The Kindest Cut
“Hello! I’m Doctor Dillon. Please sit down.” The doctor shuffled through papers on a clipboard while nodding and muttering to himself. The curls of his hair sparkled in the fluorescent light.
Jane sat in the indicated chair. Her eyes wandered over the diplomas on the wall. A poster hung just behind the doctor with a smiling child and the words Welcome to your new life. The air smelled of formaldehyde and dust.
The doctor looked up from his clipboard. “So, Mrs. Stewart, How are you feeling?”
“Jane, please,” Jane said.
“Jane then,” the doctor smiled. “How are you?”
“I’m not sure.” Jane frowned. “Mostly ok I think.”
“Problems are like that.” The doctor smiled. “Sometimes these things can sneak up on us. It is better to deal with problems while they are still small and not intrusive.”
“You sound like my husband,” Jane said.
“He sounds like a smart guy!” The doctor joked. “But seriously – often it takes our loved ones to see the problems that we can’t see for ourselves.”
The doctor smiled and wrote something on his clipboard. “So what do you know about laborectemies?”
“I’ve seen them on TV of course, and I’ve read a few things on the internet.”
The doctor chuckled. “TV tends to sensationalize, you know, ratings and all. And the internet, well, you can’t trust anything you read there.”
“Well, some student researchers at UCLA were tinkering with rats…but the science doesn’t matter. What matters is that problems – *all* problems mind you – are caused by small growths within the body itself. These so-named ‘laboras’ create dysfunction that manifests as a problem in your life.” The doctor waved his hands. “That is a technical way of saying that problems are just little bits of flesh. As such, they can be solved simply by identifying the causing labora, and removing it.”
“It sounds too good to be true,” Jane said.
“It does!” The doctor laughed. “It really does, but it works. Since the discovery some few years ago, almost ten million laborectemies have been performed worldwide. And we are just getting started. We are talking about the systemic elimination of all problems from the human race!”
“But…I don’t understand,” Jane said. “How can problems be caused by something … inside us? What about a problem like not having enough money or not getting on with your sister-in-law?”
The doctor smirked. “Simple problems like sadness and hunger can simply be removed, but more complicated problems have to be investigated. ‘Not getting along with your sister-in-law’ is likely a symptom of a less visible problem. Perhaps you suffer from being an inconsiderate prat. If so, a surgeon such as myself can find the relevant labora and then – good as new.”
“How many have you done? The surgeries I mean,” Jane asked.
“Many thousands. As I’m sure you can imagine, the surgery is tremendously popular. Insurance companies are only too happy to pay, as people without problems don’t get sick. By the way, will the television crew bother you?”
“Are they all televised then? I thought it was only the first few?”
The doctor grinned. “Oh no, they are all filmed and many are even aired live. The world watches as its problems are vanquished.”
“I don’t mind cameras,” Jane nodded. “If it will help.”
“It will. We have to get the word out – have to keep the calendar booked!”
“What about side effects?”
The doctor smiled. “Like any surgery, you will be a bit sore. You might need to stay in bed for a few days to heal up. But long-term, no side effects at all. It is a very simple procedure. So simple it is kind of amazing no one ever thought to try it before. But that’s how it often goes with great discoveries.”
“Are there any other risks?”
“Mrs. Stewart, I assure you, it is completely safe. I have had several done myself. You will be fine. Better than fine!”
“You’ve had it done? What problems have you had removed?”
The doctor scowled. “The nature of one’s own problems is rather…private, but I will forgive you your curiosity. Let me just say that what they were doesn’t matter. All that matters is that they are gone. I am problem free and happier than I thought possible.”
The room fell silent.
“You think it will work…for someone like me?”
The doctor leaned close and set his hand atop hers.
“I have no doubt, Jane. I have not met a problem I couldn’t cut away.”
Jane sniffed and the doctor nudged a box of tissues in her direction.
“Well! I’m tremendously busy, I have,” he looked at his chart, “four surgeries yet today. Looks like there’s a man completely buggered with a messy house. Alexa here will schedule your surgery. It was a pleasure.”
The doctor stood and walked out. A second later he ducked his head back in.
“And Jane,” he said with a wink, “welcome to your new life.”
“Time is 15:23 on Tuesday, March 13th.” The masked doctor said for the sake of the microphone. “Doctor Jack Dillon attending. Patient is Jane Stewart, caucasian female. Procedure is a laborectemy. Are we in agreement?”
“Agreed, a woman said.
“Agreed,” a man.
“Thank you. Scalpel please.” The doctor held out a gloved hand and took the blade. His eyes shone behind clear goggles.
Jane lay naked on a padded surgery table. A bright light shone on her from directly above. Outside the radius of the spotlight, the room was dark and still. The camera lay just beyond the light like a gargoyle, an apparition of technology and vigilance.
The doctor slid the knife across the sleeping patient. She did not feel a thing as red lines spread across her body. Machines around the room pinged and ponged. The camera man chewed gum and flicked his eyes to the table and then back into his viewfinder.
The doctor gently peeled back the patient’s skin to reveal the muscles beneath. He leaned close and inspected with a telephoto monocle. He prodded at the biceps and observed how the chest rose. He tapped on the hamstring and the patient’s arm spasmed.
“Muscular synergistic anaphylactic reaction nominal, moving deeper,” the doctor said. He sliced and slid away the muscles to expose bones and organs. He vacuumed trickles of blood from exposed arteries. He prodded and pressed and perused.
“Doctor Moran, take a look.” Jack straightened his back and slid back in his wheeled chair. His assistant moved in with his own prods and pricks.
“Ah!” The assistant exclaimed.
“You found something?” Jack looked back.
“Oh…. No, just the lungs,” The assistant said. “They looked distinctly problem shaped for a minute but then she took a breath. Definitely just the lungs.”
“Shit.” Jack pulled back. He stood and paced while his assistant continued to peer and poke.
“It doesn’t make sense,” The doctor muttered. “Let me look again.”
He lowered the light her and moved his head closer.
He looked up suddenly. “Pass me the nerve reflex hammer.”
The doctor bent over his patient and tapped the heart with the rubber instrument. Her arm jerked. The doctor taped on the liver. The patient sucked in a ragged breath.
“I can’t find anything.” The doctor scowled through his mask.
“A new type of labora? One that is not detectable by traditional sysgestic reflexological appeasement?” Doctor Moran suggested.
“That goes against weeks of medical research.” Doctor Dillon shook his head.
“What if she is without problems?” A nurse asked.
The room fell silent and then burst into laughter. Doctor Dillon slapped the nurse on the back.
Doctor Moran wiped a tear from his eye. “No problems!” he cackled.
Doctor Dillon continued, “We are done here. No labora was found. Need more info from patient to continue. Time is 17:42.”
“I don’t understand,” Jane said. She felt the stitches along her body with a grimace.
“To be honest, I don’t entirely either.” The doctor sat beside her table. “In over six thousand surgeries I’ve performed or assisted, it has never happened before. I’m not aware of any case where it has.”
“So there was just nothing?”
“Nothing. It seems like you don’t have any problems.”
“I know! How can that be possible! I assure you, it isn’t. This is quite exciting, Jane, quite exciting indeed!”
“Exciting?” Jane raised an eyebrow.
“Oh yes! It could be a breakthrough in the science of problem solving. Doctor Richard Price, the man who discovered laboras himself, has taken a keen personal interest. He is flying in tomorrow morning to consult personally. This could mean publications! Maybe even a sponsorship deal. Precision Problem Solvers – they make scalpels – has already contacted my agent!”
“That is exciting,” Jane said.
“But what could the problem be?” Jane asked. “If it isn’t a labora, I mean.”
“That’s the question, isn’t it? I don’t know yet, but I promise you, Jane, I won’t stop searching until I’ve fixed it.”
Jane nodded. “I appreciate it,” she said.
“Doctor…” Jane started, “…the fact that you can’t find my labora…That sounds like a problem…”
The doctor frowned. “You’re right. God damn it but you are right. I must have just missed it.” The doctor stood up and turned away.
“So what can we do?” Jane asked.
The doctor turned back and cocked his head with a smile.
“Time is 10:15 on Friday, March 16th. Patient is Jack Dillon, Hispanic Male. Peter Cho Attending. Doctor Callahan, please open.”
The assistant inserted the scalpel. The body was soon opened and bared. The doctor poked the small intestine. The patient’s foot jerked reflexively.
“Right there!” Doctor Cho pointed. The labora was plain to see. It was completely the wrong color and entirely the wrong size. And the shape! The shape most of all was like sand in a mouthful of soup.
“Well done, doctor!” The assistant said. A few nurses exchanged high fives. The cameraman zoomed in for the money shot.
“Labora identified and confirmed in the fourth quadrant under the third metatarsal within the seventh ligament. It is…4 viborometers in diameter. Beginning excision.” The pinging of the machines was suddenly very loud in the operating room. The doctor outlined the labora with the blade. And then like a conductor cueing the orchestra, it was done, and Dr. Calahan dropped the bit of problem into a glass biohazard vial.
“Time is 10:29. Labora has been removed. Doctor, sew him up.”
“So, you see, the problem was entirely mine. I am quite sorry to admit it. But it has been fixed, now.” Doctor Dillon grinned and took out a vial.
“Is that…?” Jane asked.
“Yep! The labora itself, take a look.” Doctor Dillon offered it to her.
“It’s so small,” Jane muttered.
The doctor smiled. “I have to thank you for bringing it to my attention. Who knows how long such a problem could have lain within me! I shudder to think the damage it could have wrought.”
“I’m glad,” Jane said.
“And of course, your follow up laborectemy is on the house. I owe you a debt, and I will pay it in full.”
“Kind of you,” Jane said.
“Time is 13:19 on Thursday, March 22. The patient is Jane Stewart.” A hush fell over the room as the doctor leaned over.
The incision was mostly a matter of slicing open the stitches. The skin fell open like the pages of a discarded book. The doctors squinted down at the crimson flesh.
“Such lovely muscles,” Doctor Dillon muttered. “The color is quite nice, quite nice.” He poked her Achilles heel with his forceps and her arm jerked. He moved up her body, examining every inch. He was calm and deliberate. He explored the bulge of breast and the recess of belly. He lifted the rib cage apart and examined the vital organs, he poked at the kidneys and the stomach.
He grunted. “How very curious.” He said. He stood and frowned at the blood and bone beneath him. “It doesn’t…” He stood and stretched and stepped away. “But I ….” His eyes darted around the room. He muttered bits of unassembled thought.
An assistant moved in and took the forceps. He tested the ovaries. He scraped a bit of blood from the base of her rib cage. He shook his head. “I don’t see anything either. What do you make of it doctor?”
Doctor Dillon turned back to face the watching nurses and cameras. His eyes were stone and his jaw was steel as he turned and held out his hand for the forceps. He bent over the body like a pitcher taking the mound. He rested his gloved hand on the muscles of her face. He closed his eyes as his hands explored.
He sliced into her liver and rubbed the sticky contents between his fingers. He frowned and moved to her femur. He scowled at the whiteness, at the unmarred marrow. He opened her small intestine and sniffed at it. He muttered a curse and cut into her heart.
“Doctor?” A nurse inquired. The doctor did not notice, he was too busy examining the ventricles and the clavicles and the reticules.
“Vacuum,” Doctor Dillon said. No one moved.
“Vacuum!” he insisted and someone handed it to him.
He sucked up a few drips of blood and clamped the end of the lung.
“I can fix her!” he shouted.
The pings of the machines grew in pitch and frequency. The onlookers muttered and shuffled. Their eyes darted to the door, to the cameras and their wide-eyed operators.
Piece by piece the body came apart. Under the doctor’s fingers, it was a puzzle, a clever organization of things. He was pure sense. The knives and clamps were extensions of his own fingers. He vacuumed and vivisected while the machines pinged and panged. The eyes and tongue were examined and set aside. The uterus was quite without labora.
“Doctor, she can’t take much more,” a nurse insisted. “We need to put her back together.”
The doctor had nothing to spare for hearing. He was made of slicing.
“Jack, please,” the nurse insisted.
Doctor Dillon didn’t care. Or maybe he cared too much. Maybe he was made of caring.
“Doctor!” The shout rang out and the doctor sat up suddenly. He stared at the red mess of his hands. He looked down at the tatters of beautiful muscle and labora-less organ. He nodded and started to take off his gloves. His eyes sank.
“Yes, I….” A bead of sweat ran down his face and splashed onto his paper mask.
“Let’s put her back together. And get Doctor Price on the phone.”
The doctor walked out of the room.
“It’s good to see you awake. You gave us a bit of a scare,” Doctor Dillon said.
Jane looked up from her bed. The room was drawn up in bright white and fresh linen. A comforting beep broke the silence every few moments.
“Am I better?” Jane asked. Her voice was sandpaper rough.
The doctor frowned.
“I am afraid not,” he admitted. “The surgery was… inconclusive. I couldn’t find any laboras.”
Jane frowned. “But you said your inability was fixed?”
“Yes, it was. That’s what’s so troubling,” Doctor Dillon said. “The thing about problems, Jane, is that they are always there. Even when we cut them away, there are always new ones to be found if you dig a bit deeper. Which is why you just don’t make sense. There is nothing to remove, so I don’t know how to help you.”
“That’s ok. I don’t mind a few problems.”
“Give up? Never!” The doctor turned, his jaw set. “I promise you this, I will find your problem and fix it. I…I have to fix it.” The doctor turned away.
“What will you do?”
“The only solution I can think of, and Doctor Price agrees, is to perform a molecular laborectemy.”
“Yes. It seems your problems, whatever they are, are so small that we cannot detect them with our eyes. Therefore, they must be at the molecular level. To destroy such problems, we have to use high precision, high-intensity lasers.”
“Molecular laborectemy is an experimental treatment. It hasn’t actually been attempted on a person before. But you are the perfect candidate for it. While a blade has to be guided by the hands of a doctor, the machine deconstructs problems atomically. It can’t help but solve your problems.”
“I see,” Jane said again.
“And while there may, err, will be some collateral damage to healthy tissue in the process, it seems to me the only reasonable course of action. Dr. Price agrees, by the way. And it will advance medicine by leaps and bounds. Leaps and bounds!”
Jane didn’t say anything.
“You’re probably worried about the expense, and it is quite expensive I have to say, but…” The doctor leaned closer. “The hospital has agreed to offer you a ten percent discount!” He stood up straight, beaming.
“What if I just kept them. My problems I mean,” Jane whispered.
The room fell silent before the doctor and the nurse behind him broke into laughter. “Can you imagine!” The doctor laughed. “No no, I couldn’t even ethically allow that, even if you were serious, which I know you’re not. Problems have to be removed. That’s why we have laborectimies.”
Jane looked away. “Maybe I could just go home,” she said.
The doctor looked up from his note taking. “What was that? No need to thank me, I am just doing my best in this crazy problem-filled world. I’m only doing what anyone would do.”
Jane looked away.
“Patient is Jane Stewart. Surgery is a molecular laborectemy. Attending is -”
“Doctor Richard Price,” The other doctor jumped in speaking quickly. Doctor Dillon rolled his eyes.
“Assisted by Doctor Jack Dillon.” Dr. Dillon waved his arms for Dr. Price to continue.
Doctor Price wore the beard of a Nobel laureate. The white garment around his shoulders was more robe than coat. He leaned over to the machine and pressed a button on a control panel. A needle gauge started moving on the display and Doctor Price nodded.
“Molecular deconstructor charging,” Doctor Dillon said into a microphone. “Power level 20 percent.”
The transparent, circular atomization chamber was in the center of the room. Beyond it, rows of stadium seating extended a hundred feet back. In the front row sat the two doctors with their buttons and sensors.
Inside the chamber, Jane lay naked on a raised platform. The platform rotated slowly ensuring all spectators a good view. Her eyes were open and her chest rose and fell with steady breathing. Directly over her, the upside-down-pyramid shaped laser began to vibrate and glow. Medical students and reporters stared from their seats. They took notes with their pencils and pictures with their smart phones.
“Charged to 60 percent,” Doctor Dillon said.
Doctor Price leaned closer to his colleague to be heard. “The deconstructor – is it a Benson?”
“Yes!” Doctor Dillon said. “Their very latest. They sent it over as soon as they heard. After the exposure, I wouldn’t wonder.”
“I’m sure they are. I went a round at Augusta with Stephen Myers, their CEO. He had a nice swing, hit it right down the fairway. He kept trying to get me to stock his line of industrial waste incinerators.”
“I’ll bet.” Doctor Dillon stretched. He looked down at the computer screen. “Deconstructor is fully charged. Commencing laborectemy.”
A hush fell over the observation deck.
“Ready to make history, doctor?” Doctor Dillon looked to his colleague.
“Please, you take the honors,” Doctor Price said loud enough for the cameras to pick up.
“Let’s do it together,” Doctor Dillon insisted.
They raised their hands and, together, pressed the blinking button.
The atomization chamber flashed like a camera, like a star going nova, like a volcano spewing white-hot lava into the world.
The observers blinked and shielded their eyes. There was no sound or smell. The world was made of light.
And then it was over. Within the chamber, the raised platform was empty.
“Laborectemy is a complete success. 100 percent Labora atomization!” Doctor Price said. The room burst into cheers. Someone popped the cork from a champagne bottle.
The television crews zoomed in on the two doctors shaking hands.
“Again please, looking at us?” The producer whispered. The doctors complied.
The spectators thronged around the two medical pioneers.
“Please, one at a time,” Doctor Price said to the reporters with their questions.
“Yes, you can all sign-up,” Doctor Dillon said to the people with their problems.
Doctor Dillon looked back at the problem-less atomization chamber, at the people lined up to shake his hand and give him money. He felt his cell phone vibrate with sponsorship offers and congratulatory text messages.
“Welcome to your new life,” he said.
Photo Credit: Flickr / Dade Freeman