Short Story: You’ll be the death of me (English translation)

You’ll be the death of me (Download Text)

   I’ve always said that he would be the death of me. Of course, it was always a joke and no one had expected that this would actually come true. On the other hand, it is not his fault. Nevertheless, I’m dying now because we’ve been together.

   Dean and I have been a couple for four years. We had known each other for a while longer, although we didn’t have so much to do with each other in the beginning. We were just friends of friends, and I couldn’t stand him at all at first. His arrogant behaviour constantly drove me up the wall, and even then I always said it would kill me. But this is how it is sometimes, we got to know each other better through our friends. And I realised that he was a really nice guy behind his facade.
   After we had been together for almost a year, we decided to move in together. One reason for this decision was my work. I am a nurse, and because of my shiftwork, we sometimes hadn’t seen each other for days when we still had separate apartments. This way we see each other at least in between times. However, I’d rather not think about the possibility that this could also be a reason that I have to die now.
   It all started nearly six months ago. That was when the first case was admitted. At that time, we had no idea how far everything would reach. The day was already totally crappy. The attending has been yelling at me like hell because I had missed the complete handover. Although I had been rushing like crazy, I was much too late for work because of a stupid traffic hold-up. I thought the day couldn’t get much worse. That was before two patients chucked their food to the floor, which I had to mop up, and the third puked it straight onto me. I couldn’t even shower properly after that. My pager beeped, the emergency room needed me. Half an hour before the end of my workday.
   When I arrived at the emergency room, I tried to get an overview of what was going, which was not easy given the staff running around wildly and the many injured people. There had been a pileup. Some idiot had run in front of someone else’s car in full traffic. Happens often enough, but when I saw the body of the guy who got hit by the car, I was sure that he had not died because of the accident. I have never seen something like that in my entire life. The body was covered in a grid of red lines, even the eyes. First, I couldn’t make any sense of it, but a closer look made me realise that apparently all blood vessels had burst. I couldn’t explain how this might have happened.
   The pathologist, Jackson, took the corpse away, so I had been in contact with it for only a few moments. This has probably saved my life. Well, it has rather only postponed my death.
   When I came home, I was totally exhausted. As if the day wouldn’t have been bad enough, I could’t get the sight of the man out of my head. In my mind I was miles away when I walked into our apartment. Suddenly, a black shadow hurtled towards me out of nowhere and held me tight in its grip. I almost had a heart attack and screamed with shock. Next, I heard Dean’s throaty laugh.
   „Jesus Christ, you will be the death of me!“, I cursed. However, I couldn’t be entirely angry. That’s what it was like between us. Dean loved to tease me. And to each of his little jokes I always replied with the same sentence. Only usually, I wouldn’t get that angry, so Dean noticed at once that something was wrong. After I told him about my shitty day, he just put his arms around me. Every time he did that, I instantly felt better.
   When I went to work the next day, people still didn’t know what was in store for us all. I went to the pathology to ask Jackson about the man’s cause of death. I just couldn’t let it go. But Jackson wasn’t there. He had called in sick. I was frustrated, but at least this day was significantly better than the previous one. However, I would run out of luck soon. When Jackson reappeared in the pathology a week later – dead. The whole body covered with popped blood vessels. I couldn’t endure the sight for very long and pulled back quickly. Jackson wasn’t really a friend of mine, but we always got along rather well. And that he was dead now, and apparently killed by the same mysterious illness like the man before, was just too horrible.
   But of course that was just the beginning. As new patients were admitted almost daily, I felt that something bad was gonna happen. The disease spread rapidly. The first cases made it into the news. It was human nature to panic about such thing, as it had happened quite a few times before. But these instances had all been false alarms, more or less. Not this time. That was really dawning on me for the first time, when I came to work one day. The whole hospital had been placed under quarantine. We had to cover ourselves as much as possible all the time. Gloves, facemask, overshoes. The complete program.
   The research of the disease had the highest priority. First results were achieved concerning the progress of the disease. The pathogen was apparently highly contagious when you came in contact with the infected. Since I had never touched the dead, it was probably not sufficient for an infection. Jackson, however, had performed an autopsy on the first victim for hours. Sure, he had protected himself, but the smallest carelessness would have been enough. After that, everything went pretty fast. The first symptoms occurred within 24 hours, often accompanied by fever. The disease was very subjective then. There were patients who died after a few days, while others succumbed to the disease only after several weeks. It was not a particularly pretty death, in any case. This only fuelled the panic of the population even more.
   I must confess that I was not entirely immune to that myself. Every few minutes, I checked the fit of the gloves and mouthguard. I disinfected once I had even the slightest contact with any person. What worked quite well in the hospital was an ordeal in the general public. Where had the people around you been just now? Had they just been infected? At each door handle, at all the goods in the supermarket, at every object in general the pathogen could adhere. And a cure was nowhere in sight. They were working on a rapid test which should detect the virus within a few minutes. What that would bring with it, I realised quickly. The total control. At relevant places, medical personnel would stand guard and test every person who wanted to pass. How would the people react to that? Would they get scared even more? Would they get used to it? What would happen to the people who tested positive? I didn’t want to think about it. The only thing that offered security and comfort at the thought of this dark vision of the future was Dean. He was a programmer at an IT company, and as they realised the extent of the disease, they had decided to let the employees work from home. So I didn’t have to worry about him most of the time. It was different the other way around, of course. I was right in the middle of everything. But I assured him repeatedly how much I took care of my safety. He accepted that I could not just stop. It was not only a job. I had become a nurse to help people and be there for them, as cheesy as that might sound. That was more important than ever now. Dean got that. And if everything threatened to be too much for me sometimes, he put his arms around me and I felt better.
   When I was sent home one day after a 30-hour shift and forced to take a break, I was finally able to spend some more time with Dean again. We didn’t leave the flat all day and enjoyed the peace and quiet. I could almost forget that the world outside was perishing.
   The next morning, I felt as relaxed as I hadn’t had for a long time. I couldn’t remember the last time I had a good night’s rest. While Dean continued to sleep, I got into the shower and enjoyed the water dripping down my body. After I turned off the water, I grabbed a towel and dried off – when I discovered a ruptured blood vessel on my leg.

   „Okay. Calm down. Take a deep breath,“ I told myself again and again. „That doesn’t have to mean anything. You’ve been working a lot lately, standing a lot. It’s just a burst blood vessel due to the increased stress.“ That had to be it. I didn’t have a fever, but that was not mandatory. What if I was infected? When did it happen? How? Had I already passed it on to Dean? Thinking about it made me feel sick. If I were to blame, if Dean was infected as well…
   I quickly dressed when Dean woke up. „I have to get to the hospital,“ I simply said to him and hurried out. On the way there, I took meticulous care not to touch anything with my skin or to breathe on anyone. I still tried to convince myself that there was no reason for that. It was just a precaution. Afterwards it would certainly seem silly that I had been in such a panic. When I arrived at the hospital, I went to the locker room immediately and put on my protective gear. As soon as I tied the laces of my mouthguard, it was as if a huge burden was lifted from me, I was so relieved. Should I really be infected, at least I wouldn’t infect anyone else. Such irony. The clothes that were meant to protect myself and failed so bitterly, should now serve to protect others from me. And if it was not able to do that either? Panic welled up in me. I took deep breaths to calm myself. That was impossible, I had to have been infected outside. After the cold feeling that flowed through my body subsided slowly, I left the room to go directly to the laboratories. I asked how far they had come with the test. It was not yet fully developed, but it should be ready in a few days.
   Great, how should I explain a possible days-long absence to Dean? I could still think about that later. I would find an excuse for one night for now. I tried to act normally all day, but checked my protection even more often than before. Every time another victim was admitted, it took me all I had, not to start panicking again. In the evening, I called Dean and explained that they would still need me in the hospital. The barely hidden disappointment in his voice pricked my conscience. But I did it for his protection.
   I barely found sleep this night. Alone with my thoughts, I pondered over and over again what I should do in case I had actually been infected. The next morning, I checked my body instantly. The horrible realisation that I would no longer need the test, paralysed me. The pattern of the ruptured blood vessels had extended. Too far to explain it with stress. I do not know how long I stared at my leg. Eventually I pulled myself together, put on my protective clothing as if in a trance, and went to the chief physician to tell him that I was infected. After a moment of shock, he arranged for my quarantine.
   Once I was accommodated in the hermetically sealed room, I called Dean. I had asked to be allowed to tell him myself. I was relieved to hear that he apparently had not caught the disease. However, when he learned of my condition, he insisted to come over immediately. Useless to try to dissuade him. A part of me did not want to. I so wanted to see him, I missed him terribly. On the other hand, there was the risk that he might become infected as well. He had to keep his distance from me. But would we able to?
   When there was a knock on the door, my heart stopped briefly. Dean entered, completely covered as I used to be. In that moment, when all I could see were his green eyes, all the fear and despair broke out of me. I began to cry uncontrollably, knowing how much it hurt Dean. He tried to come over to me, certainly to take me in his arms again, but the nurse who brought in him held him back. Dean spent the whole day with me, at the other end of the room, which was the condition. This repeated itself the next day and the day after. The extent of my symptoms got worse, although the disease did not progress as fast as in others. Visible parts of my body had not been affected yet, for which I was grateful.
   A major step forward in the research had been achieved when a few days after my arrival the test was completed at last. Needless to perform it on me, but I served as kind of a positive sample, while the chief physician acted as a negative sample. After both tests delivered the expected results, I asked that Dean should be tested. Although he did not show any symptoms, I wanted to make sure. After a few minutes the result. Dean was positive! But that was impossible! We stared at each other for an eternity, he was as paralysed as I was. I had infected him. He would die because of me. Dean was taken to his own quarantine room. He walked away quietly, as if he had already given up. It broke my heart.
   But even after days, Dean still showed no symptoms. The test was tried on other subjects; All results were in line with the expectations. But the repetition of Dean’s test brought no other result. He was positive. There was no longer any reason to keep him away from me. When he put his arms around me, I could forget for a moment that I would probably die soon. The next second, I thought that this likely was how I got infected. Apparently Dean was immune, he could have had the virus for who knows how long, and he was the only one I never had any suspicions against.
   As the chief physician walked into my room, we parted reluctantly. „I do not want raise your hopes too much,“ he began. „But so far, you are the only case of immunity we have. With your help, we may be able to synthesise an antidote.“ He looked at me thoughtfully. „However, this will be a race against time.“

   I tried to keep my wild hope in check. Dean was released from his work, so he was continuously available for testing. He also moved in with me in my quarantine room, and why not? I was glad that I was able to spend so much time with him once more. As the days went by, my condition worsened further. I began to feel weaker due to the internal bleeding, but I tried to hide it. The blood transfusions also helped less and less.
   As the chief physician came into my room, I immediately saw the serious expression on his face. „We know now why the virus does not affect Dean.“ A heavy pause. „There is a genetic abnormality in the structure of his connective tissue around the vessels. It is simply too strong to be attacked by the virus. This is not anything we could synthesise as a cure. I’m sorry.“
   Tears were streaming down Dean’s face. I, however, was astoundingly composed and walked over to his chair. When I stood before him, he leaned his forehead against my belly. I stroked the back of his head. The brown stubble on his neck tickled my fingertips. „I’ve always said you will be the death of me,“ I joked. Yes, sure, it wasn’t funny, but humour – as black as it might be – was almost the only thing that I still had left at this moment. „Dean,“ I continued more seriously. „The only thing I regret is that we did not spend more time together. Had I known that it would end like this, I still wouldn’t want to change anything.“
   My words caused only more tears. I sat on his lap, put my arms around his neck and hugged him tightly to me. I had only days left, and I did not want to spend those with weeping, remorse, anger or doubt. I wanted to be happy again before I died.

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