Trial and Bearer – Part Two (Final)
Medical Short Story
The clock bled into 08:57, then inevitably waded past 08:58. 08:59 came around, devoid of a foreign mannerism. But 09:00 was different. The clock struck 09:00 and the frenetic energy ensued immediately thereafter. The conference phone in front of Owen rang right away as a stack of papers shuffled in, carried in front of a pair of off-kilter low-eyed spectacles.
“FDA says one hour.”
Owen pressed his hands into the solid table, trying to split the wood grains.
“That’s what they s-”
Owen’s shirt tightened around his neck.
“I don’t give a fuck what they said. We need more time.”
The nurses and anesthesiologists converged. The doctors murmured final instructions with their chins uncomfortable pressed in their palms. Owen felt like he needed his own vital signs checked.
Needles flicked and tired throats creaked out escaping groans of yearning for a return to what was now a shade of a normal life. Owen could feel the hope in the hospital weighing down on his shoulders. For the first time it was neither the memory of his grandmother nor his own relentless, self-depreciation that drove him forward. Now he saw the faces robbed of the power of choice, the veins that awaited puncturing for the soiled bloodstreams that longed for the holy flood to wash them clean. Owen stood at the end of the table and faced west.
Then it began. Leonaxis entered the systems of the patients and infiltrated as it was trained to do so. The real-time data analytics were flashing a million times a second and the room glowed to the cadence of their changes. Owen bit his fingernail.
“We’re cutting it close. Go faster.”
Dr. Rameshkar gave Owen a cutting glance.
“We need to let the drug run its natural course. Any additional effort is not only futile, it’s counterproductive.”
Owen’s reaction might as well have turned back the clock on the evolution chart.
“NOT NOW. We need to go faster.”
The medical professionals in the room paused for a moment before going back to their tasks. The doctors on the floor received the new instructions and proceeded accordingly. All that was left to do was wait.
Forty minutes later
The floor staff took a moment to relax as the patients were in stable condition, the Leonaxis working in their bodies. Everything was coming together on time and the results of the trial would be complete in less than twenty minutes time.
Then there was a beep. And another. The doctors’ ears perked up and came to the bedside of a female patient.
Owen and the other professionals looked in uncertainty at the foreign signal popping up on their screens.
“What is that?”
“Her temperature is rising.”
Her monitor kept beeping. The same sound rang out from another corner of the wing and before long, the noise became a deafening, constant tone.
“What the hell is going on!,” Owen shouted at one of the doctors.
“I don’t know,” he replied. “Their heart rates are climbing.”
Owen’s mind raced for an answer. This wasn’t right.
Just then, the young man with the low-hanging glasses burst in with another stack of paper in his hands. Breathing heavily, he handed them to Owen.
“What is this?”
“They’re real-time results. It’s their heart rate. It’s going crazy.”
Owen closed his eyes for a moment.
“They’re running hot. That means their cancer cells are getting attacked, destroyed and the Leonaxis is moving on to other cancer cells. It’s working well,” Owen reassured himself.
“Well, sir, it seems like it’s working a little too well.”
“What do you mean?,” he asked fearfully.
The small man readjusted his glasses and looked round the room for support. Owen felt like he wasn’t seeing an obvious force at work.
“WHAT IS IT?,” he fired again.
“The tumor destruction is causing the heart rate increases, which, in turn, are causing fevers. The drug is working exactly as you planned, sir, but these fevers pose a problem.”
“These people are morbidly ill with cancer, sport. You think a fever is going to mean anything in their eyes?”
The man pressed his glasses tightly onto his nose.
“No. But to the FDA it does.”
Owen’s anger was lost on him, trading it in for curiosity in the moment.
“To run a consistent and satisfying trial we had to double-blind. So we can’t tell who has Leonaxis in their systems and who doesn’t. I’m sorry, sir, but we’re going to have to discontinue treatment and take the patients out of the trial.”
The rest of Owen’s emotions were lost on him and he broke down into a fit of rage and searching. He was falling across the table, then his hands were around the small man’s neck. A flash of Dr. Rameshkar above him, a pleading look on his face. Owen’s throat was hoarse from yelling like he had just smoked a carton of cigarettes. Then he saw a doctor rush in with a shiny object in his hand. Owen flailed and the doctor jumped to the corner of the room. Everyone above him reassembled and the doctor returned. Owen felt himself drifting and soon the room disappeared.
Owen opened his eyes slowly. He sat at a desk in the front row of a room full of desks. He couldn’t see below the surface of the desk. He felt like his feet were hanging in suspension. He looked up to see a giant white board. It was a blinding, primer white and he shielded his eyes at first. But as his eyes adjusted he looked harder to see the board was full of scribblings in black marker. It looked like his handwriting. He felt his stomach drop.
God hates you. Why did you fuck with nature? You are nothing but a guise and a question mark. Scars. Scars. You are the cancer.
He turned away, unable to read the entirety of the board. He started to cry, dripping tears onto the desktop. Then he heard something from behind the white board. It was his Grandmother’s voice, calling out.
He wanted to look up, but knew he couldn’t out of fear of the white board.
“Grandma. Is that you?”
“I’m here, Owen,” she called back to him, angelic. “Come with me.”
“I can’t.” He had to force himself to say it. “I can’t, grandma.”
“It’s okay. Just look to me and you will follow.”
“But, God hates me,” Owen choked through new tears.
“He doesn’t hate you, Owen. Please, look to me.”
Owen began to sob again. “I can’t, I can’t. I tried so-” The desk harbored a pool of tears in the middle, rippling with each new member. The quiet of this…place consumed Owen.
Then, from behind his ear-
“LOOK AT ME!”
His head snapped up, his chin parallel to the desk. Against his will, he was staring straight ahead at the board, which had now turned black and was playing a reel of a white silhouette moving about.
“Grandma, is that you?” He listened hard for a sign, a peep, a noise in the vastness. “Grandma?!!”
Nothing. He hung his head once again and kicked his legs below the desk. They felt weightless. He took a deep breath and mustered one last scream from what was left of his soul.
And the echo continued as his eyes opened with a jolt. He was in a hospital bed in a white room. A monitor stood over his shoulder, beeping occasionally. There was a small white board in front of him that read “Wednesday: Education – Thursday: Culture”. Owen blinked an incalculable number of times, trying to orient himself.
The door opened and Dr. Rameshkar walked in, a clipboard in his hand and a stethoscope around his neck.
“Hello, Owen. How are you feeling today?”
previous: Trial and Bearer – Part One
more by SANDY DODGE
photograph by Benjamin Child