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This precious house—my house!—this room, these walls, this bed, are all familiar, but I’m not. I’m the stranger who makes everyone uncomfortable. Three months in the hospital and a precisely but savagely excised brain have tweaked my personality the way a potion tweaked Jeckyll into Hyde. I’m clothed in the same skin as my healthy former self and fit the same clothes, but I’m no fit for this place, my house, not yet. I eat, I breathe, digest, pass food, none of them without help, none without humiliation. Whatever I used to be proud of, . . . . My wife resembles her photos by the bed except in the eyes, which used to say For better! and which now wonder, Could this get worse? But she’s the same. My children too. They enter the room like scolded pets and finger the bedclothes and stare at the muted TV, not at their dad. They tell me what I want to hear: I’ve turned them into liars. Except for giving in, or giving up, there’s no remedy for outliving an illness. But Melissa didn’t know me as I was. She sees what is. She knows just what to make of clients like me and forgives me. The intimacies she performs are out of reach for those who have always loved me, services that would break their hearts. The genius of Melissa is to make my care appear like washing the dishes. She doesn’t love me, I think, except in that way that good souls think pain is noble and rage is prayer, which is to say, she loves the trouble I’m taking to get back to my self. And with her help, if I survive, I’ll own this house again and be the parent and husband I was.

The Deputy Assistant has died for an analogy. Some will recall four years ago his boss, the Minister of Health and Family Welfare, boldly revived the discredited effort to eradicate polio from the provinces west and south of the capital—bold because several children had been paralyzed by the vaccine given to protect them. Those precious souls with their bent frames were the statistical necessity of a cure for the world, but they were pathetic, and no matter what the Deputy Assistant said, their parents were impossible to answer. For several seasons after that, whole provinces of five-year-olds had closed their mouths against the disreputable sugar cube. An ambivalent man might have been daunted; instead, the Minister wept for an audience at the new sanitation plant, but warned that an excess of love for the stricken few unfortunates would cripple thousands of children. His Deputy was moved as well but understood the numbers better. Only one child would be stricken for every three million successfully dosed. “It is as if,” he told the Minister, and the comment has cost him his life, “to banish the scourge to oblivion, you sacrificed your three sons.” The details of how he fulfilled his accidental prophecy are appalling, and there is evidence he tried to sabotage it, but the clarity of the plan is as strict as a gem. In the capital today, the Deputy Assistant has eaten a phosphine tablet and died. The job is two-thirds done now, new cases are rare, and the Minister’s third son travels with him to the regions of greatest concern, where skepticism of the vaccine might nullify the nation’s triumph over disease. The boy stands straight and tall alongside his brothers in their chairs, and the locals decide for themselves the extent of the Minister’s nerve.

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This work by davidbdale is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at davidbdale.wordpress.com.

Some of my stuff I want to keep after I’m dead, but Ariel can pick out three things from my toy-box, not three of the same things, like not three ponies, or not even two insects, but a pony and an insect and a piece of furniture would be good, and she can ride my bike when she’s big enough. Read the rest of this entry »

Before it grew too big to lift, the hospital could have moved to a better neighborhood or invested in its neighbors. Instead it pushed out handymen and cleaning ladies and street hawkers like my uncles Read the rest of this entry »

Although aspects of the procedure must be painful beyond enduring, I’m not among the noisy many who call it cruelty to harvest an essential medicinal from its only source, but I admit I don’t envy the donor. Read the rest of this entry »

The sign at the border with firm politeness welcomes me in my own language. I take it on faith it doesn’t play favorites but welcomes readers of other languages with equal grace, though why it thinks the Chinese will follow this road here I can’t imagine. Read the rest of this entry »

Chapter Four. If you retrieved the first three bottles, you know the urgency of our confinement and how to help us. If anything, we are more desperate now as the authorities close in on the operation Read the rest of this entry »

Her guide did not lead the new doctor all the way to the village; instead, halfway up the rise, he gestured with his stick toward the cluster of huts in the high distance. Four days they had traveled together without talking, by oxcart, by flatboat, on horseback, on foot, and now she had a need to share her misgivings about the job. Read the rest of this entry »

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