One Lucky Bastard
The plunger of the syringe halts as his body resists the dosage from being pushed in. It’s getting more difficult with each shot, but with effort he keeps up the consistent pressure and eventually the medication flows into his petrifying veins. He can feel the difference in temperature under his skin; a sliver of ice making its way through his body, freezing the illness that was eating him alive.
He falls back onto the pillows piled behind his head, eyes closed from the effort just as the door to his private room opens and Nurse Georgia enters with her ever present clip-board. Taking in his labored breathing and noting the empty syringe still in his hand, she tuts.
“You should have waited for me,” she says, taking the syringe and tossing it in the medical waste bin at the end of his bed.
He smiles, tiredly, and says as he closes his eyes, “It’s not like I got all day, G.”
She shakes her head but swallows her retort as the Doctor enters the room.
“And how are we feeling this morning, Derek?” Doctor Melissa Oliver asks, hands stuffed into the over sized square pockets of her white lab coat.
His lips curly into a half smile, “Like I could run a marathon, Doc.”
“Well, that is exactly what I’m here to talk to you about.”
He opens his eyes, eyebrows raised. Nurse Georgia continues about her duties as if nothing interesting was about to be discussed as she looks over his chart before shuffling to his side and fussing over the blankets. Once right by the head of his bed, she asks softly, “Do you want me to stay?”
“No thanks, G. I can handle whatever Doc M.O. has in store for me.” She smiles as she squeezes his hand once, and exits the room with a faint nod for Doctor as she passes.
Only once the door has fully shut does Dr. Oliver drag over one of the uncomfortable guest chairs and settles at his bedside. “I won’t leave you in suspense, Derek. As you’re aware, your condition is rapidly deteriorating. The accident that took your legs triggered a very rare genetic disorder that is causing a rapid shutdown of your internal organs. Although its rarity does make your case fascinating, it also means the funding to find a cure for it had been rare.”
“Had? Is my Instagram fame finally coming to good use?” Derek jokes. Although it was partially true. He had even been featured on Buzzfeed as having one of the "20 Most Fascinating Instagram Accounts", by taking photos of unusual items on horizons from around the world.
He was rather proud of his tendency to seek out juxtaposition in order to make ordinary objects extraordinary just by their surroundings. To him, an object could transcend itself simply by existing where no one expected it too. He was especially proud of the series of photos he had captured while on lung capacity training for an especially grueling marathon in Nepal.
The photographs represented a stillness he never felt within himself. And he had to admit to himself that his hobby started as something to fend off the loneliness while training for various marathons while also teaching him to achieve a patience he normally couldn’t achieve.
He always had to be on the move, an object in motion. He supposes that his life and hobby are also in juxtaposition. But finds it funny and strange that his still life photography will probably be what he’ll be remembered for more when it was motion that defined and fulfilled him most.
“There’s been a break though,” the doctor begins, hesitation in her voice. “However, there have been other developments with your case that I need to go over with you as well.”
“And…” he says, trying not to get his hopes up.
“First, due to your career as a runner, a very small and not well funded prosthetic research company, with a particular mad genius I’ve known for over a decade, has narrowed an already small list down to you to be the first recipient of their work for the past several years. It’s a gamble, but if successful, their funding will increase tenfold, not to mention their stock value.”
“Prosthetic? No offense doc, but according to your own diagnosis, I have about a day left. I don’t have time to learn how to use a new pair of legs.”
“That’s the mad genius part...this particular researcher is also a software engineer and since you have hours of data thanks to that Fitbit you consistently wear while training and racing, he’s managed to program these new legs to meld with your body specifically. The procedure is actually quite simple. The legs, how they’ve been designed, simply mold themselves to your anatomy and then map out how to adhere to your body automatically. Nanite electrodes then connect the legs to your brain, and with their already downloaded programming, take over for your missing limbs as if they’ve never been gone.”
“New legs. You mean new, fully functioning legs, automatically…” He says, slowly.
“Basically, theoretically, yes.”
Her demeanor shifts, radiating caution, “Well, this might be a case of ‘damned if you do…’ because there is more.”
“Doc… how can there be more after, 'You will walk, no, RUN, again?'”
“The caveat, which could also be fantastic news, is although your genetic condition is rare; it’s not unheard of. You happen to share this condition with a particularly reclusive family of billionaire bio-tech developers. I’m assuming they got into the business due to their condition, and this morning I got an email from a friend at the New England Journal of Medicine that they’re announcing they have found a cure.”
“Way to bury the lead, doc. That’s fantastic!”
“But there are side effects.”
“I pulled in every favor I had to get a copy of the report on their cure and was able to speak with the head of their research department, Dr. Susan Green, herself. You’re case is unique due to your grievous injuries.”
She pauses, and he fills in the silence with an educated guess, “I can’t have both, can I?”
She takes a deep breath. “No. Doctor Green expedited a dosage of the cure to the hospital, but if we administer this does, it has to be now in order to give it the proper time to work. And once the dosage is given, it will permanently cut off the connections between your brain and your missing limbs. Meaning, even if the cure works, they would make it impossible for the prosthetic to make a connection. And… the chances of the cure working are only 50%. But we won’t know that until tomorrow morning.”
“Wow, doc. You weren’t kidding. I could be damned if I don’t and do!”
“I know it’s a lot, but we don’t have much time. You have to choose. Walk for a day, or remain in a chair for the rest of your life. At your age, you could live a long and productive life.”
“Just from a vantage point roughly two feet shorter than I’m used to. Pun intended.”
She offers a weak smile, “I know what I would choose, but my living depends on my hands, not me legs. I can’t tell you what to do.”
He rests back on the bed, letting the pillows hold up his body and his mind for a while; just soaking in the choice he’s been given. Has anyone else had so much to choose from? And so much right in front of them only to lose it again: the gift of full and instant mobility versus a permanent cure from the painful mad dash of death taking his body apart cell by cell? If he was honest with himself, when he had first woken up 16 months ago in that hospital in Norway, his truncated limbs swathed in miles of bandage, the horror he felt was so stark and cutting he was relieved to find out he wouldn’t live that long after all. His forced tenure as a patient, confined to beds and wheelchairs, was a personal hell. One that he crawled hand over fist out of to a resigned acceptance of his fate. He had found a sort of equilibrium in his unasked for stillness, knowing it wouldn’t last forever. But did he have it in him to accept this forced state for an unknown quantity of time?
He takes a deep breath. “I’m one lucky bastard, you know.”
“Glad you see it that way.”
“This is a wealth of choice, doc. One I think I’m going to require time to earn.”
“Are you sure?”
He smiles, “Nope. But I’m going to do it anyhow. Really, what do I have to lose besides one day?”
“Alright, I’ll send in the nurse. It’s just one dosage and then we wait.”
“If it’s alright with you, I’d like to self administer. It’s 50/50, so I won't foist the losing 50 on you and G if this doesn’t work.”
“That’s not protocol, Derek.”
“How can you have a protocol for a brand new medication?”
She smiles and nods her head as she opens the door, “I’ll send her right in. But you know, you’re taking the win from us if the outcome is good.”
“Didn’t I mention that I’m a bastard?”