Thursday, April 19, 2012

Total Replacement Therapy

(---Here's a little short story I wrote---)

It's funny, fluorescent lights never used to bother me, but I can see them now, flickering against the hospital walls. 

I look at the nurse talking on the phone behind the counter and wonder, does she see it too?

I find myself doing that a lot lately.  Questioning things.  I know in the past I wouldn't have given it a second thought.  But my body has changed.  I've changed.

I had cancer, you see: an aggressive form of leukemia that, left untreated, would have killed me inside of a year.

But treatment is expensive, and my family is of limited means, and just when I was beginning to wonder if I would see another Christmas my parents were contacted by the Shunty foundation.  What they offered was an opportunity to take part in an experimental process, wherein the healthy cells in my body were replicated, but the mutated ones were not.  In essence: creating a brand new, cancer-free me.

In return they offered money.

It was not an easy decision, but in the end, the promise of a new car was too much, so my parents agreed.

The procedure itself was surprisingly easy.  All I had to do was sit my naked self on a table underneath a trio of lights inside an otherwise empty room and close my eyes.  When a voice instructed me to put on my hospital gown and return to the waiting room, I assumed something had gone awry.

But in truth the machine had worked perfectly, scanning my body in one room, and reproducing it in an identical room down the hall.  It all went so smoothly the only hint anything had happened at all was that I had to turn left to return to the waiting room instead of right like I remembered.

The doctors say I'm healthy now, which is kind of odd because I never felt sick in the first place.  I mean, I felt tired, but I assumed that was because I'd just finished my exams.

The only reason they discovered something was wrong in the first place was thanks to some random blood work my doctor had requested after a scheduled check-up.

It's all been so surreal: one moment they're telling me I'm on death's door, the next that I'm a copy of an original.  Meanwhile I just continue on feeling

That's not to say there haven't been changes.  I'm more introspective now, more prone to waking up at night.  And then there's the thing with the fluorescent lights.  But the biggest change is how people relate to me.  They're more guarded.  Even my own family, there's an uneasiness hovering over us whenever we are together.  It disappears sometimes, like when we're in the middle of a game of cribbage, but it isn't long before my parents are staring at me again, a stranger in their son's clothing.

I don't blame them.  I am just a copy after all.

As for the original, I have no idea what happened to it.  One of the things my parents had to agree to before we could go forward with the procedure was that they would never inquire about him.  Ever.   And whether it's for that reason, or a desire not to hurt my feelings, the fate of my former self is something the Farmer household just doesn't talk about.

I do wonder about it, though.  The original's cancer should be advancing by now.  That is, if he's still alive.  For who is to say they didn't kill him once I was beamed into the other room?

It's a horrible thought, and one I often find myself returning to if I'm not careful.  This is not one of those times, however, as my focus is on the nurse approaching me, carrying a clipboard.

"Trevor Farmer?" she asks.

I follow her down the flickering hallway into a little room containing a table and a pair of old wooden chairs.

"The doctor will see you soon," she says, placing the clipboard into a plastic receptacle on the outside of the door.

And with that, she's gone, leaving me to sit with my hands between my knees while I worry about what is to come.

Total Replacement Therapy is a very new procedure, and as such, there are still many questions surrounding just what happens when a person is reproduced down to an atomic level, and there is a concern that when they rid me of my cancer, they might have rid me of my soul as well.

To tell the truth, I don't really know what that means.  My family is not a religious one; I've been inside a church exactly once in my entire life, and the idea that I should or shouldn't have a ghost inside me is not something I've ever thought about.

The hospital, though, thinks it's important enough that they're having me tested.  That's why I'm here: to see if I do indeed still have a soul.

I hate waiting.  Fortunately it isn't long before the door opens and a rather tall, rather overweight man wearing a doctor's coat walks in, followed by a nurse pushing what looks like a large polygraph machine on wheels.

"Just leave it there," he says, pointing to the end of the table.

The nurse does just that and leaves the room.

"So you're the young fellow," he says smiling.  He's Indian, with a hint of an English accent.  He's also pale, almost grey, with a very sweaty forehead.

"I'm Doctor Gill," he says, extending a clammy hand.  He motions for me to sit in a chair and then plugs the machine into the wall.

It takes only a few minutes to set everything up, and once he's finished he sits in the chair opposite me, and the whole time I'm struck by how terrible he looks.

"So has anyone briefed you on what we'll be doing today?"

"No," I answer.

"Well, I'll just be taking some readings."

"Will it hurt?" I ask.

He chuckles and hands me a tiny sock, the tip of which is connected to the machine via a blue wire.

"Not at all," he says.  "Just place this over your index finger, please."

I do as I'm told and watch as the doctor fiddles with a dial on the machine.  Meanwhile sweat drips from his nose onto the table.

"So this machine is what will tell you if I have a soul?" I ask.

"That is the plan."

He removes a handkerchief from his trouser pocket and wipes his forehead, exhaling loudly.

"Are you feeling alright?" I ask.

"Just some indigestion," he answers.  "Now, I'm going to ask you some questions, and I would like you to answer them.

"You're in a desert, walking along the sand when all of a sudden you look down and see a tortoise crawling towards you.  You reach down and flip the tortoise on its back.  It lies there, its belly baking in the hot sun, beating its legs, trying to turn itself over, but it can't.  Not without your help.  But you're not helping.  Why is that?"

I look at Dr. Gill, feeling rather lost.  "I don't understand."

"Just having some fun," he explains.  "It's from a movie called Blade Runner.  Have you seen it?"

I shake my head.

"You should.  It's a wonderful film.  I'd be particularly interested to know what a person in your situation would think of the movie's subject matter."

He smiles and again wipes his forehead with his handkerchief.

"So Trevor, tell me: how have you been feeling?"

"Fine," I say.

I watch as a little needle scribbles furiously on the machine.

"Are there any changes from how you felt before the procedure?"

"There are some.  I worry about things more than I used to.  I seem to daydream as well."

Dr. Gill looks at the machine and marks something down on an official looking piece of paper.

"Any physical changes?"

I lean back in the chair, trying to think of something meaningful.  "I like bacon now.  That's different.  Oh, and the lights."


"The fluorescent lights.  I can see them.  Flickering." I quickly wiggle the index finger of my free hand to show him exactly what I mean.

"You can see it now?" he asks.

"I can," I answer.

Dr. Gill glances at the machine and again writes something on the piece of paper.

"And your family, how have they been through all of this?"

"Okay, I guess.  I mean, it's been a difficult few months, what with me getting sick.  And now with this whole replacement therapy, things can sometimes feel odd.  My own brother calls me Vincent now."

Dr. Gill looks at me quizzically.

"Because I'm not Trevor anymore," I explain.

"I see.  I see," he says.  He smiles weakly and returns his attention to the machine.

Somehow the doctor looks worse than he did just a few minutes earlier, and I check the clock on the wall, wondering if I should call one of the nurses.

"So how much longer?" I ask.

"Only a few more minutes," he answers.

"And then what?  Will it tell me right away if I have a soul?"

"Oh, it isn't the machine that makes the determination.  It's me.  I look at the readouts, and from there I make my conclusion."

"And once you make your conclusion, then what?"

"I mark one of these boxes," he says, pointing at the bottom of the sheet of paper.

I lean forward and see two boxes, one labeled, 'With Soul' and one labeled, 'Without'.  For some reason I was certain it was the machine that would be making the determination.  Discovering it is to be the doctor leaves me feeling...concerned.

"But what if you make a mistake?  Can your finding be overturned?"

This leads the good doctor to shake his head.  "I don't make mistakes," he says.  "And in answer to your other question, no, my ruling cannot be overturned."

"But what if you did?"

"I am a trained medical professional.  One of only three in the entire world qualified to be administering this exam, so when I say there will be no mistakes, I mean there will be no mistakes."

He would probably be more convincing if he didn't look so green.  Wiping the sweat on his forehead, Dr. Gill switches his gaze back onto the machine.

"Are you sure you're alright?" I ask.  "Because I can always come back tomorrow."

The doctor smiles, and is about to speak when suddenly he lets out a noise like Grover from Sesame Street, clutching his chest before collapsing face first onto the table in front of him.

I've never seen anyone die before.

Flinging the sensor from my finger, I look to the door and then to the doctor, the machine whirring mindlessly beside him.

I am definitely different than I used to be.  Before, the only thing on my mind would be to get help.  And don't get me wrong, I will do just that, but first I take the pen from the doctor's still warm hand, and quickly check the box marked, 'With Soul'.

The End

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Ottawa: How I Don't Really Know Ye

So I've been in Ottawa for nearly two weeks now, and so far, it's ok.  I mean, it's nice enough, but I haven't really seen or done enough yet to give it much of a review either way.  It didn't help we arrived ten days before any of our furniture did.  Sleeping on the floor has a way of taking the magic out of things, especially if you're prone to a bad back.

But that's not to say I've been blind to what's around me.  There's plenty that's caught my attention.  For example, the milk.  Can you believe it comes in bags here?  It's the strangest thing.  Where I come from milk is sold the natural way: in plastic jugs.  Milk in bags seems, well, wrong.  Like Ontario as a province suffers from a subconscious longing for breastfeeding.

Something else I've discovered: shawarma.  It's a Lebanese food where chicken or beef is cooked on a spit, and it is one of the tastiest things I've ever had.  I could seriously eat this every day.  Unfortunately, shawarma leads to smelly burps, and my wife has recently decreed I am only allowed to eat it on Tuesdays, preferably when she is out of the house.

And I can't forget about the francophones.  I knew before moving here that there is a lot of french in Ottawa, but I didn't know to what extent.  Enter any store and half the conversations are in french.  It's bizarre.  Almost like I've walked in on the set of one of those CBC shows I used to watch when I was a kid.  My wife is a francophone, so for her, it's great.  For me and the kids, though, it will take some getting used to.

There's more of course.  I hate the local hockey team's logo.  And there's more deciduous trees than you can shake a stick at.  And there's actually a man a few doors down whose name is Luscious.  But before I write about that I need to take some time and absorb my surroundings, so that the next time someone asks me if I know where such-and-such street is, I can do more than dumbly shake my head.

Monday, April 9, 2012

I'm Here!

Just a short post to announce I'm finally in Ottawa.  I'm still in the process of unpacking, but at least the computer is put together.

I will put a longer post tomorrow, with loads of witty observations about this new city of mine. (have to love the shawarma)

Unfortunately, at the moment I'm wrestling with a nasty headache, so until sometime tomorrow afternoon: I love you all. :)