"In every house where I come I will enter only for the good of my patients, keeping myself far from all intentional ill-doing and all seduction and especially from the pleasures of love with women or with men, be they free or slaves."
-- Hippocratic Oath
The soon-to-be patient's father must have been running to get to me, because he's covered in sweat by the time he arrives.
"Doctor, please come. The plan . . . is . . . starting."
"Sit down, man." I glance him over; he's breathing so hard that I think he may not be able to make it through this part of the performance, and he is absolutely essential. "Do you have asthma? I'd be happy to give you something for that."
"No, I'm just a little nervous." This, I suspect, is a masterful work of understatement.
"Your wrist please." I feel his pulse. (You can tell a great deal about someone's health from his pulse.) Hmm, 180 BPM!
So I give him a propranolol tablet, and we are on our way.
The father is now functional, almost composed, by the time we arrive at the home. I have two cryo-packs (in case the subject manages to remove more than one salvageable part), two liters of tissue-safe disinfectant, a vacuum-seal bag, several scalpels for tidying up what I fear may be a very ragged wound, a tourniquet, and a laser cauterizing kit. This is everything that is medically essential, and it all fits (very snugly) into an ordinary emergency bag, which itself fits comfortably into the trunk of my little Geely subcompact car.
My goals at this point are arguably beyond the ordinary, so I've also tucked a few other things into my bag: two tissue transfer authorization forms; a combined pen, physician's seal, and biometric identification kit (one mustn't forget that); and two syringes. One is filled with a synthesized box jellyfish venom, which causes not only pain but a tremendous sense of impending doom, according to the medical literature. The other syringe -- the one with the long intrathecal needle on end -- is filled with omega-conotoxin, which I can say with some pride that I extract and process from my own cone snails and which may well make the patient more comfortable (if schizophrenic). Neither compound is likely be detected by any toxicology screen performed in a backwater such as ours.
I realize that these last articles may not seem much like tools befitting a man dedicated to easing suffering, but physicians are members of the community at large, and they sometimes must cause the smallest amount of discomfort for the greater cause of humanity. And from an ethical perspective, I see no great dilemma in helping to situate someone in a state of mind conducive to him making a generous decision.
* * *
"From a dog's point of view his master is an elongated and abnormally cunning dog."
-- Mabel L. Robinson, writer
He's sharpening his knife when I arrive, which means we are on schedule, ahead of schedule, actually.
"What seems to be the problem, friend? Your father told me you've hurt yourself."
I'm talking down to him now, patronizing him, but in a way he isn't quite subtle enough to consciously realize. Still, most psychology is manipulation of the subconscious.
"Ah, Doc, you old goat." He glares at me -- the surrogate father figure -- with a look of resentment that could only be described as adolescent. "I'll live."
He's already sliced his hand -- well, it's still his for the time being -- and I'm wondering how much, if any, nerve damage I'm going to need to repair. "I don't doubt it, but would you mind if I had a look?"
"I'm busy." He clamps down the pincer into the locked position as he says it and practically leaps towards the kennel. This is moving quickly.
I follow him, trying to keep up. He isn't supposed to be acting like this. Where's the governor in this man? Has he no sense at all? How much has he been drinking? I'm wondering if I should try to sit him down for another drink -- this one laced with a small dose of intox-o-block. He's unsteady, and I'm starting to worry about the cut. Lǎogǒu looks up and sees the subject approach. Really? Now? I can imagine what Lǎogǒu is thinking. "What are you planning?" I need to keep him talking.
"Ask the wife." He's smiling, and I recognize his smile for what it is. On some level he must be relishing this. He is willing himself towards self-destruction, and he doesn't slow down at all as he says it. "She wants dinner, and dinner she shall have."
I look back in the direction of the father. Stall him, damn it! I need more time. I speak through gritted teeth, but he understands.
"Son, I'll get something. You're in no state . . . "
That's the best he's got! 'I'll get something!' How is that supposed to help? I feel for the phone in my pocket and, without exposing it, send off a text message to the surgeon, fingers feeling for the little bumps on the keys: Schedule changed!! Need OR ASAP! ETA 30 minutes!!!
"'In no state!' Fine words from a damned betrayer!" The subject's speech is slurred, but so slightly that only a trained expert would notice.
I look to Lǎogǒu. I'm sorry, friend. It isn't going to work. Does he know what I'm thinking? I'm wondering if I should just knock the subject out and remove the relevant parts while he's unconscious. I could hack off a few of the more marketable pieces and make it look like a fairly run-of-the-mill chop job. I could even gently persuade him to authorize the transfers. Then all I would need to do would be to clear the subject's memory of the event with the administration of a strong dose of midazolam and a few concussions (for good measure), and there would be enough money to pay for the girl's education and a decent side of ham for the wife.
No one here would see anything, not when blindness is in their best interests, and the subject is too addled to piece anything together, even if he were a credible witness, which he isn't. Still, there is a chance, however small, that someone might figure out that two plus two does not equal five, but if this works out, everything will be perfect, our innocence beyond dispute and well-documented by the camera phone that the subject's wife has perched on her windowsill.
"Relax, man! He's your father," Lǎogǒu speaks, interrupting my thoughts, and I watch something register in the subject's brain. This must be traumatic for him; it can't happen more than a few times a decade.
"So you do talk?!" The subject is taken aback.
I glance down at my quietly buzzing phone: OR ready in fifteen minutes. Patient billing information incorrect. Life support terminated. :-( U OWE ME!!
"You're being silly. Dogs can't talk." Good! Discombobulate him. It shouldn't take much.
"You're . . . you're worth a fortune!"
"Er . . . I'm glad we can agree on something, but listen now, I don't know what you're thinking, but my advice is . . . don't." Reverse psychology? Are we really sinking to that level?
"Doc, what would he fetch?"
"He has but three legs. I don't think he'll fetch anything, but why don't you ask him?" I hate puns, but I know Lǎogǒu wouldn't forgive me for missing one as obvious as that.
"No, I mean his meat. Isn't it worth thousands?" Ah, the predictable machinations of the hopelessly befuddled!
"I doubt it. He is simply too old. His meat would have quite little intramuscular fat." It is easier to feed a baby with a bit of finesse than to ram a tube down his throat. I learned that while running a pediatrics ward in Yueyang.
"Huh? Gibberish, Doc!"
"Where's my food? Where's my dinner?" The wife is adept at riling the subject, from extraordinary amounts of practice, I suspect.
"I'll show you dinner!" The subject is waving the knife around, and I consider the possibility that the blade will fly free of his questionable grip. I start visualizing its potential trajectories, realizing that my head, visualizations and all, may well be in line with one of them. But the risk is minimal: the ellipse being carved in the air is small, and the major axis is not aimed in my direction. What's more likely is that hard steel and the subject's (comparatively) soft foot will perchance to meet, and the collective troubles of a small team of conspirators will all be for naught. How are we going to stage this again?
"Go ahead, take another swing. Come on." She just does not know when to quit, does she?
The subject stares down at Lǎogǒu, who in turn stares at me. We're ready, I nod. He understands.
"You stare, pretty man. What do you see?" Let's keep this moving, old friend.
"Son, don't do this, please. He's probably worth more alive than dead." The voice of the subject's father is flat, almost toneless, but the panic in his eyes belies his phlegmaticness. He's just too weak to do anything more, either that or I accidentally gave him tubocurarine (blasted discount medical supply house seems to always be mislabeling one thing for another), in which case, I wish I'd brought a ventilator. Such is a problem to be addressed later, but never matter, the words should still have the desired effect.
The subject grabs Lǎogǒu by the neck. He winces as only an old dog can and stares up at the blade.
"I'll show you what he's worth." As the subject says this, I note his posture, which is both confident and commanding in the most overtly arrogant of ways. I suspect he views himself as being the master of his domain -- very much in control of both his actions and environment. Almost exactly as planned! An analyst might examine this delusion in some depth and deconstruct it -- determine its origins even -- but I am more concerned about matters mechanical -- the almost that stands between failure and success. The angle is all wrong. I need more forearm. I'm trying to think of a way to communicate this, so I make a slashing motion just below my elbow, which only Lǎogǒu understands to be anything more than me scratching my arm. He snaps at the subjects digits and squirms the smallest amount. Now, that's much better. I offer a suppressed smile.
"What you're about to do, it's risky. Why don't you put that down and worry about this later, if at all. Look at me and listen to reason. The dog is going nowhere, and we will live to dine another day." I say it and sound warm, grandfatherly even. That should do it!
"I'll look at you. I'll look at you. You look at me!" I am deliberately impassive. The subject must relish his perceived power before he can act decisively. He is hesitating though. Impulsive, destructive, but effeminate. I step forward, one carefully measured movement. The window of opportunity is about to close. Act now!
"I think, my friend, you are about to lose some small part of your beauty. " I know Lǎogǒu does not mean these words for the subject, who has already made his decision, even if he isn't quite conscious of as much. They are last words -- at least the last of Lǎogǒu's words I will hear -- and I recognize them as being just that. The wife's phone will not catch them. They are not meant for it or her or the audience of CCTV 250's China's Funniest Idiots, which will almost certainly see an edited version of the footage, but I will remember them, nonetheless.
"Now watch this!"
Where did I put those cryo-packs, anyway?
* * *
"Do not tell fish stories where the people know you; but particularly, don't tell them where they know the fish."
-- Mark Twain
That's all I've heard about what happened, and it isn't much. I wish I could tell you more.
It was a few weeks later when when the dress arrived in on my doorstep. It was red silk and old fashioned -- a qíp´o that fit me perfectly. I still remember the note that came with it.
Have you been practicing your English? Well, it's time to practice a little more. I seem to have gotten myself into a stew, and I don't think I'll get out of it except on a spoon! Don't blame your mother. This old hunk of meat was nearly past his expiration date, and besides, it was more my idea than hers. Don't blame anyone. Blame is a waste of time. Don't even blame your father's (alleged!) beauty. Such a thing is only a curse for monsters and the mindless. The Singing Fool should be gone by now. I only wish I could have seen his exit, but mine was, as a matter of necessity, earlier, and there was no chance to view the final act by tarrying in the wings of this old stage. As for words of wisdom, I'm hard-pressed to think of any of my own, but maybe these will help. They aren't mine.
"He for whom life's journey is over, free from sorrow, free from pain, who has all the knots unfastened, suffering knows not again."
Bon appétit and enjoy the dress, pretty girl!
Those were his last words to me, and that's how I'll remember him -- the friend who bought me the dress, the friend who sent my father away, the friend who paid for me to get the hell out of the countryside -- and of all the things I think about when he comes to mind, none can compete with them. He was most valuable friend I've ever had, dead or alive, and at the end of it all, he was the not-so-secret ingredient in my mother's county-famous three-day talking-dog soup.
* * *
But what do you care? The clack-clack of six-inch acrylic platform shoes fast approaches. Your friend returns, and you've ogling to do! Pretend I'm invisible -- it shouldn't be difficult. I want to hear the rest of her story now. Maybe she's got something interesting to say -- something you'll never believe.