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Provocations on Infrastructure: Energy

The alarm rings through the hallway and resonates with the chorus of vibrating beepers. One can almost feel the adrenaline in the room as everyone perks up their ears, stands up, and rushes out of the room. An emergency is afoot. Someone is dying, or at least, their heart can’t seem to pump anymore. The green lines turns into a wave with no predictable pattern, and the pulse disappears. The immediate future is that, without this pump, the entire body ceases to operate, like a battery that has run out of its juice. Shut down is imminent, and maybe the soul flies away.

But none of that matters at this moment. The room is now filled to capacity, attendants wearing white coats and “scrubs” of various colors surround the large man on the bed, who has tubes and wires hanging from his various orifices. Carts of technical equipment, with dials and displays and paddles are pushed into the room. There is nowhere to turn. Someone has been silently elected the conductor, or maybe it’s the elder, or maybe it’s whomever has the guts to stand up to the plate. Regardless, the conductor starts to issue orders.

The ritual is surprising: unlike the constant drones and whispers that mark the way people usually talk to each other, the utterances of this occasion is loud, enunciated, almost as if recited from some sort of internal script. They talk in an abridged way. Or at least, there are only a few people who participate in this chorus with the conductor. The rest of the swarm talks amongst themselves and look on. My heart is at once heavy and in a flutter. The gravity of the situation is clear, we stand on the precipice and either we pull the man back up, or we fail and he sinks.

I am jerked from my dream by a declarative for me to step up. You see, all along there has been someone, with a large frame, wide shoulders, and arms with a cross sectional area that is twice mine, pushing rhythmically away on the man on the bed. His whole body sinks into the man’s chest, perspiration drips off of his forehead. His every shove is registered as a bump in the green line. His heart, vis-a-vis his arm and the pivot point of his hips, pumps for the man’s heart. A stool is ready by the bed.

I step onto the stool and hover over the man. I’ve practiced the ritual before, but pretend play is never quite like the real thing. The motions are the same, but like one of Newton’s laws – you can tell me which one – the real body demands more. Annie’s truncated torso doesn’t quite compare. She was a feather pillow compared to this. The green line barely registers my futile attempts. It’s irregular, the humps coming at all different intervals and reaching all different peaks. My heart has never had to sustain another human being before. I am the car with a full battery hooked up to the one that has run out, but I am the smart car trying to revive a Hummer. You’d have better luck moving the earth with a stick. Oh and the cart of technical equipment speaks too. “Push harder, push harder.” It’s electronic drone commands, and all I hear is mockery. In fact, I think I hear some peals of laughter in the drone of cramped room too. The conductor seems bored, and here I am, literally jumping off the stool so my entire body weight bears down on the man’s body, generating just enough force to keep the blood flowing. I have no pivot point; I am in the air, falling with this man.

The bed has an instant collapse mechanism. At a push of a lever the man descends closer to the floor, and more of the pusher’s body weight can work on his heart. It’s fairly elementary physics. I suppose at this critical junction we don’t need more elaborate theories, or at least that’s what the conductor and the ritual tells us. Just newtons. Or alternatively, energy from the sun becomes transformed into joules that run the entirely of the temple, flowing through the carts and dials into the paddle, maybe down the bundle of His and through his heart’s connexons, changing into the propulsion force of that life sustaining carmine. Does the ritual merely facilitate this elementary scientific law, or it the arrangement of acolytes, my very presence, needed to run the business of keeping people alive?

The man’s green lines returned to normal, at least for five minutes. It soon turned into a sine wave that indexed his fall, or his rise, at least his departure. The gravity turns on the water in my eyes, welling up in some mixture of shame, doubt, pity, sadness… The man was there and made a mark, but no mark was made on him, or at least not enough to leave an impression. The conductor asked, “Are you feeling any emotions?” Nah, my battery is just drained.