CW17: Oxygen

Prompt: write a story that uses the words death, ward, scalpel, knife, syringe, healing, surgeon, oxygen, formaldehyde, crutch, hydrogen peroxide, blood, and nurse.  The catch: your story must not occur inside of a hospital.

I thought about describing a class dissection. It would have been easy, short, and boring. Instead this happened. I didn’t plan it. I just wrote, using the words when I could. I know it’s weird—nothing like what I normally write. I’m not sure what I think of it. Feedback would be appreciated.

In the melodic lilt of his native tongue, the galiamo bending over Marissa told her she was lucky to breathe. Others couldn’t. While he extricated her from the imprisoning embrace of fallen beams, she could hear other galiamos singing their grief, long and low—grief for the motionless shells they uncovered. Shells who breathed only fourteen minutes ago.

If the throbbing in Marissa’s left leg hadn’t demanded all of her attention, she would have seen the irony of her situation: she had come, the only nurse on the space team, in case of an emergency. In this critical moment, her five team members lay lifeless beneath the rubble of Ward 78, the galiamos capital. Marissa had no one to nurse but herself.

She closed her eyes and remembered.

Five years ago when NASA invited her to join the team of scientists travelling to Hamerami, she accepted with excitement. The news of their departure plastered itself across news headlines around the world: NAASA team prepares to make contact with life in neighbor solar system.

Just now, she desperately wished she had stayed in her comfortable little apartment on Eighth Street. Alive.

“Healers will look after you presently,” the galiamo faded again into her fuzzy vision. Then he turned to leave with the others.
Inside her, a voice protested their departure.
The familiar whisper haunted her.

She willed herself to breathe,
to count the blessings:
She still wore the converter-mask. And it worked.

For the first time, she looked down at her legs. Blood seeped through her brown sweats and onto the ground where it mingled with the red dust covering Hamerami’s  surface.

God help me. She whimpered.
And the healers didn’t come.

She eased the fabric up her leg, revealing the mangled tissue and exposed bone. Her pain only increased, but the gory spectacle provoked her to action. Healers or no healers, allowing the wound to remain untouched would only prepare her for amputation. And that was not an option she fancied.

Water rippled temptingly nearby, but she knew better than to wash the wound in the capital’s waste-infested river.

Slowly, she dragged herself towards a sturdy looking pole, hoping to use it as a crutch.  Gripping a fragment of the broken wall with one hand and the pole with her other, she hoisted herself up onto her right leg.

Then, she turned to look behind her at the lonely ruin.  “I’ve missed a rendezvous with death.The whispered words seemed to come from somewhere outside herself.
She had a sudden vision of her lifeless body lying in a bath of formaldehyde awaiting sure dissection. An elderly galiamo lifted his scalpel, preparing to examine the secrets of life on planet earth.
A wave of nausea caused her to double over, dizzy. She lost balance, lost focus.
She breathed in. Oxygen. Thank God for Oxygen.
And then she lost consciousness.

A prickling sensation awoke her. Healers murmured incoherently while applying salves. One of the galimos offered Marissa a warm, balsam scented drink. Their work would only sooth the pain temporarily, but Marissa was grateful.

“Do you have a knife?” She questioned them, hoping that her elementary knowledge of the galiamo language would be enough to communicate her need.

The closest galiamo stared back at Marissa in confusion.

Marissa made a chopping motion with her hands.

Another galiamo shuffled forward. Marissa tried again. When the gailiamo stepped away moments later, Marissa hoped the healer’s nod had been one of recognition.

Less than a half an hour later, the galiamo returned with a blade. Marissa thanked it clumsily. If only she had a disinfecting agent. Hydrogen peroxide, perhaps.  But she didn’t. And she was afraid that if she waited to perform the surgery she would lose her leg despite the healing potions of the galiamos.

So she lifted the blade, clinically considering the wound—mentally distancing herself from its relationship to her body.

She would make believe she was a surgeon. She would envision the syringes, the monitors, and the door that opened into normal. Pretend! She commanded her shaking fingers. It’s only another game of doctor’s office like Anna and I used to play on the living room couch when we were little.
Just breathe. Blessings:


  1. this was very interesting, angela. you’re right, it’s very different from what you normally write about, but the style was the same–tangible, relatable, powerful. it was a little hard to figure out what was going on at first, but once i got the space thing, i understood it better. i would suggest maybe incorporating a little more of the setting to give more perspective… just a thought. wonderful job incorporating the words. i like it!

    1. thanks Blair. my sister had a similar reaction when she read it. one of the reasons for the confusing setting is that i was making it up while i wrote it. i don’t know a thing more about it than what i have written, but i’ll try to find a way to make things more clear. i have a hard time writing about things that i haven’t experienced to some degree because i’m a perfectionist and i want my work to be truly accurate. the freeing thing about sci-fi is that there isn’t a wrong way to describe a planet that doesn’t exist.

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