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  • Nathalie Ho

Code Red: The Story of a Frontliner

**Please DON’T underestimate the life of a frontliner. It’s not easy. We have to work everyday from 7am to 8pm during day shifts, and don’t even think about night shifts. There’s medicine to be administered, surgeries to assist to, and scans plus observations and tests to be done. Oh, and annoying managers and patients to deal with. I repeat, it’s not easy.**


My name is Lyra, and I’m doing a very special job for this world--that is, to save everyone at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Hong Kong from Covid-19. Well, that is at least until I get moved to the Infection Control Building near the airport. I’m currently having a break, and sitting with my friend Skylar.

I looked down at the dry ham-and-butter sandwich and soy milk sitting in front of me, and I heaved a sigh. It seems like each and every day lasts forever. I took a bite of my stale sandwich and looked at Skylar. She didn't seem to look back at me.

I stared across the room, my eyes sweeping from the bare cold ground, to the water heater and the pantry room. When you have this job, every single moment lasts forever. It’s only us and some of my other coworkers. I got up, pushed the medical trolley to the door, and exited.

Suddenly, the telecom crackled. I looked up. “Skylar and Lyra, please report to Ward 614,” the scratchy voice demanded. Skylar and I walked towards the lift and took it to the sixth floor. I looked up at the door. The gleaming sign said ‘Pediatrics’. The beeping of life support machines continued. I pushed the door open, and Skylar followed suit. I looked at the walls, all mounted with doors. Then there we were. Ward 614.

I pushed the door open, and there laid a kid, roughly the age of six, on a thin IV drip. She seemed to be almost transparent-looking, as she laid there in a state of weakness. While Skylar checked the clipboard, I asked the kid’s parents for details, and did a checkup. I hooked her up to a monitor. She seemed to be in critical but stable condition. As I took her blood pressure, she weakly moaned and turned to her side. Skylar stepped up to my side. Boop. Boop. Boop. Time seemed meaningless as I untangled more cords.

I left the room after the check and me and Skylar reported to the front desk just in case there were more duties. I stood at the front desk. Then, the emergency red telephone rang. I stood there to assist, Skylar at the A & E bay.

That’s when I saw him. Rushing in. Time stopped. I choked. Black hair, skinny expression... It was my crush. I call him Typical because that’s just the way he acts. I tried not to look. “Hey…” I tried. Awkward. I tried again.

“What do you need help with?”

I almost fainted. I turned red and just asked Skylar to help carry the stretcher in. I memorised the directions to the main wards as Skylar answered a coworker. Turn left, do a right …

I overheard Skylar saying, “Elderly patient, about 78 years. A moderate case of COVID-19.” As I opened the front door, Skylar pushed a door and held it ajar for me. I pushed the stretcher in and laid the patient down on her back.

“Hmmm,” I said. “No sign of consciousness.”

“Maybe it’s a coma,” Skylar guessed.

I then went out into the hallway to get some tubes and syringes from the medical cart. I can’t even think about how long we’ve been dealing with the pandemic for! It feels like a millennia since this virus started, but it’s only been half a year.

Just then, when I was turning back, I heard heavy, shallow panting and breathing. I stopped dead in my tracks. I almost dropped my syringe. “Move her to the ICU and grab the ventilator!” I heard Skylar scream, as the panting got faster. I put the syringes down and we rushed into the hallway, past other nurses, patients, and doctors, till we reached another door. Skylar kicked it open and we cartwheeled through, like a never-ending milk tea whirlpool.

We skidded to a stop at one of the vacant ICU wards and got some gloves and an apron on. As Skylar adjusted the ventilator, I fixed an IV drip.

After all that messy connecting and adjusting, I and Skylar headed to the front office. But as the lift doors opened, our manager stepped out. Uh-oh. My mind told me not to say anything else. But I couldn’t stop myself. “Hi,” I said. Then, I shuddered.

Are you crazy?” Skylar mouthed. The manager gave us tough looks as we headed into the lift, my other coworkers with me.

“We gotta head outta here faster,” I whispered. Skylar nodded in agreement, pressed the lift button, and the door closed. My heart seemed to beat heavily as the lift dropped down to the 4th floor, our stop. I walked out casually, Skylar behind me.

“That was scary,’ Skylar exclaimed. I nodded in return, as we walked down the halls. We didn’t suspect a single thing. But suddenly…

“Lyra! LYRA!” someone shouted. I glanced behind me.

“What’s going--” Skylar asked, but I cut in.

“We’re coming!” I screamed. I hurtled through the halls. My heart thumped. Thump. Thump. Thump.

We stopped to a halt in Corridor Three. My other coworkers Daisy and Rose were there, panicked looks on their faces. I glanced at the patient.

“Seven-year-old, severe case of COVID-19,” said Rose.

It’s easier for younger kids to get diseases like this one, I thought. Skylar’s face fell. “What is it?” I asked.

“Cousin,” was her only reply.

What? I thought. Silent tears ran down Skylar’s face. We all rushed to hug her, and while we rushed to the nearest vacant pediatric ward, we held Skylar’s hand all the way there. I felt SO sorry for my BFF.

We arrived at a vacant ward and set Skylar’s cousin, whose name was Cadance, down on the bed. She panted weakly. I was pretty sure she couldn’t make out her older cousin, because she was confused, staring at Skylar.

I ruffled down my surgical gown and got to work. I handed Daisy a syringe and Rose filled an IV bag, while Skylar desperately tried to make her cousin feel better.

After 5 minutes of hugs and reassurance, I decided to leave her with the doctor so we could have a break and the doctor monitored her.

We sat in the cafeteria during the lunch break. I managed to talk to Skylar and comfort her. As we ate our prawn fried rice, I talked to her. “W-will we save h-her?” she sobbed. As I reassured Skylar that we would save her cousin, I thought, What if we CAN’T save her? I gulped. If we don’t, we’re DOOMED. I felt nervous as Skylar and I walked out of the cafeteria and reported to the front desk as usual.

After lunch, we returned to Cadance. The doctor said she should be fine for now. “I’ll come and check on her later.” Then we got the IV drip sorted out, and then strapped a ventilator onto her face.

Suddenly, BEEP. BEEP. BEEP.

“Her condition is worsening!!” screamed Skylar.

“Ok, ok. We’ll sort it out,” said Rose, trying to calm her down. “Take deep, deep breaths.” But Cadance started to gasp.

“Good job, little one,” coaxed Daisy. “You’re doing a great job.”

But for me, I thought, She’s hanging on for dear life. Cadance gasped one more breath.

“Cousin,” she whispered. “I’ll never forget you. You are so kind to me, I could not say it in words.” By now, she was getting worse. She sighed one last time, squeezed Skylar’s hand, then she fell, still as the clouds and the sun in the sky outside her ward. Skylar gawked. By the look on her face, I could tell she was mortified.

“Oh God, but I thought the medicine worked!” she sobbed. “Oh God, oh God, oh God.”

Then she tried to heap onto her cousin’s body, but I reminded her of the dangers. Instead we came forward for a special embrace and cried a thousand tears together. We didn’t manage to save her. Am I gonna get in trouble?

I headed to the main office, Skylar and Daisy with me. I didn’t see my crush this time, even though he’s normally there. He would probably be on lunch break. (Which was disappointing, obviously.) Rose was headed off to check someone’s continuous positive airway pressure. As we arrived, I pushed open the door with a creak. We stood by the front office with bated breath. I talked to the receptionist.

“Hello, we’re here to speak to the manager?” I asked.

“You’ll have to wait for a while, she’s talking to the department of neurology,” she answered. I could hear raised voices coming from inside.

“It’s not fair!” I heard.

“But it was supposed to be your responsibility, nitwit!” another voice said.

I’m glad Rose isn’t here, I thought. She’s the shy one. She definitely would have already started crying.

Soon, the head neurologist came out, and I don’t think she looked okay.

“You may enter,” said a stern voice. Soon, I knew it. I was headed directly smack for trouble.

“How could you not try your best to save that girl?!” the manager screamed.

“B-but we did!” exclaimed Daisy.

“You’re just trying to dig yourself out of the hole, right?” the manager replied.

“I’m afraid you’re right,” said a voice from the back of the room. “You’re just gonna go deeper down.”

I turned backwards, and the swivel chair I was sitting on hit the wall.

It was Sakura. Heads turned. Mouths dropped.

“Well, you thought you’d escape all this, huh?” she scoffed. “Well then, you don’t know what it’s like to really be special. She’s my sister.” She pointed to the manager and crossed her arms, a satisfied and smug, snobby smile of her face. I heard an audible smirk.

Oh shoot, I thought. Rackum frackum. We’ll be in even bigger trouble, and she’ll report us to the chief! That’ll be even worse.

“Well then, what do YOU know?” asked Skylar. “My cousin is one of the most important people in my life, just like your sister is yours,” she said. “Personally I think we should be given a chance, we absolutely tried our best to save her.”

“Well, we’ll see about that,” said the manager. “You may be dismissed, but you emergency department weaklings better come to my office on Tuesday next week.”

“You almost ruined my reputation, you eggheads,” added Sakura.

As we left the room, I heard the faint sound of Sakura giggling.

“Well, that was tough,” said Daisy. “But we owe it to Skylar for standing up for us.”

“Yeah, you’re right.” I added. “Now it’s up to us to make Skylar’s family feel better.”

“Personally, I feel sorry for you. You were really strong,” said Daisy, putting her arm around Skylar’s neck.

After comforting Skylar’s family, it was 8:00pm, and my shift was over. It was a crazy day.

I said bye to my coworkers and went home.

I felt really sad for Skylar, but as a nurse, you need to look after yourself as well. Just go chill, Lyra. Tomorrow is another day.

I took a refreshing hot shower, texted my parents, then cooked myself dinner and sat on the sofa. I thought about my cute crush. But I stopped.

RING. RING. I jumped out of my fantasy world, where we were about to have a date with cupcakes. I got a call from Daisy. She was on the night shift with Rose.“The manager got COVID!!” she screamed. I stopped. Run. Run. Run, I thought.

I headed out the house with only my backpack. I ran to the nearest bus stop and hopped on. I pushed my Octopus card to the sensor. Beep. “One-way to Queen Elizabeth Hospital, please,” I found a seat on the bus and sat down, sweat dripping down the back of my neck. Pretty soon it would be my stop.

I got off the bus after five minutes and ran through the main doors of the hospital. I ran to the surgery room, where my friends told me to meet. We put on surgical gowns and caps and then waited for the manager to be rolled in.

Soon I heard the noise of the stretcher wheels. Sakura was there too. Okay. What do you want with me now? I thought. “Please just save her!” Sakura said. “I need her to be better!” I nodded. Now was definitely NOT the time to have an argument.

Then we rolled the manager out and put her on a bed in one of the wards. I pulled the medicine cart in, “WHERE’S THE PROBIOTICS?” Daisy screamed. I had no idea where they were, and those antibiotics were pretty much an essential.

“Found it here!” shouted Rose. She pulled out a drip bag and pushed a tube through, then hung it up and stuck it into the manager’s arm. Daisy adjusted the bed so we could administer another vaccine. I was frantic. Don’t be frantic. Don’t be panicked, I thought to myself. She didn’t really look like her usual meanie-mean form. She just laid there in a state of weakness. I was glad she didn’t have the energy to shout. I felt sorry for her. Well, only just a little.

Pretty soon, we had done all the urgent things we typically would do with a normal patient. I sighed in relief as Daisy and Rose checked the breathing rates. “Agh!” shouted Rose. “It’s a flatli-”

“No it’s not!” Daisy cut in. Suddenly, the vital levels returned back to normal.

“Phew!” I sighed.

“And that’s a K.O. between the virus and us!” Daisy shouted. I high fived my friends. Never have I been so relieved.

Just then, I remembered. This is the manager. Why should we be saving her when she did loads of reckless stuff to us? Why should we be saving her if she’s got a favourite worker, her sister? And why should we be saving her if she almost destroyed our section of the hospital and caused us to almost get laid off by the Chief?

I felt a bit of regret, a bit of pride. But there was a sense of relief in me that told me, You did a good job, Lyra. You did a great job. For the first time since I joined the Paramedic/Nurse team, I felt accomplished.

As I walked out, I kinda saw Sakura mumbling something about us with a scowl on her face that just washed all my accomplishments away.

I walked out of the hospital that night with my friends. “Welp, tomorrow's the big seminar,” said Rose. “I’ll text Skylar. I wonder how she’s feeling,” said Daisy. Just as I tapped on my phone and opened our chat group, a message popped up. It was my crush!

Wanna go out 4 a coffee tmr? xoxo

Oh. What in the world?! I slapped my face in a sense of embarrassment because I realized my friends were stalking from behind me. “Stop it!” I laughed. But still, even though my friends were still being their 50 percent annoying, 50 percent positive selves, I was happy.

Today is Saturday. I packed my bag and headed out the door for our seminar. But before that, I took out my phone and texted the chat group.

Lyra: U guys nervous or what?

Skylar: Oh I almost forgot 2day was the seminar!! BTW what happened last night?!

Daisy: OMG yea u weren’t here w/ us last night!

I’ll tell you all what happened when we get there, OK? It’s too much to type on text.

Rose: You think she (Sakura and the manager) will 4give us?

Daisy: idk *i don’t know*

Then I closed my phone and went down to the bus stop, and boarded the bus. I sat down in a seat and the bus pulled off.

I hopped off the bus at Stop 18. I pushed open the doors and saw my friends waiting for me. We all hugged each other, happy to see one another after last night’s drama.

“I saw the manager walking through the halls just now!” Daisy said.

“What? That can’t be.’

“Really? How is she out of bed right now?”

We kept talking about last night and all the drama that unfolded right before our very eyes. Pretty soon, a sliding glass door arrived in front of us. I pushed it open. Now’s the time, I thought.

I found a comfy leather couch in one of the spots and motioned for my friends to sit down. “Wow, this place’s fancy!” Rose exclaimed. She was right. The entire meeting room looked fancy and formal. It was lounge style at its best. A silver lamp hung in the corner, and there was a glass table in the center, with a magazine resting on top of it, the pages being blown away by a fan’s cool breeze. I looked up at the projecting screen, then whispered to my friends. “What do you think they’ll lecture us on now?” I asked. Rose made the “I Don’t Know,” face and Skylar just shook her head.

Shortly after our little break, the manager and her assistant, (which now appeared to be Sakura) came in. She pushed the door open and stared at the room filled full of the people she solely employed and hired to work for her.

Skylar turned off her phone and put it back in her bag. I could tell the manager was irritated at our section, because when her head turned and her eyes met ours, she immediately glared back at us. I could definitely sense some bad vibes.

“The high pay rise for salary in workers, as suggested by Rose from the Paramedic and Nurse team, is affirmative. It sounds unfeasible, according to me,” said the manager.

Just then, something unbelievable happened. I wouldn't have been more surprised if my crush came down and licked me on the nose. Here’s what happened.

“You can’t do that.” a voice said. It came from right next to me. It was Skylar. “We’ve saved countless lives, like yours, and you take our work for granted. Remember last night? You can’t speak your opinion, even if it is the truth.”

“Amateurs in their first year working here after medical school can’t have an opinion, can they?” said the manager, feigning curiosity. Sakura scowled in agreement, but before they could utter another word, everyone started to nod and agree with Skylar’s point. We all spoke up in defense. We’d even threatened to strike against the chief’s department.


And guess what, it worked. They were convinced! The pay rise was accepted!

After that, everything was kind of a blur. Rose and Daisy started jumping up and down and squealing.

I was laugh-crying, which was embarrassing because I bet my crush was somewhere in the crowd. Skylar just stood there and beamed, happy to have been a part of this.

“You didn’t have to do this, Sky!” laughed Rose. “Thank you!” added Daisy.

I walked up to Skylar and said, “Cadance would have been proud of you.” She nodded. Just then, the manager and Sakura came up to us. We stared long and hard.

“Girls, I’d like you to come to my office, please.” For a second, I thought we’d be in trouble again, for doing something like this. But she motioned for us to come, and before we knew it, we were sitting on those very same swivel chairs again.

“Me and Sakura would like to let you know that we thought we should give you a second chance. I honestly never knew that we were being unfair to all the youngsters working hard here in the hospital.”

I nodded in agreement. The manager continued, “We really appreciate your work, we really do.”

Sakura smiled. “We should really have thought of you guys earlier,” she added.

I smiled, and so did my friends.

I decided to text my crush on the way out, and I suggested as a celebratory idea that we could all meet up at the cupcake shop, all of the A&E youngsters together. We sat down at the tables and talked about Skylar’s big stand-up and how the manager finally gave her little “speech of acceptance”. We were glad we were a team again, and what really matters was that throughout this entire challenging month, we managed to keep our friendship together.

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