My breakfast bagel and I squeeze from the elevator past a guy on a gurney when the fluorescent lights flicker and go dark. Wondering when the emergency generator will kick in, I consult my watch. It’s now 0817. Code Green Time.
Part way down the corridor, Mrs. Sewall from 511 hails me to empty her bedpan, complaining her TV is on the fritz as I rearrange her emaciated limbs. At the nurses’ station, Rachel informs a knot of powder-blue caregivers that her PC and phone are down, so check your mobiles. My screen swims with abstract expressionist art and, in fact, all our devices are dysfunctional in some special way. Harry the oncology resident, woozily roused from his power nap, holds up his old flip phone. Still works, he reports, but no bars.
Alicia has fetched a clock radio from a patient’s room that miraculously had a working backup battery. We stand by as she twirls the dial for sounds of intelligent life. There is but one, some guy saying “… Repeat: The blackout covers a broad swath across the Eastern half of the country. We have no indication of foul play or enemy attack. Technicians are working to restore services as quickly as possible. Stay tuned to this station for updates.”
Our Chief Resident barks marching orders. I am to round up portable respirators and haul them to the ICU. On my way I stop by the solarium, half full of patients variously staring at magazines, blank screens or air molecules. From my elevated vantage, the cityscape looks normal but for odd knots of pedestrians on State Street. Across the way, people queued up at Krogers aren’t being let in. Street traffic is at a standstill. Drivers are loitering by their vehicles. What could have halted them all in their tracks?
Then comes a motorist slaloming a 60s-vintage Ford pickup around disabled cars, stopping to let people clamber on, third-world style. How come that clunker still works? Aha! methinks. No Intel inside to conk out. What brought on this standstill was likely a solar flare, a ginormous magnetic pulse that clobbered cars, phones, computers and power plants. Perhaps even airplanes. Oh the humanity!
What will we do without electrons? At least we still have books. If we’re not constantly fighting and foraging we’ll have time to read them. Klaatu barada nikto, I mumble as I trudge back to work.
This story also is posted on The Story Hall, a publication at medium.com.