This is one of a collection of stories that are like “Final Destination” meets “The Monkey’s Paw” (W. W. Jacobs, 1902). As such, they are tragedies more than either mysteries or horror, and would appeal most to readers who enjoy the inexorable pull of a story arc that leads to doom. In each story, a protagonist makes a wish that comes true with fatal results for someone, often the person making the wish. Nothing supernatural, but just how things work out. (Or is it?) The technical details surrounding the fatal (or near-fatal) event are drawn from real cases in the US OSHA incident report database and are therefore entirely realistic even if seemingly outlandish. The plots draw lightly from cultural beliefs around actions such as pointing at someone with a stick or knife, wishing in front of a mirror, or stepping on a crack.
Peter was a plutocrat. Not the nice kind that builds opera houses or supports the ballet, or funds school meals for underprivileged kids, but the kind that you might recognize from a Charles Dickens story. He was fabulously wealthy, extravagantly vain, and extraordinarily conceited.
Peter’s wealth had mostly come as a result of being a corporate pirate—spotting public companies with equity and vulnerability. He would use pension-fund money to buy them, strip their assets, cut staff, and pocket a hefty slice. In a twist of irony, he sometimes even used the pension funds of the staff in the companies he stripped to pillage their company. He had recently bought several rural hospitals this way and had sold off their property and equipment, and laid off their staff.
Peter was in a less troubled hospital for liposuction and a small amount of cosmetic surgery, and he endeared himself to the staff by clipping his toenails onto the floor of his private room, spitting grape seeds across the room at the washbasin, and carrying out loud business calls on speakerphone. As might be expected from these facts, he was also highly demanding when it came to service, repeatedly asking for different meals, pillows, and nurses. He was a heavy user of the call button.
Due to the nail clippings, pips, and other detritus, his room required more frequent and complex cleaning than usual, and the cleaning staff and nurses found themselves carrying out these extra duties while Peter commented on them to participants of his frequent and loud conference calls.
While cleaning his mirror and washbasin, Marisol heard him loudly commenting on her rear to his conference call audience. She drew a deep breath and muttered to herself “I wish this giant gasbag would just pop and go away.” She gritted her teeth, held her temper, and got out as quickly as she could, but not before he lunged and pinched her as she walked past the bed.
At 7:00 the next morning, Peter was in surgery, and things did not entirely turn out as planned. Actually, they were completely not as planned. For one, Peter was still an inpatient rather than a fading memory, and secondly, he was on oxygen and had an intravenous line. During liposuction, he had developed heart arrhythmia and showed signs of unsafe fluid buildup.
Due to Peter’s elevated social profile, Dr. Girgis, the chief medical officer, was at his bedside soon after he was fully conscious. “As you might know, Peter,” she explained, “during liposuction, there can be massive fluid shifts in the body. This can put strain on the heart and other organs and necessitate an IV and oxygen, along with a few days of observation.” Dr. Girgis explained that, depending on the amount of fat being removed, general anesthesia is sometimes done and that risks related to general anesthesia can also necessitate hospitalization, due to issues like arrhythmias or depression of the respiratory drive. “Anytime a patient is unstable, they are going to get oxygen and an IV, and in your case, there was considerable instability due to the amount of liposuction and underlying lack of cardiovascular fitness.”
Bottom line, the liposuction was incomplete, the cosmetic surgery on his wattles didn’t get done, and he was being kept for at least 2 more days.
Peter was unhappy and made a point of spreading misery by yelling at the nurses and being even more demanding and abrasive.
Two of the most senior nurses on the night shift, Ardita and Santiago, were assigned to Peter. Things came to a head when the night shift replenished his drip and Ardita wanted to exchange his day blanket for a night blanket. “Leave my damn blanket alone, you harpy!” Peter grabbed the blanket, pulling it from her hands. “Get out, get out, get out!” he screamed at her.
Peter slapped Ardita across the face and she fell back, pulling out the IV and oxygen lines from their connectors and wrenching out the ECG leads as she fell. Santiago sprang forward and hurriedly reconnected the tubes that disappeared under the twisted-up blanket, while dodging a second swipe.
They scrambled from the room, closing the door just in time as Peter hurled a plate at them, sending his finger oximeter probe halfway across the room and his ECG leads splayed on the floor.
Peter raged for a while over the phone, but then signed off because he felt lightheaded. “Stupid nurses getting me all worked up,” he muttered. He seemed to be dribbling, and he wiped his wet chin with his blanket. The whole thing seemed to have made him a bit dizzy, and he gasped to regain his breath.
This all made him very anxious and irritable, and he was panting. Peter reached for the call button, but his arm felt like it was weighted down with a sandbag, and he couldn’t focus on the button. He rubbed his eyes clumsily, trying to clear his blurred vision. A gripping pain clenched his chest, and as he fell back against his pillows, a bloody froth slid from his blue tinged lips. Peter grunted, trying to sit up, but he found the effort just too much and he sank back, exhausted.
In the 10 minutes between Ardita and Santiago dodging a flying plate, and huddling with the nurse manager on what to do next, Peter had suffered several seizures and had gone into irreversible cardiac arrest. Without the ECG or oximeter connected, there was nothing to warn the staff that anything was medically wrong with Peter, and of the effects of the oxygen inadvertently being connected to the IV line during the battle over the blanket. With oxygen gas flowing directly into his veins under pressure, and forcing the blood from his heart, his body had been in crisis before the nurses even reached their station. By the time Ardita was describing his assault on her to the nurse manager, the gas had caused Peter’s blood vessels to burst and had triggered a massive heart attack.
As Marisol walked in for the early cleaning shift, she was passed by Peter the gasbag leaving the ward on a gurney, on his way to the morgue.