4z: I convert two more zombies, who survive the conversion

I’m pretty tired today, so I’ll be brief. We did two zombies. Both were pretty healthy units, converted in the last couple months. The setup was the same as the day before yesterday: Guards, physicians, armor, etc. There was indeed a code team this time, along with a few other people whose role I couldn’t identify. Also a medical photographer. It got crowded enough that Dr. N (who is fairly heavyset) actually ended up standing outside.

Both conversions went fine, I guess. The first was this older guy with heavy metal tattoos all over his body. Weirdly, he was wearing an old orthopedic back brace – I guess they just sort of dumped him into storage without doing a proper intake. He basically just woke up when I bit him and started looking around – “Oh, am I in the hospital?” – and then he starts swearing in this Deep South accent and shouting about how much his left elbow hurt. It would have been funny under other circumstances.

The other unit was one of the bariatric zombs. She woke up terrified. I am sympathetic to that – it must be pretty scary. She also had some pretty serious wounds that started bleeding very briskly. It seems like basically, all the medical issues that were present before conversion come back after they wake up, along with whatever damage was incurred during the period of zombism. I think we are probably going to have to be pan-scanning these people before converting them, so we know what we are going to be dealing with.

Anyway, we are going to be doing something like this again tomorrow, with a film crew present. They want to do a formal press release. No one is making me talk to the press, which is great. My head is swimming. I just hope that someone figures out how to wake up zombies without my having to bite them all…..

Still, there are so many possibilities that this opens up. The one on my mind right now is space travel. We could convert the crew of a spaceship to zombies, let them travel for however long, and then wake them up again when they get to their destination. Since zombies don’t breathe, eat or get bored, they could make the trip with no trouble at all as long as they are properly stored. Zombies on Mars! It’s like an Ed Wood film.

3z: I convert another zombie, but he is left gravely ill

So yesterday, we went to one of the exam rooms at the CPTLD. It was me, Dr. N, Richard, the other cryptothan fellow (a nice Brazilian woman) and two guards with shotguns. Serious stuff. We were all wearing plastic suits with that new ZombWeave Kevlar covering that joggers use. It was probably not not necessary. The zombie they chose to start with was not in fighting shape.

First of all, he was a triple amputee. It wasn’t undeath-related injury or acrolysis, either – these were healed stumps. The amputations had happened before the guy was zombified. He was also pretty cachectic, which most zombies really are not. Richard told me he was one of the people on whom they did the zombicillin experiments 50 years ago.

There has always been a fascination with the relative resistance to putrefaction that zombies seem to have (one of the many mysteries of zombism, along with how they move and I guess everything else). Several decades ago, there was an attempt to see whether we could use a sort of an extract of zombie tissue, a zombie lysate, in patients who had terminal infectious disease. The idea was that the zombie juice would confer some resistance to the infection in these already terminal patients. It actually worked in monkeys and rats, at least to the degree that it was tried in a few human cases. In almost none of them did it do anything, positive or negative, but two or three of them converted. It turns out that the ones that converted had all been given an extract that had included a zombie’s teeth (which you would think they would have known to avoid, right?). This guy was one of those.

The zombie wasn’t really thrashing or anything, just kind of slowly writhing on the table. Usually they put opaque facemasks on the zombs whenever they take them out of storage, but this one just had instead a clear, thick plastic shield. I could see its whole face.  It looked over at me with those weird yellow eyes that they develop after the first couple of years, opened its mouth and just left it open. It was toothless. An old zombie, from back when they thought removing the teeth made them less infectious. I could barely move. No one would say anything if I refused to do it – I was in the process of framing my excuses for backing out when I leaned down and bit its arm.

I distinctly heard him say “Ouch.” Then there was blood everywhere. I don’t even know where it was coming from. I turned and bolted, went to the bathroom, threw up, brushed my teeth with my finger, and then just sat on the toilet for a little while. Richard came in to ask if I was ok.

“I’m fine. Just sitting the rest out.”

“Well, he woke up. But he’s not too healthy. When we do this again, we’ll have to have a code team ready.”

“Yeah. Sure. Can’t wait.”

Dr. N then busted into the men’s room. “It was wonderful!” she shouted in a Russian-inflected bellow from the other side of the stall. She was getting a little choked up. “This is just…just the…the most beautiful thing!”

I for one am not really looking forward to a repeat of this beautiful thing, but we are going to try for another demo tomorrow. I asked to be given a Xanax beforehand, and they are cool with that. Meanwhile, the guy I woke up did not make it. I guess in addition to the pneumonia for which they originally gave him the zombicillin, he had a huge abdominal aortic aneurysm that ruptured 15 minutes after he woke up. He didn’t even make it to the OR.

Pretty nasty.

2z: I meet the bosses of the zombie ward

So, busy week so far:

A couple mornings after that zombie I bit became dezombified or whatever, they asked me to meet with the co-director of the Center for the Palliation and Treatment of the Living Dead. Aside from a couple of fellows in cryptothanatology and the two directors (one is the practice chair and the other is more involved in administration, fundraising and what passes for research in the CPTLD), the staffers are generally non-physicians. It’s not a place we are usually needed.

Dr. S, the director for research, was what you would call a typical cryptothanatology person. The stereotype is of a super-withdrawn, creepy guy with a strong schizotypal vibe, but those are not that common. Most people who do cryptothan basically want an easy, moderately-well-paying job with minimal late nights. It’s a great career if, midway through med school, you realize that you’d rather be doing something other than medicine.

It was pretty clear right from the beginning that Dr. S was seeing this whole thing primarily as a moderate to severe annoyance. He began by telling me that it was obviously impossible to wake up a zombie, he was sure that wasn’t what had happened, but he still had “a duty to all stakeholders” (yes, he said “stakeholders”) to determine what actually had happened. “Obviously, we are going to have to get ahead of the story. We are getting phone calls.” He kind of laughed uncomfortably, like he was talking about his bowel habits. “I’m sure you know what I mean, and why it’s important to the Institute that we find out what in the world is going on!” He said the last bit in kind of an exaggerated cartoon voice. Not sure who he thought he was imitating. I just smiled weakly and agreed to help. I mean, I’m curious too.

So they had me sign a paper, basically an informed consent for research, saying they could analyze any samples that I was willing to provide. Pretty typical. The way I knew this was a big deal was when I saw an IRB number at the top of the consent form. They must have gotten this through the IRB in two days. That just doesn’t happen at the Institute, even for minimal risk studies. Somebody really is interested, even if it isn’t Dr. S.

They took a lot of samples. I had sort of expected blood testing, but it was actually pretty extensive. Aside from blood and urine, they took like 50 ccs of saliva (if you’ve never tried to drool out 50 ccs of spit, you should give it a shot – it’s more than you think) and one of the cryptothan fellows swabbed everything out of my mouth that wasn’t attached. It was crazy. They actually had me floss my teeth and then they kept the floss. I don’t know whether they will get any weird analytes from the massive amounts of sriracha I had with breakfast, but maybe that’s what they are looking for.

They then interviewed me for 4 hours, no break. What was I doing pacing around down in the basement that night? Do I spend a lot of time in the basement? What had I been eating before I bit the zombie? My favorite part was when they were asking me about my diet, which consists mostly of ramyun, Dr. Pepper and kimchi eaten straight from the bottle. The look of consternation on the face of my interrogator was priceless. I wish I had a picture for you. “You do realize that’s a very high-salt diet, right?” They were actually really interested in the kimchi, once I explained what it was. I guess because it’s fermented. They wanted the last of what I had at home (which is now very sour indeed) and also to know what store I get it from. I gave them directions to Super Asia Fast Mart.

Next day, I was given a little tour of the CPTLD. There isn’t much to see. The zombs are all sort of warehoused in individual 0.5 x 1 x 2 meter large units, which slide into these huge 6-unit-high banks. Mostly they aren’t strapped down, because they pretty much stop moving once they have no more external stimulus. We have like 20 banks on this campus, which also includes some bariatric units for the fatter zombies. There’s also the Revenant Management Consortium in South Dakota, which we are a part of, and they have thousands down there.

Dr. N, the director of practice, was rounding with one of the cryptothan fellows. Rounds are a pretty perfunctory affair in the CPTLD. They basically sit at a table, discuss any outstanding issues, any new zombies (called “units” in CPTLD parlance) who might have been admitted over the preceding 24 hours, etc. Like I said, not much role for a physician.

Unlike Dr. S, Dr. N was very interested in my story. “So you are the zombie fixer!” she shouts in a thick Russian accent. “Can you come and bite all my zombies?” The cryptothan fellow kind of frowned and pecked at his Ipad. Dr. N was in a good mood. I think she spends most of her time as general internist (she has a joint appointment) so rotating on the CPTLD is probably like a vacation.

We went down for coffee after rounds. Richard, the cryptothan fellow, was actually an interesting guy. He has a pretty strong background in research, with a Ph.D. and postdoc at one of the big revenant labs at Oxford before he went to medical school. Basically, it’s getting impossible for researchers in the field to gain access to subjects after the Declaration for the Rights of Undead Persons was adopted by most countries. Even before that, the IRBs made it pretty hard. Richard figured it would be easier if he had an MD, but since destruction of warehoused, restrained, dismembered or otherwise neutralized revenants carries such steep civil penalties, he’s mostly just restricted to epidemiology work right now. Also, zombism remains an uncommon though highly communicable condition (the prevalence in the United States is holding steady at about 0.04%) and so even prospective population studies are hard to do.

So, anyway, to kind of come to the point, they were wondering whether I would be willing to bite another zombie. I said that I was pretty hesitant to do that, because I was afraid of being infected. There was a guy in my high school who got bit when he was visiting his mom (back when that was allowed) and he converted. I didn’t know him that well, but, you know, those sorts of things leave an impression. I know that zombism is only ever transmitted by a bite, not by touch or aerosolization or other exposures (I mean, that’s pretty much all they talk about in high school health class), but it still sort of gave me concern.

“No one would ever force you to do something that you don’t want to do,” said Dr. N. “We will try preparations from the samples that you have given us. But it would be most useful if we could determine whether this was a…a…fluke…or if it was the real thing.”

So I thought about it. I won’t bore you with the details. You know me pretty well, you can probably imagine how it went – I paced around at home, I paced around the hospital, I had a beer. And so of course eventually I said fine, I’ll bite your zombie.

So I guess we’re on for tomorrow. We’ll see how it goes.

1z: I bite a zombie and she becomes a normal human again

Kind of a weird night at the hospital. You know how I tend to pace when I am on nights? We had just sent a new GI bleed to the med floor for obs and I was kind of wandering around waiting for morning.

So, my favorite vending machine and my second-favorite bathroom are both in the basement. I was down there, and suddenly from between the soda machine and the one that sells chips, this zombie lunges out and grabs my coat.

Now, to my knowledge the Center for the Palliation and Treatment of the Living Dead (CPTLD, which is the fancy name for our Revenant Unit) has never before had an elopement. I know she was one of ours, because she had the headgear on (if they stray out of the unit, the prongs of the zombulke basically decapitate them). As she was pulling me toward her, I could see that the two of the prongs hadn’t deployed, and the zombulke had gotten detached such that another one was in the air. Smoke was rising near the other prong at the back of her neck, but it wasn’t really helping.

This zombie looked like a pretty new one. She still had her hair (blond and wispy), nose and fingers all intact – she must have converted within the last couple months. Undeath-related acrolysis is usually pretty marked within a couple of years. That was how she had grabbed me – once they lose their fingers, they usually don’t do a lot of grabbing.

I have heard that in these life-or-undeath moments you are supposed to have a moment of clarity and everything is supposed to be in slow motion – it wasn’t like that with me. It was like, this is it – I’m going to be zombified. She’s going to bite me, and if I’m lucky she’ll eat me, and if I’m not lucky then I’m totally undead. She had one hand twisted up in my coat, and the other hand went for my face – and I bit it.

Not something that hasn’t happened before, I’m sure – who goes down without a fight? – but she stopped and let go of me. I had a clear look at her eyes – suddenly sharp and questioning – and then she started screaming and pulling at the zombulke. The back prong had burned a huge hole in her upper back – fortunately because the headgear had been dislodged, it was mostly just destroying fat and trapezius and was well off midline. Her other injuries were actually worse. All of the little scrapes and cuts that she had acquired over the past month, plus the original injuries that she had sustained at zombification (there was a big bite on the anterior aspect of the left thigh, clearly the unmortal injury, plus some deep lacerations on her forearms) all started oozing blood. I didn’t even know zombies had liquid blood. The ones we dissected in medical school were basically like rotten potatoes inside, even after just a few weeks of undeath. Not that they really putrefy, or they wouldn’t be that big a problem, but even a few days of biological inaction are bad for tissue integrity.

She was crying and screaming and saying actual words, asking for help, where she was – she was clearly not a zombie anymore. I called the operator and had them call a code. It was pretty much the worst medical emergency I’ve responded to outside of an ICU. She was going to need a transfusion, that was clear, and god only knows what sort of electrolyte abnormalities you get when you’re suddenly brought back from the living dead – The team was pretty freaked out when they got there. The RT didn’t want to get even close. I think that we were lucky because she looked pretty good and was obviously bleeding (which even fresh zombies don’t do much) and after the initial confusion they pretty quickly set to work stabilizing her. I have to respect that – if I’d been on the rapid response team, I would have been pretty scared to do an IV start in a possible zombie, no matter how good she looked. Anyway, they took her to the SICU after placing a gas mask. You know about the gas masks, that they use in rural emergency departments and the smaller Zombie Conversion Observation units in the hinterland – Basically, if the patient converts to a zombie (the ED people call them “zomverts” but that’s always seemed a little flippant to me) and becomes unmanageable in the ZCO, as a last resort they can activate the gas mask and incinerate the zombie’s head with a sort of jellied gasoline.

Anyway, this patient was clearly registered in the CPTLD as a 6 week old zombie, with an intake exam confirming obvious absence of life – she was definitely the real thing. They had to take her to the OR but now she’s back in the SICU, intubated but otherwise doing very well.

Of course, the administration is very shy about any press that they don’t control, so I’m supposed to keep it all on the DL for now. Word is starting to get around, though. No one really knows what to make of it – maybe she wasn’t really a normal zombie to begin with, or maybe there’s some kind of window period when zombies can somehow be reconverted. Hard to believe that that would have been missed by the NIH’s Center for Cryptothanatology, but maybe. Anyway, I’m going to be meeting with the zombie specialists tomorrow, to sort of go over the story again. Meanwhile, I’m off ED call for now, with the chief resident covering me (he was on an elective so he’s being super-pissy about it).