Some semblance of quiet settled over the tent. The baby was quiet now and the soft murmur of the women’s voices hung in the air as a reminder of the cycle of life. It was late, darkness crept ominously across the inhabitants of the tent. Jones feared never seeing daylight again. Finally he slept. Exhaustion took over both his mind and his body.
He was woken before dawn by the pain in his neck. It was getting worse. Jones felt burning heat and fierce throbbing, as if his neck was about to explode. He knew he was suffering an infection. He felt for the call button to summon a nurse before he remembered there wasn’t one. Instead his hand hit the water running beside his mattress, instantly reminding him where he was. He reached up to touch his neck and could feel a large swelling and something oozing. He smelt his fingers, the odour was putrid: rotting flesh. The doctor had been very clear there were not medicines available, everything had been used treating the ever-increasing hordes of humanity that had descended on this tiny nation. His chances of survival seemed marginal. Any thoughts he had of escaping now turned to simply living another day, another hour.
Jones started to shiver. He knew this indicated fever had set in. Fever, the body’s natural mechanism to fight infection: would it be enough to save his life?
The doctor appeared as a ghostly shape; Jones struggled to focus his gaze, but he could see the doctor wasn’t looking at him in a hopeful way.
“You have developed a serious infection in that wound”, the doctor stated dispassionately, “and there is little I can do to help. We will wash out the wound and redress it as best we can, but we have no antibiotics.”
The doctor turned and walked away. Jones felt abandon. He wanted to scream, but he couldn’t find the energy: he was burning up. The doctor returned with a steaming bowl of water, some cloths that had clearly once been tea-towels and a wooden stick. His eyes filled with the sorrow he felt for this person upon whom he was about to inflict pain beyond imagination.
“Jones, I am going to try to clean out the pus and remove as much infected tissue as I can. I will then cauterize as much of the remaining tissue as possible. This is going to hurt worse than hell, but it is the best I can do under the circumstances. You will be left with major scaring and a deep hole in your neck. Bite on this”, and he shoved the stick into Jones’ mouth. As an afterthought he added, “If you are a religious man, I suggest you start praying.”
Jones had, really, had what some may call a cushy life. In many ways controversial, but cushy. He’d never starved, he’d had well-paying jobs all his life, he’d been a cabinet minister. His current situation was so far from his life experiences he was struggling to comprehend this was actually himself. Jones felt he was watching a movie in which he was playing the lead character. This couldn’t be real.
At first he felt little the doctor did, so severe was the infection, but as the doctor dug deeper into the infected cavity, washing out the pus and cut away dead flesh, he felt he was dying. The pain was so intense he blacked out for a moment yet the same intensity woke him again. The searing cauterization pain was so much worse than the day he burnt himself on the BBQ at home.
Finally it was over. The doctor was grey with the effort it had taken him to inflict so much pain in order to try and save a life. The medical profession had become so used to providing close to pain-free treatment: he felt ill.
The doctor raised his head and looked at Jones. “I’ve done the best I can. Your fever will continue to fight the remaining infection. I can’t test to see if you have sepsis or not, but I suspect you may. We will see you have plenty of fluids. That is all I can do.”
Jones lay staring at the tent roof, trying to stay conscious. He felt a presence and realised Sarah had found him. “Do you want me to pass any messages on to your family if I ever met them”, Sarah asked quietly. Despite what she knew this man was responsible for, she did not wish such a horrid ending for anyone.
“Love”, he rasped. “Tell them I am sorry.”
Sarah nodded and moved back across the tent to help the new mother. Sarah knew this man, masquerading as Jones, was dying. She had heard the death rattle in his throat.
Sarah wondered would she ever find the Morrison family and if she did, would she tell them the truth of his death, or tell them a more gentle version. She shrugged, for there was no likelihood of her ever meeting them. Sarah knew the likelihood of her surviving the current destruction of civilisation was slim. She gazed into the eyes of the new baby and wept for the human race.
Wracked with pain and fever, Jones died seven hours later. Alone and anonymous. His body was thrown into the open disposal pit along with the many other unfortunates dying daily.