upper body those two delicate arms dangled out front, arms with hands which might pick up and examine men like toys, while the snake neck coiled. And the head itself, a ton of sculptured stone, lifted easily upon the sky.

Its mouth gaped, exposing a fence of teeth like daggers. Its eyes rolled, ostrich eggs, empty of all expression save hunger. It closed its mouth in a death grin. It ran, its pelvic bones crushing aside trees and bushes, its taloned feet clawing damp earth, leaving prints six inches deep wherever it settled its weight.

It ran with a gliding ballet step, far too poised and balanced for its ten tons. It moved into a sunlit area warily, its beautifully reptilian hands feeling the air.

“Why, why,” Eckels twitched his mouth. “It could reach up and grab the moon.”

“Sh!” Travis jerked angrily. “He hasn’t seen us yet.”

“It can’t be killed,” Eckels pronounced this verdict quietly, as if there could be no argument. He had weighed the evidence and this was his considered opinion. The rifle in his hands seemed a cap gun. “We were fools to come. This is impossible.”

“Shut up!” hissed Travis.

“Nightmare.”

“Turn around,” commanded Travis. “Walk quietly to the Machine. We’ll remit half your fee.”

“I didn’t realize it would be this big,” said Eckels. “I miscalculated, that’s all. And now I want out.”

“It sees us!”

“There’s the red paint on its chest!”

The Tyrant Lizard raised itself. Its armored flesh glittered like a thousand green coins. The coins, crusted with slime, steamed. In the slime, tiny insects wriggled, so that the entire body seemed to twitch and undulate, even while the monster itself did not move. It exhaled. The stink of raw flesh blew down the wilderness.

“Get me out of here,” said Eckels. “It was never like this before. I was always sure I’d come through alive. I had good guides, good safaris, and safety. This time, I figured wrong. I’ve met my match and admit it. This is too much for me to get hold of.”

“Don’t run,” said Lesperance. “Turn around. Hide in the Machine.”

“Yes.” Eckels seemed to be numb. He looked at his feet as if trying to make them move. He gave a grunt of helplessness.

“Eckels!”

He took a few steps, blinking, shuffling.

“Not that way!”

The Monster, at the first motion, lunged forward with a terrible scream. It covered one hundred yards in six seconds. The rifles jerked up and blazed fire. A windstorm from the beast’s mouth engulfed them in the stench of slime and old blood. The Monster roared, teeth glittering with sun.

The rifles cracked again, Their sound was lost in shriek and lizard thunder. The great level of the reptile’s tail swung up, lashed sideways. Trees exploded in clouds of leaf and branch. The Monster twitched its jeweler’s hands down to fondle at the men, to twist them in half, to crush them like berries, to cram them into its teeth and its screaming throat. Its boulderstone eyes leveled with the men. They saw themselves mirrored. They fired at the metallic eyelids and the blazing black iris.

Like a stone idol, like a mountain avalanche, Tyrannosaurus fell.

Thundering, it clutched trees, pulled them with it. It wrenched and tore the metal Path. The men flung themselves back and away. The body hit, ten tons of cold flesh and stone. The guns fired.

The Monster lashed its armored tail, twitched its snake jaws, and lay still. A fount of blood spurted from its throat. Somewhere inside, a sac of fluids burst. Sickening gushes drenched the hunters. They stood, red and glistening. The thunder faded.

The jungle was silent. After the avalanche, a green peace. After the nightmare, morning.

Billings and Kramer sat on the pathway and threw up. Travis and Lesperance stood with smoking rifles, cursing steadily. In the Time Machine, on his face, Eckels lay shivering. He had found his way back to the Path, climbed into the Machine. Travis came walking, glanced at Eckels, took cotton gauze from a metal box, and returned to the others, who were sitting on the Path.

“Clean up.”

They wiped the blood from their helmets. They began to curse too. The Monster lay, a hill of solid flesh. Within, you could hear the sighs and murmurs as the furthest chambers of it died, the organs malfunctioning, liquids running a final instant from pocket to sac to spleen, everything shutting off, closing up forever. It was like standing by a wrecked locomotive or a steam shovel at quitting time, all valves being released or levered tight. Bones cracked; the tonnage of its own flesh, off balance, dead weight, snapped the delicate forearms, caught underneath. The meat settled, quivering.

Another cracking sound. Overhead, a gigantic tree branch broke from its heavy mooring, fell. It crashed upon the dead beast with finality.

“There.” Lesperance checked his watch. “Right on time. That’s the giant tree that was scheduled to fall and kill this animal originally.” He glanced at the two hunters. “You want the trophy picture?”

“What?”

“We can’t take a trophy back to the Future. The body has to stay right here where it would have died originally, so the insects, birds, and bacteria can get at it, as they were intended to. Everything in balance. The body stays. But we can take a picture of you standing near it.”

The two men tried to think, but gave up, shaking their heads. They let themselves be led along the metal Path. They sank wearily into the Machine cushions. They gazed back at the ruined Monster, the stagnating mound, where already strange reptilian birds and golden insects were busy at the steaming armor. A sound on the floor of the Time Machine stiffened them. Eckels sat there, shivering.

“I’m sorry,” he said at last.

“Get up!” cried Travis.

Eckels got up.

“Go out on that Path alone,” said Travis. He had his rifle pointed, “You’re not coming back in the Machine. We’re leaving you here!”

Lesperance seized Travis’s arm. “Wait­”

“Stay out of this!” Travis shook his hand away. “This fool nearly killed us. But it isn’t that so much, no. It’s his shoes! Look at them! He ran off the Path. That ruins us! We’ll forfeit! Thousands of dollars of insurance! We guarantee no one leaves the Path. He left it. Oh, the fool! I’ll have to report to the government. They might revoke our license to travel. Who knows what he’s done to Time, to History!”

“Take it easy, all he did was kick up some dirt.”

“How do we know?” cried Travis. “We don’t know anything! It’s all a mystery! Get out of here, Eckels!”

Eckels fumbled his shirt. “I’ll pay anything. A hundred thousand dollars!”

Travis glared at Eckels’ checkbook and spat. “Go out there. The Monster’s next to the Path. Stick your arms up to your elbows in his mouth. Then you can come back with us.”

“That’s unreasonable!”

“The Monster’s dead, you idiot. The bullets! The bullets can’t be left behind. They don’t belong in the Past; they might change anything. Here’s my knife. Dig them out!”

The jungle was alive again, full of the old tremorings and bird cries. Eckels turned slowly to regard the primeval garbage dump, that hill of nightmares and terror. After a long time, like a sleepwalker he shuffled out along the Path.

He returned, shuddering, five minutes later, his arms soaked and red to the elbows. He held out his hands. Each held a number of steel bullets. Then he fell. He lay where he fell, not moving.

“You didn’t have to make him do that,” said Lesperance.

“Didn’t I? It’s too early to tell.” Travis nudged the still body. “He’ll live. Next time he won’t go hunting game like this. Okay.” He jerked his thumb wearily at Lesperance. “Switch on. Let’s go home.”

1492. 1776. 1812.

They cleaned their hands and faces. They changed their caking shirts and pants. Eckels was up and around again, not speaking. Travis glared at him for a full ten minutes.

“Don’t look at me,” cried Eckels. “I haven’t done anything.”

“Who can tell?”

“Just ran off the Path, that’s all, a little mud on my shoes­what do you want me to do­get down and pray?”

“We might need it. I’m warning you, Eckels, I might kill you yet. I’ve got my gun ready.”

“I’m innocent. I’ve done nothing!”

1999. 2000. 2055.

The Machine stopped.

“Get out,” said Travis.

The room was there as they had left it. But not the same as they had left it. The same man sat behind the same desk. But the same man did not quite sit behind the same desk. Travis looked around swiftly. “Everything okay here?” he snapped.

“Fine. Welcome home!”

Travis did not relax. He seemed to be looking through the one high window.

“Okay, Eckels, get out. Don’t ever come back.” Eckels could not move.

“You heard me,” said Travis. “What’re you staring at?”

Eckels stood smelling of the air, and there was a thing to the air, a chemical taint so subtle, so slight, that only a faint cry of his subliminal senses warned him it was there. The colors, white, gray, blue, orange, in the wall, in the furniture, in the sky beyond the window, were . . . were . . .

And there was a feel. His flesh twitched. His hands twitched. He stood drinking the oddness with the pores of his body. Somewhere, someone must have been screaming one of those whistles that only a dog can hear. His body screamed silence in return. Beyond this room,

beyond this wall, beyond this man who was not quite the same man seated at this desk that was not quite the same desk . . . lay an entire world of streets and people. What sort of world it was now, there was no telling. He could feel them moving there, beyond the walls, almost, like so many chess pieces blown in a dry wind…

But the immediate thing was the sign painted on the office wall, the same sign he had read earlier today on first entering. Somehow, the sign had changed:

TYME SEFARI INC.

SEFARIS TU ANY YEER EN THE PAST.

YU NAIM THE ANIMALL.

WEE TAEK YU THAIR.

YU SHOOT ITT.

Eckels felt himself fall into a chair. He fumbled crazily at the thick slime on his boots. He held up a clod of dirt, trembling, “No, it can’t be. Not a little thing like that. No!”

Embedded in the mud, glistening green and gold and black, was a butterfly, very beautiful and very dead.

“Not a little thing like that! Not a butterfly!” cried Eckels.

It fell to the floor, an exquisite thing, a small thing that could upset balances and knock down a line of small dominoes and then big dominoes and then gigantic dominoes, all down the years across Time. Eckels’ mind whirled. It couldn’t change things. Killing one butterfly couldn’t be that important! Could it?

His face was cold. His mouth trembled, asking: “Who ­ who won the presidential election yesterday?”

The man behind the desk laughed. “You joking? You know very well. Deutscher, of course! Who else? Not that fool weakling Keith. We got an iron man now, a man with guts!” The official stopped. “What’s wrong?”

Eckels moaned. He dropped to his knees. He scrabbled at the golden butterfly with shaking fingers. “Can’t we,” he pleaded to the world, to himself, to the officials, to the Machine, “can’t we take it back, can’t we make it alive again? Can’t we start over? Can’t we­?”

He did not move. Eyes shut, he waited, shivering. He heard Travis breathe loud in the room; he heard Travis shift his rifle, click the safety catch, and raise the weapon.

There was a sound of thunder.


BRADBURY 1952

Standard
external, extracts

JOURNAL OF A 31 YEAR OLD AMERICAN MALE NURSE INFECTED BY CORONAVIRUS, FACING HIS WORST FEAR: VENTILATOR INTUBATION (“Dear Diary” 3rd-19th March 2020)

Three weeks from the journal of 31-year old American David Tingley.

Recorded by Sam Spitzer.

“This is the direct, unedited journal of the day to day experiences of a 31-year-old male nurse who caught the coronavirus late February/early March. It records first symptoms to near death lung failure. The patient had no preexisting conditions, no health problems, good cardio, not overweight, not asthmatic, busy and active lifestyle. At time of writing, patient is not yet discharged from hospital.

Sam Spitzer

TAKE THIS COVID 19 VIRUS SERIOUSLY!!!

COVID-19 is not like the flu… AT… ALL…

How can I know this?
Because I’ve lived through coronavirus.
From symptoms to pneumonia to almost dead in the ICU. I’m on the other side now. I hope. In short I’ve been there. As a nurse and as a patient. I’m qualified to share my journal so maybe it’ll help others.

DAILY JOURNAL


March 3, 2020

Bronchitis like illness started. Dry cough, every minute or two. No fever. No phlegm. Full shift.

March 5, 2020

Low grade fever starts. Think it’s bronchitis, mild. Worked full shift.

March 6, 2020

Symptoms not going down. Maybe flu?

Fever climbs from 99.8 to 102.6 in one hour. This is outside the Tamiflu window. Stayed home for symptom management and self contain.

March 9, 2020

Fever getting worse if anything. Weekend didn’t break it. Not good.

102.6 to 103.1 tested using all 3 of my thermometers. THIS ISN’T FLU.

Mask up and go to urgent care. Diagnosed with pneumonia. Started on Levaquin, discharged. Bad night.

March 11, 2020

Spaced out 3 doses of Levaquin. NO improvement in symptoms.

Go direct to E.R. Admitted.

Swabbed for COVID19. IV antibiotics. Chest CT scan. Confirms pneumonia.

March 12, 2020

Get to a room and placed on supplemental oxygen via nasal cannula at 1 liter per minute (lpm).

Incentive spirometer tests. I’m only able to achieve 500, for perspective my healthy lungs could hit 4000.

March 13, 2020

Oxygen (O2) saturation begins to decline. Oxygen increased to 2lpm, then 3 lpm, then 5lpm. Oxygen saturation at 88% on 5lpm.

Decision is made to use high flow (vapotherm device, can do up to 40lpm) and move to ICU. Placed immediately on maximum flow 40lpm and 60% oxygen.

OK I’m terrified at this point because vapotherm is all that is standing between me and the ventilator. Right here if I would have stayed at home and not come into hospital I would have died. I would have respiratory arrested in my bed. Never woken up.

March 14, 2020

I have a bad coughing spell, my oxygen saturation drops to around 80%. I’m still on 40lpm and 60% thru vapotherm nasal cannula.

I’m trying to gasp for air, but because of the condition of my lungs, can only take small breaths without coughing more. Feel as though I’m about to die. My heart is racing, oxygen still low, and I’m sweating profusely. I can’t stop choking. I’m in respiratory distress!

I pressed my call light trying to get the attention of anyone who can help. My nurse was in another room tending to another sick patient. Fortunately he sees me and comes to my room. I am now on 40lpm and 100% oxygen, so the only next step is the ventilator.

I’m terrified. My breathing slows as my oxygen saturation slowly returns to above 90%. I’m weaned back down to 60%. The same thing happens again in the night, and again I thought I was about to leave this world. I know what is happening. Inside my body in my lungs there is a full scale war between coronavirus and my immune system.

If coronavirus wins, I choke to death. I hope my guys win.

Again vapotherm put to 100% oxygen, this time for several hours. Brain is weirdly dark but I know what is going on. I’m slowly weaned again to 60%.

March 15, 2020

My morning arterial blood gas test (which hurts like a m—– f—–) is normal. I get weaned to 50% oxygen on the vapotherm.

March 16, 2020

My oxygen saturation is 97%. I’m weaned further to 30lpm and 40% vapotherm oxygen.

March 17, 2020

I’ve been in ICU 4 days, forced to use a bedpan because my oxygen saturation drops if I turn or even move too much.

I am unable to clean myself; I’m feeling completely helpless and so embarrassed, but my nurses were great and very understanding. I now truly understand my patients’ feelings from all these years of nursing.

I’m weaned to 25lpm and 30%. I’m going to the medical floor, out of ICU.

March 18, 2020

I’m weaned to 28% on the vapotherm.

I can achieve 1500 on my incentive spirometer finally. I’m hopeful to be weaned to a regular nasal cannula.

The provider comes in. I’ve been waiting for my swab results. I tested positive for COVID19…

6 and a half days of waiting for the outside lab to process the coronavirus swab test.

But I’m relieved because I finally have a diagnosis. I have the reason I’ve been so sick.

I’m weaned to 4lpm on a regular nasal cannula. I can’t explain the relief you feel when you stop choking but also my guys must’ve won the battle.

Anxiety that coronavirus might attack again. But I know from experience this is rare.

4 hours later I’m weaned to 2lpm.

4 hours later I’m weaned to room air.

My oxygen saturation stays 93% and above all night.

March 19, 2020

I’ve had no visitors this entire time due to my isolation precautions. This is coronavirus last sting, if it gets you, you have to die alone to keep loved ones safe.

As I write this, I’m waiting to attempt a 6 minute walk test to see if my oxygen stays up, so I can go home.

JOURNAL ENDS


David wrote an e-mail, to conclude the coronavirus journal. Here it is, included verbatim:

Guys, this is why social isolation is a thing. As a 31 y.o. I wasn’t supposed to get sick. I wasn’t supposed to need to be admitted to hospital let alone the I.C.U. I was a healthy nurse. I had protective gear and took precautions, followed virus proximity procedures RELIGIOUSLY.

As I write this I know we’ve already had several deaths from COVID19 in my area. I thank God I wasn’t one of them! I almost was. I am recovering [touch wood]. However, many won’t be as fortunate as I have been. Many will die. Especially those with any lung or heart or immune system problems. Not just the elderly! Higher risk:

  • overweight (type 2 diabetics)
  • chronic asthmatics
  • ppl with heart disease
  • high blood pressure
  • chronic bronchitis or emphysema
  • ppl with pulmonary hypertension (including smokers)
  • immunocompromised (inc anxiety, depression)

This is what Ive seen with my own eyes. I’m sure there’s more risk factors, like inflammations, lupus, cancer patients on chemo, etcetc. Look it up. Dont 100% rely on papers or television. Eat healthy. Exercise safely fr half hour each day.

Last of all, I beg you don’t forget I had NONE of the higher risk factors.

The only sure way not to put your life at risk is to #stayhome. The better you prep the more chance coronavirus wont get to you… PLEASE wear your mask and keep it disinfected, wear gloves if you can and keep them disinfected too… stick to the 6ft social distancing, try to get your friends and family to be 100% about this too. If we all follow the rules of quarantine we will beat coronavirus.

D.

p.s. once Im tested coronavirus negative and have tested negative again two weeks later, I’ll be one of the lucky recovered. I am going to let my blood plasma be part of trials to isolate antibodies, for making a vaccine to stop this deadly virus.

xxxx


STAY SAFE, ALL OF YOU.

AND STAY SMART.

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Obsolescence, Irrelevance, Peers Spread Too Thin

It’s not as unusual as it used to be, in 2018, to be thinking about very early retirement i.e. to get out of the rat race through financial independence – without chasing enormous wealth – as soon as possible, so one can get on with living most of one’s life liberated from the prison of debt and wage-slavery. Websites like Mr Money Mustache go into detail about getting money sorted and getting out of the rat race ASAP.

I came to the same conclusions as MMM back in the mid/late 1980s and did what was necessary over the next ten years to exit the rat race stage left by get free of wage-slavery in my 20s. Some people in this forum are discussing specific investment concerns, pitfalls and strategies. This is apposite, sure, but if one’s reasonably astute and not unusually unlucky, it shouldn’t be too hard to keep on top of the finances to stay free; once crossing the Rubicon of “enough to retire”.

I’m twenty years into “retirement”. This is looking like middle age. The world is a fascinating place, and it is many lifetimes’ worth of exploration just waiting to start.

Freedom is priceless but I’ve found two realisations growing more concerning as the years accumulate:

  1. Without being deep inside some industry or involved in practical, groundbreaking collaboration, one loses touch with the expertise needed to be a meaningful contributor in anything that matters; at least not on a fulfilling scale. When we’re young, the world expect you to be inexpert. When we’re middle aged, the world isn’t interested in dilettantes. What may once have been your field will often be unrecognisable 10 or 20 years later. This can mean there’ll come a day you went to “do” and you’ll look to your past skills, find them next to useless and wind up out in the cold. And then what? School again? Training? Do something else and risk becoming terminally obsolete. It is a perverse freedom, unmolested by any external debt or obligation but ultimately doomed to a life that’s frivolous and irrelevant.
  2. We can live the free life on a big canvas with days that’re your own. I reckon most who’re very early retired get good at being social; me included. Plenty of time and opportunity to practice. What worries me, though, is the inevitable size and diversity of one’s social circle – often strung across the entire planet – comes at the expense of a genuine peer group.
  3. The peer group we had before retirement mostly stays invested in careers. This defines their life just as much as freedom defines yours. They’ll continue to develop colleague networks as they gain seniority, influence, expertise and opportunity – albeit in a tiny pond. These networks grow self-sufficient within their field, like a prison gang, and twenty years down the line will wield power in a particular industry. It’s all self sustaining.

  4. Living free outside the tiny pond one may have a far bigger network of friends (rather than just acquaintances) but it’s spread thin, it’s a relationship of volunteer simpatico not vocational bunkmates. Just this last year I’ve spent fun days being toured by different friends around two Virtual Reality studios, an offshore wind-farms array, a university campus, a NASA installation, a major newspaper sports dept and choice seats for an event and a bunch of “work” parties deep into the night. Some of these were super interesting. Friends entrenched and influential.

  5. Everyone was friendly but there was no way for me to become involved, even if I was interested, no short-term way to catch-up and work on a level with any of these guys. The doors were open so long as I wasn’t figuring on getting in the way. Again, doomed to visit, then leave and remain irrelevant.

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LAZY TO LAMBENT – THANK YOU WILLIAM BLAKE

Blah blah, once again, can’t much be arsed. Hoping by writing this the delayed reaction in my lazy brain chemistry – being forced to form coherent sentences – it’s prefrontal cortex meditation maybe – that enough moments of attention build a connection that beats out the sluggish apathy. Sometimes if I lie in bed all day, it gets hard to shake off the natural rude healthy energy that makes the legs restless and feet itchy. I still stay in bed because what is there not in bed that won’t be there later, and it’ll all be a chore, distracting me from riffing off in imagination-land. Because it’s difficult to stay in bed, though it’s the height of physical indolence, it will hardly leave me out of breath. And yet it needs enough mental focus I often start sweating. In bed. Doing nothing. It’s as if my body wants to force me to my feet, to get me moving. Fucking body.

What I’ve observed in the past is when my brain gets depleted of certain resources, it becomes tetchy at things sensory, scatty at things psychological. At best, it’s malaise. Not anxious or black depressive. Just nothing. Stasis.

Oh, but there are things that enliven my mind. Sometimes external world things like something unexpectedly beautiful excite feelings that match the moment, though they quickly recede. This was less the case when I was young but it’s like my brain is a depleted ecosystem, low level reservoir, not drought but less and less water to go around with every passing year. I can wring some energy or dynamism or stamina from the reduced reservoir, if I hammer in music or work out (though that’s contrast, relief, etc). Or I can talk or think a little more flow but that takes time and leaves a weariness in memory.

It was easier to write when I was younger and the world was more simple. Knowing more about the workings of the brain, shared and personal psychology and tells and meta-analysis far more effective, in any moment, makes writing authentic content harder. One wants to express a stream of consciousness sincerely, realistically. But description needs to be brisk. If it’s so long it may be accurate, as a crystallised moment of thought, but it’s unpalatable, impossible to contact your imagination, dear reader. You know, like Japanese haiku?

See, the haiku is a word picture – visual, phenomenological, limbic, whatever can make a moment of experience. Just one moment, one thought, one instance. To make perfect the writer-reader communication, the yardstick is simpler here. The moment in the mind of the haiku creator. The haiku words. A moment imagined in the mind of the haiku reader. Are the two the same? Never exactly, but how close it gets is how good is the haiku. If the haiku was longer, it’d take more time to read. The moment it tries to evoke loses fidelity. Haiku too short, the moment loses resolution.

Golly, I wish someone had explained poetry when I was a child. It doesn’t at all make the lyric less evocative if you know, in abstract terms, what a poem aspires to create; or why poetry is different to prose. Why the fuck am I writing about this, now? Oh, I remember: being older there’s more meta in the moment laid bare to the mind and thus authentic description is harder, the need to distill without losing detail grows. I wonder if that’s why impressionism is the natural successor to realism, then expressionism (and others) to follow as the artist tries to render the subject not as would a photo but also including its meta: mood, emotion, whatever. Realism is prose. Impressionism is poetry. Kandinsky, for one, is haiku on canvas. Well, maybe tanka, but it’s the same fucking theory.

This is a lot of bullshit to avoid trying to put into words the older versus younger mind’s experience of the world (and itself). How pervasive is the depletion, though it may go unnoticed? All that happens – or that isn’t happening – goes on behind the eyes. We’re all outstanding performers honing skills over the years so our capacity to not let the deadness within manifest in expression, conversation, reaction to others, it grows just as the vitality shrinks. Great.

Fuck it. Another day. Or next week as I will have to venture out into the big rotten world a few times from tomorrow.

[There was another journal entry later that same day, some hours after the sun went down and the neighbours had gone to sleep…]


THE TYGER WHO CAME TO TEA?

My phone just pinged to tell me the International Space Station is passing overhead, so I hauled myself out of bed onto the terrace.

It’s warm out, still in the middle of a heatwave, but night and gently breezy. It’s actually nice. There’s not a cloud in the sky and the twenty stars and planets are on point, sharp. Jupiter is twinkling!

There are a few planes winking red, white, high, skating the top of the troposphere. Oh, and there it is! The ISS. Golly that’s going faster than the planes. It’s just a node of white following the arc of the upper atmosphere as I’m looking at it. Up. Outward. At the galaxy.

I guess it’s a strange thought: we unlikely beings of supernova stardust, creations of the universe, built by carbon chemistry and time of the universe yet looking back at it. That’s egoic, I know, but also beautiful. You know, that here I am and there you are, and when we look up at the night sky, we are the universe looking back at itself. We might be the only eyes staring at creation and wondering.

Don’t feel like anything tonight. Can’t see anyone else in the square watching. I’m not sure I’d like it more if I had company. People are so loud and busy. The space station has crossed the sky already. I’ve picked out Jupiter and Mars and I think Procyon.

Ah and there’s the moon, bright and waxy, serene, no, not that: lambent… Good word, somehow enriched in my head by the lamb, which evokes William Blake and his beautiful illustrations. The Tyger. Who came to tea? Night night.

On our little rock,
spinning and circling,
and hurtling,
FALLING through space.

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IN LIMBO – SUPERFLUOUS – KEEPING BUSY AND COMFORTABLY NUMB

Lying around listening to podcasts, casually browsing the web and flicking through Twitter.

It’s more hassle, more physically intrusive (even if just a little) to be sitting up than lying down. It’s more blaring in the conservatory than the bedrooms and the glare is so bright it seems an almost physical imposition.

I wonder how much of the preference for physical negation i.e. to free the mind and the imagination from the physical world is most easily done by being in a position that’s the most unintrusive. (is unintrusive a euphemism for comfortable?) comes from the opiate experience. Especially non-Euphoric fentanyl where what you get that matters is a complete absence of any pain, twinge, discomfort, hot, cold, strain, etc. Zero physical drag. This initially gives euphoria, can cause drowsiness, lets the brain blue-sky think and riff in the imagination.

So getting clean, there seems to be a dissatisfaction in sitting up, i.e. during periods not occupied with work or activity, why not be in that physical negation state – why not be where it’s most comfortable? For me that’s where it isn’t too brightly lit (darker the better) and lying in bed engenders zero physical drag.

More problems that aren’t solving themselves:

Working isn’t interesting, objectively, but reflection has become a natural habit. Getting engrossed in the OCD of a task is staccato, always breaks the trance with an “is this actually enjoyable, is this actually interesting?”.

It takes discipline therefore to do the simplest of productive tasks and even if the task gets done, it’s remembered as a chore never a pleasure.

Having seen how chemical are emotions and how easily they can be manipulated, it’s hard to get attached to the detail of everyday life. It’s like an unwanted Zen state which if ever achieved would disconnect one from the present at will, or be present only as an option; which makes it matter less.

What else… No expertise, no community, nothing to monkey see monkey do? It’s possible to think one’s way into a short-lived interest in some creative act, or course of learning. This suffers from the same fundamental “connection is optional” which makes it less interesting, the outcome one builds towards less objectively engaging. Consistency matters for creativity and when trying to learn to the point of expertise. Indecision is corrosive. Lack of persistent ambition drains a specific goal of need.

No community is another problem. The same core reasons the detail of everyday life is less important also apply to one’s motivation to interact with friends (it’s less affecting, in a less controlled environment than staying home). Thus one’s less committed to everyday socialising. Ironically, it doesn’t mean one cares about people less and if a friend was in need, one would be more committed to helping – it being both a much-wanted purpose and there being less conflict with selfish ‘would rather do this because it matters so much to me’. But less time with friends every day means distance grows; and that doesn’t really seem to matter.

The disinterest in details and lack of ambition plays out as a dearth of stamina for new environs, i.e. places one might meet others with similar interests and/or interact with unfamiliar people who might become acquaintances, workmates, friends. So isolation seems to happen slowly but steadily, and the normal reactions that might spur one to act to reverse this trend don’t happen, don’t really matter. Even now as I write this, I am in a zero physical drag state, I’m comfortable and I feel very little thinking about drifting apart from friends and never meeting tiring new people.

I can cite other definitive reasons for this disinterest in friends old and new. Try these:

Nobody I know is doing anything cool, it’s all duty or habit or satisfied by stuff like parenthood which is fine but it’s a version of a junkie, albeit to natural chemicals, an admission of one’s own obsolescence as a creative original force – bringing up the children eclipses all else, and well it should – but if the answer to “what have you been doing?” (which means “tell me about cool unfamiliar things I should know about”) is always nothing or a litany of banal kid struggles… there’s very little to recommend continued regular contact. It’s not about liking the person less, it’s a distinct path – without shared experience or any appeal.

The few people I’ve known who may well have been doing something interesting or might have thought something new and apposite, they’re all dead. This not only means nothing further coming from these people but, with loved ones, it’s an object lesson in how ephemeral life is, how arbitrary is our impact on one another, how unsafe a receptacle of shared care, hope, confidences we all are. Yet care matters because, without care, the interpersonal doesn’t really have any allure; save as cold, calculating ambition, which seems a bleak unfulfilling modus operandi.

And then I used to believe it was possible to chase down an objective potential, to influence each other (for the good, ideally) that might strengthen our individual narratives – that might make a difference. If someone advises me “check this out” then that’s what I’ll do. And many a thrilling discovery years ago ensued. If someone makes an argument that advances insight and understanding or makes connections I’d not considered before, then by the end of the conversation I’ve gained; and this develops my thinking thereafter. I used to think this worked both ways and thought people agreeing – then taking advice – proved it. I’ve since been disabused of that error.

Truth seems to have been that another person’s agreement was a necessity, if no counterpoint or contrary argument could be made, so the interplay was worth it to both of us. I’d have tested and shared my insight, reasons, understanding. The other person had updated their thinking to incorporate what I’d shared and any agreement or acting on advice came from them having assessed and concluded themselves, independent of me (I’m carrier, not originator, shared is shared anyway, doesn’t matter who said it first). In reality though, agreement was more akin to acquiescence, a shortcut to conclusion (that might be parroted later but was as flimsy as any inherited dogma). Acting on advice wasn’t Independent but if it happened, it was more often another shortcut, this time via blind faith. Small wonder there’s can be “blame” for the person giving advice even if it’s fully explained. Blame is anger at an apparently broken faith.

So it becomes disheartening and not worth engaging in discussion or proffering advice with any heart. Final nail in the coffin and sad test of the above is the inevitable natural progression of the person who agreed or just went blind faith, over time and greater familiarity with the forms of life, tighter constraints of lifestyle, ossification of habits into actual opinions, to becoming less and less attentive, to listening less, to small-talk and cliché responses made more by good manners than actual thought. Once this happens, we can challenge it in conversation, petulantly; easily done as only one person is paying attention. The challenge exposes the inattention but breaks the social contract expected between small-talkers. It brings emotions unexpected to the surface, reflex angers, resentment, defensiveness. Both parties grow less keen to get together next time; and lives diverge.

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BUDDHA BEAUJOLAIS, JACOB’S ROOM and WISTFUL WYSTAN

No-one would have believed, in the first decades of the 21st century, that our world was being watched from a point in space barely a few trillion miles beyond the heliosphere of our life-giving sun.


But only few seem so stupid as to feel it – or dwell on it,

Those winter winds, and summer’s colder with each accelerating passing year.

Few see the birds as they fly south across autumn skies

But one by one, the flocks don’t come back to northern shores…

Remember autumn’s golden gown?

We used to kick our way, laugh, and you did so love this time of year,

Those fallen leaves lie undisturbed now,

Imagine that, nothing left of humankind, just houses of stone

and wooden boat.

It was stampede,

ten million people stampeding families

splintered by panic to escape the massacre,

Selfie sticks abandoned.

And that’s a scene if you think about it you either look at and feel antipathy and ‘just deserts’ or you feel sad lovingly, because the very absorption in the moment of something so stupid and faddish as a stick with a picture to photograph oneself: it is childish and child-like and therefore charming and what must it be like to care not just for oneself more than the stranger who once had a selfie stick, but to care to be acclaimed by, or served by, or paid by selfie-stick-sods?”


“I was walking across Hyde Park by the silly Buddha fountain that squirts water out of every orifice, finger and edge, dusk coming on in the velvet Beaujolais early summer gentle way, not noticing people, only seeing ghosts but loving how close they are: every woman Virginia Woolf telling nobody and saying nothing trivial, never, and what was personal was all in wrung out into the books until it wasn’t a room of one’s own she yearned to find, or a lamentation of Jacob and the bedroom undisturbed and blah blah great war – and the brick of a husband who somehow found he could be arsed to trek the fifty revolutions into insouciant Alzheimers without her, every girl Sylvia Plath and her balloon faces.

I can feel the velvet on my skin, velvet parkland summer and sure it’s the water vapour or something about being a rainy island having beautiful days but the worst thing about England is its relentless beauty when wanton and London the never fucking ceasing call to come home though that home is a different place in space-time.

Sure I get it: Jacob’s Room. We all have our own Jacob’s Room. Jacob stops coming back or going back or whatever, for everyone. I understand you Virginia, and I know they were beautiful things and I know you loved them and had to pretend to be so austere and fear them when you just wanted to run free with that pompous queer cunt Isherwood who showed all elbows because he felt snubbed and he knew you were a genius and an artist whose works would last forever while his own … well, you make your choices don’t you?

A century gives perspective, you see, and every one, idiots and heroes and criminals and poets, has died, old age less cruel than life in art? Yes Wystan Hugh Auden, you DID love more, you WERE the one who cared more, and it pleases me in smug livingness to read those crotchety Isherwood scribblings with their gap-tooth imperviousness to shaking for inner beauty, to read “Be SORRY you were not here!” and it’s makes no difference to have inked the same graffiti a hundred times and more sapient than you, phenomenon all burn out.

If there is an afterlife, and there should not be one, because it would be too ludicrous, but if there IS, then you will have seen Chuck’s face after you died and how the cube was holding himself together with a pledge of allegiance posture that saw nobody and nothing and only the fact he’d been an entitled bastard and ha! Dead Wystan, written into life by Prussian hill villagers who let the lordling roll and sing, dead W.H. you weren’t the one who loved more were you?

Pity the best and most noble sentiment you wrote (in a poem’s title anyway) turns out to be the most ironic; and the most wrong as anybody who looked at Chuck’s oil slick eyes and Art Nouveau imperviousness knew in an INSTANT but the stupid guinea had only just found out as the sculpture struck the iceberg and there’s no need to write any more.

La La La La La, and here’s to you Mr Parkinson, at least you’ve left a few brown suede easter eggs for the Suivre Voyage Au Fin de La Nuit all those who say “more, please!” ultimately traverse. And then become middle-aged rather early.

“Burning the candle at both ends doesn’t just shorten the candle’s life, it mutates the candle slowly into something grotesque; the more so because it’s still the same wax that once was so young and beautiful.”

Where have you gone “Joe di Maggio” the song sang, thinking of “No More Heroes” but – see – if the name evokes any impression of romance today, in those more than a generation further down the line?

Local lad.

Not in SPACE.

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