“...All I’m saying is, the guy has the literal cure for cancer in his body and he’s decided he won’t share with the rest of the world.”
“Brain cancer, Jim. He has the cure for one cancer. And it’s one that we’re making a lot of progress in obtaining without whatever unique ability his brain has. We’re not even sure if we could harness that trait. If you remember, the attempts at synthesizing crocodiles’ unique cell defenses failed, even though we truly thought we had that.”
“Exactly my point. We’ve made progress, Clara, progress. Nothing more. We don’t know when we might independently find a cure. But we have the cure right here! Something that could lead to even more discoveries. Why should we put his life over the lives of thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands that would die before we finally crack this puzzle? What would you have him do, Clara? If it was your loved one with this terrible disease?”
“Are you seriously suggesting that this young man kill himself, Jim?”
“Maybe I am, Clara. Maybe I am.”
Alex watched the screen as the two went back and forth, arguing the point until it was so into the minutiae that the announcer had to ask for the speakers to move on. Clara was smarter, thought Alex, perhaps a little biased, But Jim was appealing to emotion. The audience watching at home will side with him.
“...one of his doctors even said so! The tests aren’t working and they need total access to his brain in order to figure out this cure.”
“You’re referring to the doctor who got drunk and broke patient confidentiality, endangering his patient because of it and losing his license in the process? I doubt someone with that low of morality should be taken as an expert on ethics. He wasn’t even the head doctor on the project, Jim. An assistant, at best-”
“But an M.D., Clara, and a man who’s worked in the field for decades now. If he says they need the whole brain, they need the whole brain.”
Alex shivered as the air conditioner next to him kicked on. He pulled the thin sheet up tighter on him. He had gotten more susceptible to its cooling after the last few times they had taken his blood. Between that and the annoyingly itchy patch on his head from the last surgery, it seemed like his whole body was having issues with this place.
The program finally ended after each side had their last word. It seemed like both Jim and Clara still had plenty left to say, but the announcer had cut them both short in their statements. The announcer tried to frame it as something to leave up to the viewer to decide, but it was obvious who they would pick. Jim smugly grinned towards Clara, seemingly happy he had an easy win on the show this week. Alex hated watching arguments, especially when they were about him. Unfortunately, there was nothing else on.
Commercials started to play, bright and cheerful voices advertised many different things at Alex. He slumped back into the bed, using the remote next to him to set the back of the bed a bit lower so he could relax more. Watching the constantly flashing lights of the screen across the room from this position, his mind started to turn off as he allowed himself to zone out to droning music and voices of dozens of people attempting to sell him things he stopped caring about long ago. It’s wasn’t until a McDonald’s commercial came on that he suddenly found himself drooling, and not from the mind-numbing of the past few commercials. It had been months since he last had fast food. He knew for a fact how disgusting it would make him feel, how bloated and uncomfortable he used to get after eating it, but all the same, he wanted it. Anything besides the same cafeteria food over and over again.
As if to save him from his visual torture, a knock on the door interrupted his thought process. Alex shook himself back to reality and pushed the button on the remote to sit up a bit more as his doctor walked into the room. She smiled and made a gesture with one hand, as if to say she wouldn’t be staying that long, before putting her hand behind her back again along with her other one.
“I just wanted to check on you, Alex. How you holding up?”
“I’m cold, Dr. Stewart.” He held up the top of the sheet, sacrificing comfort for example, “Is there anything heavier than this I could use?”
Dr. Stewart smiled again and walked over, revealing a folded quilt she had been holding behind her. She handed it to him and helped him place it over his feet to insulate him. “It’s been a year and a half since I said we were on a first name basis. I thought we were friends?”
“We are, Dr. Stewart” Alex nervously shifted, “...I just don’t like getting too cosy. I like a little bit of distance to… to remind me this is all supposed to be a temporary stay.”
Dr. Stewart frowned, “It is, kiddo. It is. I promise you. All of the other doctors agree. As much as they’d like to continue, they won’t keep you here. I’m making darn sure of that. We just don’t know if it’s safe to leave, yet. What with all the…” She shook her hands, “crazy going on out there.”
Alex turned and looked at his window, hastily patched up with duct tape and plastic insulation. The sheet noisily ruffled in the wind as the sound of the city easily passed through the hole in the glass that the insulation barely covered. Alex thought to himself that he was very happy the window was next to the foot of the bed instead of the reverse. His leg still had a harsh bruise from where the brick had landed.
Dr. Stewart saw where he had looked and shook her head as she sat down at the side of his bed. “Maybe it’s because I spent so many years isolated in research for my field, Alex, but I honestly don’t understand people.”
He turned to look at her again and gave her a small smile, “We seem to get along just fine.”
She gave him a pat on his non-bruised leg, “You’re probably an exception to the rule. Though, I guess my sample size of people I’ve interacted with is probably a bit too small. Maybe once we get you out of here, I’ll have an excuse to get out myself, when I come visit.”
“Any idea on when that might be?”
“The police were able to track down one of the arsonists that hit your apartment. And the brick guy’s rotting in jail. It may be considered a minor crime, but they made his bail pretty high just to deter anyone else.” She looked at the TV. The program was over but the credits clued her into what he had been watching. “And that’s probably the only show on that still cares. I guess it’s good that this is starting to become old news. Seems like the Eye of Sauron has finally shifted away from you.”
She looked back and saw him looking at her, intently, his eyes earnestly asking her to name even a week or month. Dr. Stewart sighed.
“No specific day yet, Alex. I’m sorry. Were it up to me, I’d hide you at my place until things calmed down but the police are in charge of when we can release you, for now.” She frustratedly picked at the quilt. “They’re slow, Alex. Real fucking slow. I know it’s a safety issue but...” She sighed again, continuing to grab at small bits of string that fell loose from the pattern of the quilted tiles.
Alex knew it was rare for her to curse around patients. He had overheard in the cafeteria some of the surgeons mention under their breath how much of a sailor she was during surgery but he had only ever heard her once or twice slip up around him, and only when she was really upset. Her bedside was impeccable.
They sat in silence for a bit, neither person really knowing how to make the other feel better. As much as they had become more personal, Alex’s anxiety still tended to make him clam up when things got awkward. He wished he knew what to say to her. Something...
She looked at him, realization hitting her suddenly.
“I-It’s okay. Really. I can wait.” He awkwardly raised the sides of his mouth, nervousness causing him to forget basic human interaction as his smile looked more like a grimace.
She smiled, then, reaching up to his head and ruffling his hair. “Aw, I came in here to cheer you up.”
He smiled for real this time. She was the closest person to him, nowadays, and he was thankful he had gotten her as his doctor. He didn’t know what he would have done if it had been anyone else.
Alex looked up at the fan, then. His eyes transfixed on the blades as they moved in circles above him. The cord to the fan speed dangled above him, too high to grab from his position on the bed. It jostled with the movement of the blades as they spun, dangling the large opal-colored bead at the end of the chain. It swayed and twisted with the movements, sometimes slightly more thanks to the wind of the blades.
Swayed and twisted. Swayed and twisted.
Dr. Stewart was looking at him. Concern in her face as Alex refused to respond. She squeezed his shoulder, raising her voice this time.
“Alex! What’s wrong?”
Alex came to, suddenly. He looked at Dr. Stewart, his mind still filled with an idea that scared him. Something he could never tell the doctor and had refused to tell her for some time now.
And he started to cry.