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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Life as We Know It

      Life as We Know It
   As Andrew Watts waited in the elevator to be brought to his lab, he thought contentedly of his life. His beautiful wife, Lauren, was working at their lovely new home. His medical career was finally starting to take off. He had almost paid off his student loans. When the elevator rang to announce their arrival, he felt invincible.
            He began to hum a song he had heard on the radio when his alarm clock had gone off. He didn’t know the name, but it was some catchy tune he frequently heard Lauren sing as she cooked dinner. He sat down to look over some new cancer data, still smiling to himself.
            After about an hour of review, the smile had faded from his face. Before him was the impossible. Years of research undone. He rose from his desk to go find the chief cancer doctor, Dr. Shaw. Few words had to be said to convince Shaw to come inspect the data.
            “I’ve never seen anything like this, sir. I thought we had cancer down concerning its genetic make-up…but this, this has no pattern.” The mustached doctor peered over the Andrew’s shoulder to inspect the data.
            “And you procured this specific strain from where, Andrew?” The man asked, and Andrew hesitated. He glanced at the data again before responding.
“We’ve found it in three separate cases, sir. No relation between any.” The silence of utter disbelief rang through the lab.
            “It’s not contagious…” The doctor inquired.
“No. But it seems to be found in all types of cancer patients.”
            “For example.”
            “Well, sir, we had a 50 year old woman with breast cancer. A 38 year old with lung cancer. And…a 7 year old with leukemia.”
            Disbelief again.
            “This is bad.”
            Andrew went home that night defeated. He accepted the medical life as one that included death. One just couldn’t let it get to them. But fear hadn’t been covered at Johns Hopkins University. Nor in any resident classes at Mass General Hospital. This was new. He had never seen Dr. Shaw appear as disorganized as after he had showed him the research. However, Shaw had gotten himself together enough to plan an immediate, emergency meeting with the best and the brightest from across the nation. There was nothing else to be done, but wait and fear.
            By the following Monday the entire medical industry was in uproar. The media had gotten a hold of the story of the incurable cancer, and was running headlines like
            “Cancer Takes another 1000 Lives, Doctors Speechless”
“Gap in Medical Education? American Doctors Unable to Stop Epidemic”
“Why the Government Planted the Mutant Strain”
            But in a small town newspaper in Dorchester read, “Deadly Cancer Takes Local 7-Year Old Life.”
            Andrew was suffering from a constant barrage of questions, especially after people discovered he had initially uncovered the disease’s mutation. “I really have no idea what’s going on.” Was all he could say.
            Three more weeks passed and even the media could not sensationalize the story beyond reality. Thousands of people were succumbing to it everyday. Andrew was in the hospital for 72 hours straight, merely trying to keep dying patients comfortable. There was a moment of hope when one patient went into remission, but it seemed a fluke accident. No specific drug or treatment had been the cause. Andrew clung to that hope for days until he received a phone call from Lauren.
            “Hey, I really can’t talk right now. You know how it’s been.” He began to hang up when he heard tears in her voice.
            “Darling, I haven’t seen you in three days. You can’t fix this. Just come home.” She pleaded.
            “Who are you to say I can’t fix this? I found it! Of all people I had hoped you wouldn’t doubt me.” This time he really did hang up. He was so overwhelmed with everything going on; he didn’t realize his current patient was listening. He was an older man, who Andrew guessed had about a week to live.
            “Son, you should go home. I’ll try not to die in your absence.” He whispered.
            “I can’t sir. This job is my responsibility, as are the lives of everyone in this hospital.” Andrew replied.
            “That’s quite a burden you have then. But a marriage is a responsibility as well. And, God forbid, should either you or your wife be in my position, you would regret this.”
            Andrew could only bear to nod. He was so exhausted that arguing was too taxing to continue. “Fine, I’ll go home.”
            “I’ll be here when you get back, at least my body will.” The man chuckled at his morbid humor.
            The rhythm of driving home almost lulled Andrew to sleep, but he made it home alive and awake. As he walked in the door, he almost gave up right then. He had left a hospital full of dying patients to come home to a crying wife.
            “What’s…wrong?” He asked, nearly falling asleep midsentence.
            “You came home.” She said.
            “Yes, yes. But really what’s wrong.”
            She started to bawl. “Oh, darling. I went to the doctor’s today. I’ve…I’ve been diagnosed.”
            Arnold crumpled. “You’re lying, you’re lying.” He half-stated, half-begged.
            “No. I wish I was.” She managed to say between sobs.
            “I’m going to fix this.” He said, rushing out the door before she could protest.
            The ride back to the hospital was a blur. The fight through a mob of patients and visitors was a dream. The long elevator ride left him in only a deeper trance. He finally arrived at Dr. Shaw’s office.
            “Sir?” He yelled through the door.
            No reply.
            “Dr. Shaw!”
            “I’m very, very busy. I’m sorry.” A voice came from within.
            “Sir, its Arnold Watts.”
            The door opened to expose a dejected man. He appeared as if he had the weight of humanity on his shoulder. In a way, he did.
            “How can I help you, Arnold.” He asked,
            “Sir, my wife. She’s, she’s been diagnosed. Are you…closer to a cure?” Arnold pleaded.
            Dr. Shaw closed his eyes. “Oh, Arnold. Please don’t make this personal.” He replied.
            “I’m sorry sir. But I can’t change it.”
            Arnold. There’s not I can do. There’s nothing anyone can do. It’s over.”

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