Guinea Pig by D.A.Cairns
‘How long have you had this pain?’
Strom tilted his head slowly and stared at the ceiling for a moment.
‘A few weeks I guess.’
‘A few weeks?’
Strom nodded, unfazed by the Doctor’s incredulous tone of voice.
‘A few weeks of severe pain. Debilitating pain. And you’re only coming to see me now?’
This wasn’t the first time Strom had heard such words from the doctor, but this time he was almost certain it would be the last. He had beaten the old mongrel cancer three times already even as his comrades fell all around him. Somehow he kept dodging the bullets of death, just like the third Gulf War where his brothers in arms had been cut down, left, right and centre. Strom had no idea why he had been so lucky, and sometimes even the question frightened him.
‘Hey, sorry doc. I drifted away for a bit.’
The doctor leaned forward. ‘Have you been drifting away, as you say, a lot recently?’
‘Probably. It’s hard to say. I mean I might not always know when I’m gone, so I don’t know when I come back either and I don’t think about it.’
The two men exchanged looks which said that Strom’s statement was a little confusing and they silently agreed to move on.
‘Tell me about your general health.’
‘Good as gold. You know how much trouble I’ve had over the years, but every time those bloody clever surgeons fix me up, I end up better than ever.’
‘It’s a miracle, isn’t it?’
‘Modern medicine. I mean previous generations were dying in their millions from the kinds of cancers you’ve had, Strom. Thanks to your bravery…’
‘It wasn’t just me, Doc,’ said Strom humbly.
‘Anyway, you played a huge part, but let’s get back to your headaches. What pain relief have you been taking? Anything?’
‘Some pills with heaps of Codeine, and marijuana.’
The doctor stood and motioned for Strom to join him as he walked across the room. ‘Let’s rule out the obvious first, okay. Sit down here please.’
Strom sat in the wide leather seat which immediately began to recline as it simultaneously elevated. The chair noiselessly unfolded and slid close to the portable MRI machine.
‘Lie still, Strom. This will only take a few minutes.’
As he slid inside the white cylinder, he listened for familiar sounds. His own breathing, a faint humming from the scanner, and rapid thumping sounds as the MRI captured digital images from inside Strom’s head.
I’ve lived too long, thought Strom. I’ve done so much, it feels as though there’s nothing left to do, no new adventures to be had, no new thrills to be experienced. I hope they can’t fix me this time.
‘Strom? Are you all right. Open your eyes for me.’
Slowly, Strom’s wrinkly eyelids, darkened as they were from sleep deprivation, opened to take in the sight of the doctor’s concerned face hovering over his.
‘What happened? Do you feel all right?’
Strom smiled. ‘Apart from the reason I came here you mean?’
The chair quietly and smoothly folded and descended to its original position and Strom immediately stood and walked over to the chair beside the doctor’s desk. He sat and watched the doctor studying images on his computer screen, presumably the pictures of Strom’s brain.
Apparently reluctant to speak, the doctor allowed an uncomfortable silence to fall over them, and Strom begin to fidget nervously. He stared at the images on the screen but they meant nothing to him.
Finally, the doctor turned to face Strom, who swallowed hard in anticipation of very bad news. He didn’t really want to die despite his recent wish. It was just that sometimes he became bored with life.
‘Has that leg they gave you ever given you any trouble?’
Strom was aware the doctor was avoiding the issue, but decided to go with him for the moment. ‘Never. In fact it’s stronger than the one I was born with ever was. Bloody marvellous.’
‘That was bone cancer, wasn’t it?’
‘So it’s the big C again is it?’
‘How about your arm, and your hand?’
‘Doc? Come on.’
‘Bear with me Strom. Your arm was damaged in the war, right?’
‘That’s putting it mildy. Destroyed more like it. But yeah the replacement’s been incredible. I can crush a golf ball in my hands without even trying.’
The doctor turned back to his computer monitor and with a few stabs of his index finger on the screen, he brought up Strom’s medical file.
‘Artificial heart and lungs installed two days before your seventy fifth birthday, and a complete reconstruction of you bowel at age ninety two.’
‘Thanks for the recap doc, but could we get back to my head. I mean if you’ve found a tumour just come out and tell me will you. I know they can’t rebuild a brain or pop an artificial one inside my head so this could be the end, right?’
Swivelling his chair away from the desk, the doctor folded his arms across his chest and looked directly at Strom.
‘You’re dead right, Strom. It’s a very big tumour and they won’t be able to cut it out. Its wicked tentacles are spread widely through the brain tissue. I am amazed that you aren’t dead already.’
Strom smiled. He was almost relieved.
‘Medical researchers have searched for decades and decades for some sort of medicinal cure for cancer, or at least an effective treatment to ease suffering and prolong life, but advances in surgical technology and breakthroughs in cybernetics grabbed a greater share of the limelight and a greater share of the available research dollars as well.’
Strom was getting bored again. A lecture seemed totally inappropriate at this point. His eyes began to roam, looking for something interesting in the bland sterile environment of the doctor’s consulting room.
‘The reason I’m telling you all this Strom is because there is another experimental drug trial currently underway.’
‘They need guinea pigs again do they?’
‘They are looking for terminally ill patients to join the trial and receive an injection of this new drug.’
‘What’s it called?’
‘It doesn’t have a user friendly name yet, and I can’t even pronounce its scientific handle.’
‘It’s risky I suppose.’
‘Strom, I’ll be straight with you. There’s a only a twenty five percent chance this drug will kill the tumour, and new side effects are still being recorded, some of which are awful including skin discoloration and severe nausea, but the tumour will kill you and it won’t take long.’
‘Like I said, I’m amazed you’re still with us.’
‘I’m 101 years old. Apart from this headache I don’t feel sick. I can’t remember the last time I was unwell, and I don’t get tired, but I’ve been around a long time. Some days I reckon I’ve been around too long. I don’t know why I’m still here, but maybe it’s about helping others. Being a guinea pig. Taking risks for the sake
Strom stood up, straight and tall and looked at himself in the full length mirror on the wall. There was no risk involved here except the possibility of more life. He had never been afraid of death and had come to believe over his century of years on the planet that death was probably scared of him. But did he want to go on living? That was the choice before him and it was a more serious dichotomy than any man should ever have to face. He turned slowly to face the doctor.
‘I could live forever at this rate, said Strom confidently. ‘Sign me up, doc. Let’s give it a whirl!’
The air was fresh and cool on his skin and it smelled clean and fragrant, like lavender. Strom was lying on his back in a vast meadow of knee high grass, and he felt completely at peace. A sense of well being stronger than he had ever experienced pervaded his body and his mind. He smiled.
‘You never mentioned a hallucinogenic effect from this drug, doc.’
A whisper in the broad green leaves of a nearby Maple tree was the only reply.
Strom sat up slowly, still feeling calm, and realised he must have been dreaming. Suddenly a large hand landed softly on his shoulder from behind, and even this unexpected event failed to disturb Strom.
‘Welcome,’ said the voice. ‘Welcome to the life you’ve been trying to avoid for thirty years. Welcome home. Welcome to Eternity.’