Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Lost Light


I have to get all this down before it’s too late, I thought as I sat at the table. The dictation system wouldn’t work, so I fumbled through the drawers until I found a note pad and a pen. I checked the doors to be sure they were securely bolted and the heavy shades were drawn down, shielding me from the noise of breaking windows and gunfire, the flickering light from burning buildings and mounds of rubbish managed to sift into the room through the tiny cracks beneath the curtains. I felt for my weapon, comfortably seated in its shoulder holster and, as an afterthought, I took it out and placed it on the desk next to the note pad. I thought for a moment and started to write.

It was four years ago when the first changes were noticed. There was a letter to the editor in the Annals that caught my eye, first because it was from Dr. Khalil, who had been a year ahead of me in training and because the heading reported on a phenomenon very similar to something I had started to notice.

“Unexpected Rapid Recovery” it said and the letter reported on over thirty patients that had undergone major surgery, the type that usually took 5-7 days to recover from, but these patients had recovered in only two days. Incisions appeared completely healed, normal physiology was restored in a remarkably short time. I found it striking because over the previous three months I had noticed the exact same thing. Major colon resections, big cancer operations, severe traumas, were jumping up out of bed in short order, demanding to eat, pacing the corridors and returning to normal productive lives in one or two days, not the usual seven or ten, or longer. I thought it was due to my superior surgical skills, but now I was beginning to think that there was something else afoot.

That day, the day I read that letter, caused something to gel in my head. I remember talking to Gwen, the head nurse on Post Surgical.

“Did you notice this, Dr. Marcus?” she asked.

I looked up from the chart, first staring at her ample chest and then looking into her eyes.

“Notice what?” I murmured, still thinking about her breasts instead of my patients.

“Mrs. Feinstein in 335, the colon resection you did yesterday, the one that took five hours and had abscesses all over; she’s up walking around, vital signs perfectly normal and normal BUN and creatinine. The last words caught my attention, because Mrs. Feinstein’s baseline BUN and creatinine were 40 and 2.2. A colon resection, even one that drained a bunch of pus, would never have reversed such a chronic condition.

“Repeat the lab, Miss Hadley and, if there’s no error ask Dr. Surham to take a look at her…thanks”, I remarked. My thoughts started to drift away to recollections of similar stories, but this was certainly the most blatant example. I walked away, still thinking about Gwen and her breasts, but also thinking that these events would allow me to get to know the amply endowed and very attractive Gwen Hadley on a more than professional level.

Of course the repeat lab confirmed the unexplainable improvement and I glibly concluded that her previous condition must have been due to her diverticulitis. In a way I was thankful for Mrs. Feinstein because she gave me an excuse to have dinner with Gwen.

As I was leaving I passed by Meno, who was busy mopping the floor, whistling the latest hip-hop as he rolled along. He stopped his work as I passed by and gave me a big smile, exposing his bright, white teeth.

“Hey, Doc, what’s going on?” he exclaimed loudly enough for everyone in the hall and most of the patients could hear. He held out his hand and I gave it a short slap.

“You’re certainly in a good mood”, I observed. “Even more than usual.”

“I got an “A” on that political science paper I was writing. The prof said it was the most original thing he’d read in years. One more semester and then, with any luck I’ll be off to law school and then watch out. The only floors I’ll be mopping are the courtroom’s with my opponents faces.”

“Well, you’ve certainly got the proper attitude to be a lawyer, that’s for sure. I hope you’ll be on the doctor’s side if the situation ever arises.”

“Don’t worry, Doc. You can always count on me to look out for you.”

I wished him well and went on with the day’s work.

That evening, over the finest Scallops Madeira in town and a vintage red wine, Gwen and I talked about the series of freakish events.

“You must be some kind of fantastic surgeon, besides being kind of cute”, she observed. “I mean, besides Mrs. Feinstein, there’s also that old lady, you know, the ninety year old with the stomach CA. Grover, Eileen Grover. Near total gastrectomy; eating and out of the hospital in three days.”

I smiled at her as I thought about that particular patient and about a dozen others. “I guess I am a fantastic surgeon…” Conversation turned to other more important items like where she was going to sleep that night and we forgot about medicine for a while.