After I read Dr. Khalil’s letter, a few phone calls confirmed that surgeons everywhere were noticing the same thing. At the time we scratched our collective heads and were outwardly thankful for the good fortune. But, within a few weeks we noticed a new change, actually several changes. First, patients that had been sick for weeks or even months started to recover. Not only make some improvement in a minor parameter. No, these were dramatic changes. Severe, comatose head injury patients, long given up as hopeless, suddenly woke up; patients chronically on ventilators seemed to grow new lungs and were being weaned and discharged. Then, terminal cancer patients saw their disseminated disease melt away. Similar reports came in from all over the globe; all very heartening, but everyone I spoke with had a touch of worry in their voice. Unexplained phenomena have a way of frightening even the most learned of scientists. And, these occurrences went well beyond the unexplained. Supernatural is what some were starting to say.
I began seeing Gwen almost every night. The sudden outbreak of good health gave us much more free time. At that time, I was at a total loss to explain the phenomenon. We both agreed it was for the best, while not understanding any of it. That night, while lying in bed together, she was talking, to no one in particular, sort of thinking out loud.
“Do you think that it’s God?” she asked. “Is He somehow reaching out of Heaven and touching our sickest patients and healing them, just like Jesus did in the Bible?”
“That’s as good an explanation as any; God, Jesus, or the devil”, I answered. “I’m happy to have a light schedule, for a while. Of course if it keeps up I’ll be looking for a job digging ditches or something. But, don’t worry; whatever I do I’m sure that I’ll need an assistant.” I rolled over and kissed her and we forgot about God and the devil and everything else for awhile.
As all this was occurring I noticed that my usually busy office was nearly empty. There were a few post op patients, all recovering uneventfully, but after another week even they stopped coming. I suppose that I was happy that people weren’t getting sick, but I also started to worry that I wouldn’t be able to make a living. I remember I felt a slight pang of guilt, something I had felt before when I thought about the comfortable lifestyle that I lived, all courtesy of human suffering. But I could always rationalize that what I did served humanity. The mixed feelings I had about this sudden outbreak of good health, which should have been a cause for joy, were making me feel very guilty.
When I went over to the hospital, I realized my feelings were universal. There were plenty of doctors in their clean white coats standing around talking to the nurses, while every few minutes an administrator dressed in a suit passed by, a worried look on their face. The hospital was empty, the surgery schedule was blank and nobody had a clue.
Hey Meno, you’ve still got work to do?” I asked, slightly envious of the custodian who still had some meaningful work to do. Sadly, I didn’t know his last name, even though we talked almost daily.
“Well, Dr. M”, he replied, “Even though there aren’t many sick people, all you doctor and nurse types still make quite a mess.”
“How true, how true”, I answered. “But, just you wait. With all these strange goings on, I won’t be surprised if this old world starts cleaning itself. Then you’ll be out of a job.”
“Fine with me, Dr. M. It’ll give me the chance to do what I really want. Finish law school, practice for a while and then get into politics, really help some of the downtrodden in our town. Oh, maybe not save them the way you do, but I think the world needs people in politics that want to do what’s right.”
“Good for you, Meno. You could be a first; a truly honest politician; someone looking out for the oppressed in society, without a thought or care about his own well-being. I’ve heard similar stories before, but politics seems to have a way of smashing even the strongest ideals into a fine powder that blows away with the first wind of temptation.”
“Just you wait, Doc; I’m going to be different, I guarantee that when I’m Mayor, then Governor and, then President I’ll always look out for all the people and do what’s right for everybody.”
I thought about the dramatic changes we’d all seen in the hospital, the strange phenomenon, all of it good, but still unsettling to say the least. Meno’s eager face gave me a touch of hope. His idealistic outlook and spirit seemed to be the best part of humanity and if the world was becoming a better place his ideals would be all the more important.
“Meno, you just keep those thoughts in your head, because I think, before we’re all done, we are going to need as many people like you as we can find. For now, there aren’t any sick people so I will leave you to your work. If I don’t see you again, Good Luck. Unless something changes I don’t think I’ll be needed around here.”
“Hasta luego, Doc. And, don’t worry. When I’m in charge I’ll be sure to look out for you.”
He gave me a big smile and put out his hand. I grasped it in mine and we parted; I still felt a bit envious of him and his lofty goals, contrasting sharply with all the worries that raced around my brain. I walked way admiring the gleaming floors that shined in the wake of Meno’s mop.
I knew that Meno worked until after eleven pm and almost always met two of his friends at Zola’s Pool Hall after he finished. I was at Zola’s one day when the three of them arrived; each loudly ordering a beer, putting their money down and shooting pool, nine ball to be exact. I joined the three of them that night and learned that they had gone to high school together and got together almost every night to shoot pool, have a few beers and dream about a world where they were the ones in charge. I remember that night as if it was yesterday.
“Watch this shot, Ty”, Meno yelled above the loud music to Tyrone. All three, Meno, Tyrone and Eddie were twenty three years old, single with menial jobs. The only thing they had was each other and dreams of a better world for themselves. Only Meno had any sort of plan. Tyrone worked for the city, maintaining the parks and all the public areas. Eddie hadn’t graduated from high school and worked any odd jobs he could find. He was remarkable with his hands and could fix almost anything and he was the best pool player in town. His reputation brought him plenty of work and frequent challenges in the pool hall; both endeavors helped him maintain a fairly easy and comfortable life. In the end, in a way, they did realize their dreams.
The lack of business gave me a well deserved break and I took advantage of the opportunity to catch up on reading, do a few neglected chores and play some golf, fully expecting that calls would start coming in requesting my services. But, none came. Nancy, my office nurse did call and told me she was working part time a local nursing home. Apparently the elderly and infirm still needed some assistance.
That same day I went for a stroll through the park. It was midday and I expected the usual hundred degree temps and near zero percent humidity that was the norm for June in Tucson. It was a bright, sunny day, but surprisingly comfortable, not too hot and not too dry. As I walked through the park I was struck by the bright green foliage, some trees bearing fruit, mixed in with the expected cactus. Curiouser and curiouser I thought, the scientist in me becoming aroused. I left the park and took the short walk to the university to talk to my squash partner, Allen Summersby. He was one of the world’s most accomplished biochemists. Maybe he had an answer. On the way I picked a peach from a tree that had sprouted up in the park. I remember I examined it very closely, thinking at the time that all these strange happenings were some sort of trick and perhaps were dangerous in some way. I sniffed the fruit and turned it over and over and finally took a bite. It was the best peach I’d ever tasted. I finished it off and picked three more for later.
I finally reached Summerby’s office and knocked on the door. I heard a soft “Come in” and opened the door to find him sitting behind his desk staring at his arm. He looked up at me and then held his arm up.
“You won’t believe this”, he said, pointing to a spot on his arm. “I injected this spot with toxic Strep a week ago and look.”
I studied his arm up and down and didn’t see a spot.”Where did you inject it?” He pointed to the middle of his forearm which looked pristine.
“There’s something very strange afoot and I have no idea why. As a matter of fact nobody does. I’ve talked with biochemists, geneticists, microbiologists and every other biological scientist I could think of and we’re all stumped. Of course, it all seems for the good, but I’ll tell you… we’re all a bit uneasy.”
“I know; you’d think we’d be rejoicing. I mean diseases seem to have become a thing of the past. Maybe the world’s being sterilized by some invading alien. Remember what happened to the Martians in the “War of the Worlds”, I replied.
“Great, that’s all we need; to be turned into a huge delicatessen for some space monster.”
We talked for a bit more, but he didn’t have any more answers than I had. It seems that we were all asking the same questions, but the questions only begat more questions. A few hours after this meeting the big worldwide conference was announced. A forum of political leaders, scientists, representatives of international space agencies and even religious leaders were to meet in New York at the UN the following week to discuss the recent events and formulate policy.
Meanwhile, I was, for all practical purposes, unemployed. I went for daily walks, chatted with anyone and everyone about current events and did my best to keep occupied. Like everyone else I was a bit worried.
I still saw Gwen almost every day, but she seemed to be distracted. Her normally voracious sexual appetite had waned; although we still “did it”, there was a noticeable lack of enthusiasm on her part.
“You seem far away”, I commented as I stroked her long black hair. She just stared at the ceiling.
“I feel like something huge is about to happen in this world and I really want to be a part of it. I’m sure you don’t know, I mean how could you know, that I’m a preacher’s daughter; grew up believing in Jesus and the Gospel and all that. When I went out into the world it was quite a shock; I learned a lot more in Nursing School than nursing. And, then my mother died of cancer, acute myelogenous leukemia to be exact. She got the flu one day and two weeks later she was gone. I guess it was at that time I stopped believing in God and Jesus and became a ‘fallen woman’ as my Dad would say.”
I wasn’t sure how I should respond to her words and decided it was best to remain silent. She continued.
“I guess I’m distracted, as you describe it, because everything that’s happening has to be the hand of God. Perhaps, Jesus’ return is imminent and, if that’s true, then I guess I feel like I should be preparing; preparing for judgment or salvation. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I need to be good and ask for His forgiveness.”
“I understand”, I lied, disappointed that our encounters would be coming to an end.
I gave her a big kiss, got out of bed, dressed and left her. She seemed more relieved than upset and, surprisingly, all I felt at that moment was indifference.
The big summit was, for the most part, a colossal anticlimax. Theories varying from solar flares to impending alien invasion were espoused. Religious leaders mostly said it was the work of the Devil and the world needed to repent of its evil ways. One question was raised suggesting that perhaps it was God intervening, preparing the world for his imminent return; a theory that was immediately rejected as being contrary to the available eschatological scripture. The mention of eschatology was a bit unsettling. I, and many others I’d talked with, was not ready for the end of the world.
The hospital closed for lack of patients. I ran into Meno as he was leaving his class at City College.
“Still studying law, despite everything that’s happening?” I asked.
“It keeps me busy; I’ve already paid for the classes, so I might as well finish. The way things are going, there won’t be any more school or work; just hanging around waiting for something to happen. I liked it better when it took a little struggling to accomplish something”, he answered. “You still dating that hot Momma, that nurse…Gwen?”
“Naa, she’s waiting for the second coming; repented of her wanton ways, which left me out in the cold, so to speak. I don’t know what I’ll do with myself, but I’m pretty sure something’s about to happen; something big. I just hope it’s something good.”
“Of course it has to be good, Doc. How can any phenomenon that heals the sick be bad. Sounds very Biblical to me; sounds like God or Jesus is coming. Well, I need to get going; see you around , Doc.”
“So long Meno, Good Luck”
The walk home was slow as I stopped and chatted with all the people who were out and about, like me. Most were confused, some seemed very content, many more carried an air of indifference, were enjoying the fine weather and free fruit and veggies that were everywhere. I sensed a lack of purpose among most of the people and fear of the unknown.