Hospital Visit

by Gary Ross Hoffman

"Hhhhhuuuuuhhhh..."

That's all that I could get out. The stabbing pain in my gut would've had me jumping out of bed and screaming at the top of my lungs a few years ago. Now all I can do is let out a pathetic gasp.

Even that seems liked a small victory. I haven't been able to speak since they permanently placed a tube down my throat.

There's no more jumping for me. I barely have the strength to move at all. When I do, I usually regret it. Screaming is out of the question as well. My lungs hardly move any air these days. I'm sure the doctors are going to plug another machine into me soon, one to do my breathing for me.

I'm dreading it.

It's just not fair. Nothing in my body works right. I can't eat, I can't move, I almost can't breathe. Why, why, then, do my pain receptors work at 100% efficiency?

Crap. Someone is entering my hospital room. Can't they leave me alone? Nothing they do helps ease the pain. All they can do is make my life more miserable. It hurts when they move me. It hurts when they clean me. Everything they do to me hurts. Even the noise they make is almost unbearable. Everything reverberates in my head like it's an echo chamber. The crashing, clattering, banging, clanging, it drives me up the wall.

But worse, by far, is when they speak to me. Do they expect me to answer? Don't they realize that their jabbering hurts my head?

"Sorry to intrude," says a male voice. "What is your full name, please?"

Shut up! Just shut up and go away!

"Oh. Sorry. Just a moment..."

No, don't touch me... oh....

Wet. He's wiping my ears with something. Doesn't hurt. Strange...

"Is that better?" he asks.

What the..? It is better. He still sounds a little loud, but at least his words aren't bouncing around inside of my skull. Why couldn't someone have done that months ago?

"Sir? Your full name, please?" he asks. He's a persistent cuss. Most of them are, the doctors, the nurses, the technicians and all the rest of the hospital's useless cast of characters.

"Sir?"

Arthur. Myron. Johnston. And it's Johnston with a T, not Johnson. Now shut up and leave me to rot in peace.

"Arthur Myron Johnston, not Johnson. Got it. Thank you," he says. "Please listen very carefully, as I have an important proposal to make."

What is the matter with you people!!? My guts are killing me! My head is full of cotton and my sinuses are full of concrete! Every part of me is in agony! Don't you think I find that a little distracting!? Do you think I can focus on what you're saying!?

"Ah. I see. Well, I'm reluctant to do this, but it appears to be necessary," the man says.

He reaches into the pocket of his coat... how do I know this? My vision is practically non-existent. But somehow I know that he is pulling out a brown, squirming.... puppy.

He leans forward...

"Guucckk.. acckk..," I protest, as he places the puppy on my chest.

But there is no pain. I feel the pressure of the puppy as it roams around, apparently looking for a comfortable spot to lie down. Its meanderings should feel like torture, but they do not.

"I'm sorry about this, Mister Johnston," says the man. "But the relief you feel is only temporary."

I barely hear the man. I am amused by the puppy's wanderings. It has huge, floppy ears, which swing and sway as he sniffs and walks around my torso. Ha-ha! It's fun to watch him.

But how can I be watching the dog's antics? My eyesight is shot!

"Just a side-effect," says the man.

And how can you hear me? I can't talk!

"It's not important," he says. "Are you feeling better?"

I lay still, stunned. This man.. he wipes my ears, and suddenly I can hear clearly. He puts a puppy, a puppy on my chest and...

And the pain in my gut subsides. And my chest. Has the dog anesthetized me? No. I can still feel it walking around, its soft paws gently touching me, kind of tickling...

I actually feel good. Oh mercy, I never thought I'd feel this way again! And now the puppy has picked his spot and is snuggling against me. I can feel its warmth. It's spreading... slowly... oh! The pain in my joints... it's... it's fading.

"Mister Johnston, I regret having to do this. The effects are only temporary," the man apologizes.

Thank you, I say, mentally, at least. It may be temporary, but I'll take it.

"You probably believe that I can cure you. I'm afraid that I cannot."

That thought hadn't crossed my mind. Until now.

"You have a terminal illness. There is nothing I can do to change that," the man says.

I sense a big "However" coming.

The man hesitates. The puppy squirms and makes himself more comfortable. Shivers of pleasure run up and down my body.

"Yes, 'however'," the man admits.

Okay, you have my full attention, I say, or rather think at him. It's not true, though. The puppy has most of my attention.

"Think of your life as a book, entering the last chapter," the man continues.

Yes, I know that I'm dying. Get on with it.

"The book will end, no matter what."

Yes, yes. And it just might end before you get to the point.

"There, ah, could be a 'Volume II'," he says.

For the moment my mind goes blank. Volume II. A continuation? I might live?

"No. The book, your life, will definitely end soon."

Then, what is Volume II?

The man is suddenly ill at ease. He has something difficult to tell me. Is it too complicated for me to understand?

"Possibly," he says.

If you're trying to tell me that you're an alien, I already figured that out.

The man grimaces, as if I'd used an unpleasant, but accurate word.

"Not exactly an alien..., alright, for the sake of simplicity, yes," he says.

So, you've got science that would look like magic to me. Don't worry. I won't freak out.

The man looks somewhat relieved, but still nervous.

Go on, I'm listening, I say.

"We can... enshroud... no, that's too complicated. When you die, we can ensure that your mind lives on. We can create a new body and instill your mind into it," he explains.

You can clone me?

"No, well, yes, we could, if that's what you want. But that's just one possibility. We can create a better body for you. Or a mechanical body. Or a non-human body. There are numerous options."

You can transplant my brain into an alien body? Or a robot?

"No, no, you misunderstand. Your brain will die with the body you currently inhabit..."

So, what you really want from me is to make a copy of my brain...

"No... look. I'm sorry I'm not being very clear about this," the man says.

We both take a deep breath, he literally, and me mentally.

"Think of your mind as something that is housed inside your brain. It is a complex mass of energy patterns that are constantly changing from moment to moment. When the physical support structure dies, that would be your brain, those energy patterns start to dissipate. They cannot be retrieved once they're gone."

I'm with you so far.

"We can.. oh, it's difficult to come up with a proper analogy..."

Build scaffolding around it?

The man thinks about it.

"Hmmmm, close. More like we would provide an 'escape pod' for your mind to reside in until we can create a new structure which can support it."

Sounds great. What's the catch?

"Ah yes, the catch," he sighs. "As I said, this would be 'Volume II'. Volume I will be permanently finished."

Meaning?

"Meaning you won't suddenly be visiting your loved ones in a brand new body. As far as everyone is concerned, you will have died."

I sigh mentally. There are a lot of things I would like to do, mistakes I would like to correct, people to whom I'd like to say "I'm sorry".

"You wouldn't have been able to do those things in any case," the man says.

Sadly, he is correct. I left it all too late. And now I'm a decrepit old man, dying in a hospital room. The man is not offering me a do-over.

But, what is he offering? And more to the point, why?

"We need your knowledge, your experience," he says.

But, you're aliens! What could I possibly have to offer? You must be centuries ahead of us!

Once again the man takes a deep breath.

"Mister Johnston, I am a human, just not the same species of human as you are. We are, however, genetically related. As for us being 'centuries ahead of you', that's true in some respects. But in certain areas, we are woefully behind. In fact, Earth, with it's myriad of cultures and its staggering population of seven billion, has already overtaken our knowledge base in several fields of science. Please don't ask for explanations. The truth is so complicated, so utterly fantastic, that it would take weeks to explain it all to you."

I'm not a scientist. I still don't know what you want from me.

"During much of your life, you were a geologist," the man says.

You need a geologist? You're not serious.

"I am very serious."

To do what? Study alien planets?

"Yes."

That stopped me cold. I couldn't think of a single thing to say.

"Mister Johnston, I must leave now. Think about what I've said. I will return some time before you die. You can give me your answer then," the man says.

He reaches for the puppy, which jumps up and evades him. It runs up and begins licking my face.

"Huu huu huu," I laughed as the puppy's rough tongue tickles my nose, my cheeks, my eyes.

"Roger, behave," the man says, scooping up the puppy. "Mister Johnston, I'm afraid that your symptoms will now begin to return. By the end of the day, it will be as if they had never left. I wish I could ease your suffering, but I cannot."

The man puts the puppy back into his coat pocket, then turns and leaves.

* * *

The man was right. Not long after he left my hospital room, I began feeling twinges in my joints. Within an hour, they were giving me constant pain. Then my guts started twisting uncomfortably. By the end of the day, I was writhing in agony.

It is now two days later. I'm in as bad a shape as I've ever been. The doctors and nurses look at me with pity and concern. They do not believe that I have long to live. They're probably right.

The whole episode of the visit from a not-exactly-alien from another world could have been a hallucination brought on by my mind's need to escape its suffering. Or perhaps it was induced by the cocktail of medications they keep pumping into me.

Maybe. Except...

My eyesight is now perfectly clear, the sores on my cheeks have disappeared, and my sinuses no longer bother me. The three places the puppy licked me.

If... when the man returns, I will accept his proposal.

I hope he brings Roger with him.

© 2017 Gary Ross Hoffman
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