by Louis Shalako
“Ah. He wiggled his toes.” Doctor Horace Brooks nodded in satisfaction.
The nurses guided the gurney through busy hospital corridors, arriving at a private room on the third floor.
“I’ll take over now.”
The nurses made sure the patient was still securely strapped in, although the trip from the operating theatre had been a short one. They padded silently out while Horace checked his patient’s vital signs using a good old finger on the wrist vein, and another quick check of fifteen seconds, spent listening through the stethoscope to the strong and rhythmic pulse of the heart.
Ed was going to be fine. He peeled back an eyelid.
No response. He straightened up. Michelle Newell was in the waiting room. She would like to be here for her husband’s recovery.
They stood, with Doctor Brooks at the foot of the bed, and Michelle at Ed’s side, holding his hand. She blinked back tears.
“As you can see, the gene therapy is already well advanced.”
Michelle gulped, unable to look away from her husband’s swollen features, especially florid-looking around the rims of the eyes. His lips were puffy and the neck lacked all distinction, for Ed was a tall, rangy individual. Even his rather prominent Adam’s apple was gone.
“It’s all temporary. He’ll make a full recovery. I give you my word, Michelle. Ed will be back to normal, better than normal in no time.”
Ed snored lightly in the bed.
He had opened his eyes, looked up at wife and smiled sleepily.
“Is the coffee ready?” Then Ed’s eyelids drooped as she murmured sweet nothings and he was gone again.
Horace beckoned at a slope-backed chair in yellow leather.
“By all means, sit with him for a while.” Horace needed a cup of coffee, and when he got back, they could make arrangements for Ed’s transportation home.
She was just all wound up with worry. He’d seen it before, plenty of times.
The elevator was at least quick in this small suburban hospital, compared to some of the ones downtown, in the real trenches, like St. Jo’s where he had put in his internship.
The long hall led to the casual but comfortable cafeteria. It allowed him to enjoy a moment of serene contemplation, with his sternum held high and his chin up, breathing fully down into the core. Moments of professional satisfaction must be savored, as did the ride home from work in the green Jaguar and the nights in front of the fire with Anne, looking out over the lake and watching the sunset.
His life was like a fine cognac. He didn’t have it too bad, when he thought about it.
It was also important to appreciate such fortune, as hokey as some might find the sentiment.
Horace knew what he liked and what he cared about. He knew what was important to him.
The patients really did come first. It made all else possible.
Ed was a good guy, but then Horace had rarely met a patient he didn’t like.
Ed would be up and around in no time, but the bio-chemistry was invasive. His cells would undergo rapid changes, and the side effects included everything from nausea, vertigo, and disorientation, to the more easily treated diarrhea and inflammation. Normal reflexes and body control would come back fairly rapidly once that stage had passed. At his age, Ed had been physically active on a regular basis and the outlook was very good for such patients. He recalled that Ed had beaten him up pretty badly, in a tennis singles match only two, or maybe it was three years ago.
Horace had done this procedure dozens of times before and had full confidence in what he was seeing from Ed.
Mrs. Newell was on the phone and she was very upset.
Ed sat at his desk in the funereal silence of his main office, the big room done all in oak, although he had the normal, more utilitarian consulting rooms, a whole hallway full of them in fact.
“I swear to God, I’m going to kill him.”
“Now, now, Michelle. There’s no need to be hasty. Ed’s just taking a while to readjust. I’ve seen all of this before, and it just takes a little time—”
“You should see what the man did this time.” The statement was like a bear trap snapping shut.
Horace sighed. He had three more appointments, all routine by the look of them, although Mrs. Dare liked to talk. In her eighties, and with those salacious stories, he usually indulged her. She was a great old gal with a husky, smoker’s voice, the voice of a man he’d always thought, and a big, hearty, booming laugh.
This afternoon he had a golf date with some friends. For once the weather was perfect.
“Ah, what’s he done?” He put a smile into his voice although he didn’t feel it.
What the hell did she expect? They knew all the possibilities ahead of time—a better word than risks, as there were many rewards and trade-offs.
He was very thorough in preparing patients in what to expect. His professional reputation was riding upon it.
“He’s bought some bloody fishing camp up near Espanola!”
Oh, dear. This would call for some tact.
“Well, Mrs. Newell. The rejuvenation of a fifty-eight year-old man into a whole new body, the body of a thirty-five year-old, has its risks. I thought you guys talked about all this, in fact I know you did—we did—because I was there.”
He was there for at least some of it, guiding them through what he liked to call a process of mutual discovery. They must have discussed their plans privately. Apparently it hadn’t been mutual enough. They should have shared of themselves more.
The problem was a classic one—a lot of unspoken dreams, dreams on both sides, all lined up for afterwards. If only he’d known, he had turned down a few patients due to risky personality-types.
It was a question of having the maturity to handle it.
“Well, I’m not going up there.” She nattered on and he glanced at his watch. “Can you blame me? Argh. All them bugs. Fish, for crying out loud.”
She muttered away from the phone for a moment. He thought they had a small dog or something these days. Of course the thing would be right there in her lap.
“And that’s not the worst part.” She took a big breath and found her courage. “The man is insatiable. He pesters me all the time, and when I don’t give it to him, he goes off downtown and drinks beer all day. I have eleven grandchildren, for Christ’s sakes.”
“Well, yes, but you have to realize—” They had talked about all of this, at least Horace thought they had.
He could have sworn she understood, as well as Ed, every word of it. She had nodded intelligently in agreement and Ed seemed to be quite looking forward to it—the significance of which fact she had apparently missed.
“I think he’s going to strip bars.”
“Now, now, plenty of men indulge in a little beer and such. It’s nothing to be worried about. It’s just a little phase Ed’s going through.” He felt sheepish for saying it, but there was not much more he could do for the woman. “His regular, family doctor had him off alcohol for the last five or six years. He’s just enjoying life again.”
“Well, I shouldn’t have to put up with it.”
Horace repressed a snort. He really couldn’t blame her for being upset. She was fifty-nine years-old herself, and why she wasn’t interested in the treatment was beyond his comprehension. What older woman wouldn’t like to take twenty-plus years off her age?
But she hadn’t gone for it, and now wasn’t the time for the hard sell.
“I understand.” It was all he could do, to be there for her, lend a sympathetic ear and a shoulder to cry on if necessary.
He didn’t think it was the money. They had plenty of that by all accounts. Michelle didn’t want to do it for reasons unknown. She needed to overcome that.
Otherwise she had only herself to blame, if things didn’t work out.
He stood awkwardly and let it all sink in, one word at a time.
Approximately six months and a hundred and fifty thousand dollars later, Michelle Newell was the envy of her country-club set. With the body of a young girl, as she seemed very fond of saying, her tanned legs were as smooth as silk and cellulite-free, and that was saying something after what she’d had before. A few varicose veins in there for garnish hadn’t exactly helped.
Doctor Brooks had just finished up a round of golf at the exclusive Brentwood Golf and Country Club, and after putting his clubs away in the locker room, cut across the pool area to grab a quick vodka martini.
He was heading for a quiet weekend at home with Anne and the boys on what might be the last warm weekend of early autumn.
“So. I left the bastard.” Her mouth was an unattractive line. “You know what I did? I told him I wanted to have another kid—a little baby girl, one to have for all my very own. I figured we could re-decorate the spare bedroom as a cute little nursery, and all of a sudden he flipped out, just totally flipped out.”
She gulped at her drink.
“Honestly, I actually thought he was going to hit me, standing right there in front of me, all stinking of beer and shouting obscenities.” She rolled her eyes, and engaged the woman beside her in a look.
The lady patted her on the back of the hand.
He sighed, shoulders slumping a bit, sort of cringing inside, as he knew there must be more. Her eyes bored into his. He summoned up some moral reserves.
“I’m sorry to hear that. But you’re looking very well!”
She smiled so hard her eyes practically disappeared, a little pink in the whites he noticed. The three ladies, all of them high-maintenance types, looked like they’d been there a while, wearing bikinis that weighed an ounce each and cost a thousand bucks.
“Anyway, Doctor, thank you.” She raised her heavily-frosted mug.
If she was drinking Long Island Ice Teas, and it sure looked she was, then she really was on the loose.
“Well, ah, I’m sorry to, ah, hear about you guys, and if there’s anything else I can ever do—” He turned to go. “It was nice running into you. Nice meeting you ladies.”
They waved languid arms and studied their drinks.
He’d already forgotten their names. Hopefully, they might not remember his.
He looked at Michelle once more.
She winked and took a long swig from her mug. She swallowed, lifting her chin and holding his gaze. The mug hit the table with a thunk. Those ruby-red lips parted, her back arched and her breast heaved as she blew him a kiss.
“Here’s looking at you, kid!”
With a faint blush and the horrible feeling that Michelle Newell was staring at his backside the whole way, Doctor Horace Brooks turned around and got the hell out of there while the going was good.
His own much-needed drink could wait until he got home.
If you enjoyed this story, you might want to check out The Stud Farm which is available from Barnes & Noble as well as numerous other fine retailers.