The Conference – short story, first draft

Another first draft of another short story.  This one came to me a few days ago while I was driving somewhere.  I wish I could remember more specifically where, when, and also why I thought of this.  However, all that is meaningless unless you enjoy the story.  First draft, about 3,000 words.  

Sorry, Marie, only two questions at the end.

_________________________

The Conference

 513 W. Lehtonen Operating Room

 

Two men sat on opposite sides of a square, white table in a white room.  A third man stood across from an empty chair that occupied the fourth side of the table.  The standing man’s gray hair stuck upward in various directions from a difficult night’s sleep and heated, lengthy debates.  In other locations and offices scattered around the Bergen Hills Psychiatric Hospital, similar meetings with similar screaming matches were taking place.

The standing man glanced back and forth at the other two, one bald and one with brown hair that looked too young for the man’s age.  He silently stared and waited for a response from the standing man who continued to study a recent newspaper headline touting Dr. Antonio Moniz as winner of the 1949 Nobel Prize for Medicine for his procedure called a “leucotomy,” also known as a lobotomy.  Then he looked angrily at a spot of orange juice on the left sleeve of his white jacket.

“Dr. Phillips,” said the man standing, “please tell me you’re joking.”

The one with the brown hair stood as if his chair had ejected him.  “Disagreement is one thing, Dr. McBride, but that’s unprofessional and uncalled for!”

“Dr. Phillips, please relax.  My point is that I find your suggestion completely absurd.  Do you truly believe such a procedure would work for even five minutes?”

“I agree,” said the bald man.

“Dr. Green,” said Dr. Phillips, “nobody asked your opinion.”

“Let’s please remember,” said Dr. Green, “I was brought here specifically because of what I might contribute to the medical community.”

“Well so far, you haven’t contributed anything more than contradicting anything I’ve offered,” said Dr. Phillips.

“That’s not true,” said Dr. Green, scratching his bald head.

“You did it again!” said Dr. Phillips.

“Yes, but that’s only because – ”

“Gentleman,” interrupted Dr. McBride, still standing, eyes down on the square table instead of at the other two men, “I love your enthusiasm, I really do.  But if we don’t focus our energy and brain power, we will just drive each other nuts.”

“Too late,” said Dr. Phillips.  “I’ve had about enough of the both of you.”  He stepped from the table and towards the door.

“Dr. Phillips,” said Dr. McBride, “you know you’re not going anywhere.  Not until this is settled.  We’ve got people out there waiting for us to – ”

“Let them wait,” said Dr. Phillips, turning back to the table.  “I’ll stay, but I will not contribute another word until both of you apologize.”

“For what?” asked Dr. McBride, arms tight across his chest.

“For what?” repeated Dr. Green, arms also tight across his chest.

“For what?” cried Dr. Phillips, arms also tight across his chest and slowly sitting, slowly followed by the other two.  “For the comment in which you said you hoped I was joking in response to my perfectly reasonable suggestion.”

“Reasonable my ass,” said Dr. Green.

“You see?” Dr. Phillips stood again, arms still across his chest but turning towards Dr. McBride.  “Why should I put up with this nonsense?”

“Because you have to,” said Dr. McBride.  “We all have to, and let’s not pretend otherwise.”

“This is insane.”  Dr. Green turned towards the door to the very white room and yelled, “Nurse!  Nurse!”  In only a few seconds, a woman burst in.  “Can I get two aspirin?”

“Please keep your voices down,” she said.  “There are patients out here, and you’re scaring them.”

Dr. McBride looked her way, and with a wink he said, “I think there are patients in here too.”

She winked back.  “I’ll get you something better than aspirin.”  Then she closed the door behind her.

After three deep breaths, one for each of them, Dr. McBride said, “Can we all sit down now?”  They followed his lead and rested themselves in their soft, padded seats.  “Thank you.  Dr. Phillips, I apologize for my unprofessional comment.”

“Apology accepted.”  Dr. Phillips looked at Dr. McBride, then lilted his eyes towards his colleague to his right.

“Dr. Green,” said Dr. McBride, “will you please apologize to Dr. Phillips?”

Dr. Green sat up.  “Dr. Phillips.  I am sorry that your theory is unreasonable.”

Dr. Phillips rose again.  “Son of a bitch!”

“Dr. Phillips!” barked Dr. McBride.  “I do NOT like profanity at my meetings.”

“And I don’t like being insulted!”

Dr. McBride turned slightly to his left.  “Dr. Green, if you can’t offer more constructive criticism, I will have to consider replacing you on this committee.  Please keep in mind that in this building are many equally capable men as you.  But I chose the two of you because I thought you had something a little more significant to contribute.”  He rolled his neck, creating audible cracks.  “If I made a mistake, just say so.  I don’t mind starting all over if it leads to better results than I’m getting now.  So please, can we get past the petty bickering, or should I go out there and find another man better suited?”

Dr. Green cleared his throat.  “Dr. Phillips, I apologize.  Dr. McBride, I apologize.  From this point on, I will participate more congenially and more focused.”

“Thank you,” said Dr. McBride.

“Thank you,” said Dr. Phillips.

“Now, where were we?” asked Dr. McBride.

“Dr. Phillips wants to remove a man’s heart,” said Dr. Green.

Dr. Phillips let his head fall back and stared up at the ceiling.  “When you say it like that, it sounds crazy.  Context, please.  Context.”

“Please elaborate.”

“We are halfway through the twentieth century.  With the advancements in science and medicine, it makes perfect sense that we eventually try this.”

“So,” said Dr. McBride with a glance at Dr. Green, “you want to remove a man’s heart and replace it with another man’s heart?  Why?  You’re going to kill the man you take it from.”

“You take it from a man who only recently died.”

“Please explain,” said Dr. McBride.

“An accident victim.  Someone terminally ill.  Someone in a coma, brain-dead.”

“But what are the chances,” said Dr. Green, “that someone will die near enough to someone brain-dead from a car accident?”

“Well, you’ve got a two-percent chance of being in the same state,” said Dr. McBride.

“Ice?” said Dr. Green.

“Ice?” asked Dr. McBride.

“Ice!” said Dr. Phillips.

“Think about when a kid falls through the ice of a frozen lake,” Dr. Green continued.  “Hypothermia sets in.  We can only go about five minutes without oxygen before brain damage occurs.  But kids pulled out of frozen lakes have survived perfectly healthy after over fifteen minutes because of hypothermia.”

“There was a recent study about this concerning dogs,” said Dr. Phillips.  “Someone will eventually give this a try with humans, someone who is facing life or death, someone with nothing to lose.  Would you rather be part of the team that is out front on this, or would you rather read about it in a journal ten years from now and think about how that could have been us?”

The three men sat quietly, contemplating the last thought from Dr. Phillips, each still with arms tightly folded across each chest as if the personal consolation might bring about the best answer.  Each thinking, Am I crazy, or could this actually work?  Removing the heart from a living human, replacing it with that of a recently deceased human?  Transplanting a human heart?

Dr. McBride lifted his head to the others.  “Shouldn’t we try this first with animals?”

“Done,” said Dr. Green.

“When?” asked Dr. McBride.

“Dr. Alexis Carrel, 1912, dogs,” said Dr. Phillips.

“What’s with all the dogs?” asked Dr. McBride.

“Won the Nobel Prize for Medicine,” said Dr. Green.

“I want a Nobel Prize,” said Dr. Phillips.

“How original,” mumbled Dr. Green.

“How do I not remember that?” asked Dr. McBride.  “You’d think if I’m leading this team I would know that.  I apologize.”

“Not necessary,” said Dr. Green.  “We’re all tired and hungry.  Let’s get something to eat, maybe reconvene later tonight or tomorrow.”

“I’ve got surgery tomorrow,” said Dr. Phillips.  “Lobotomy, and quite frankly I’m a bit worried.”

“Why?” asked Dr. McBride.

“All this talk of transplants, and now I’m thinking of a brain operation.  Next thing you know I’ll want to transplant a brain.  I mean, who knows where this might lead?”

“One step at a time,” said Dr. McBride.  “Hey.  Did you say it’s a lobotomy?  What’s the quality of life after that?  Really just like a vegetable, right?  That would be an excellent time to experiment.  We’ve certainly got enough candidates.”

“Thousands done each year,” said Dr. Green.  “Personally, I don’t like it.  I don’t think doctors are fully aware of what they’re doing.”

“Thanks for your confidence,” said Dr. Phillips.

“Sorry, but that’s not what I meant.  I’m sure yours will go fine, but I think we’re leaping from A to M without regard for the letters between.”

“Why did I stop at M?” asked Dr. Green.  “I should have said from A to Z.”

“Gentlemen, one problem at a time,” said Dr. McBride.  “I know this sounds crazy – ”

“Not like we haven’t heard that before,” said Dr. Green.

“If we can find another patient either in line for a lobotomy, or perhaps comatose,” said Dr. Phillips, “we can take the heart from one and transplant it to the other.”

“How about we start calling you Dr. Mengele?” said Dr. Green.

“I know what you’re thinking,” said Dr. McBride, “and I don’t blame you, but let’s face facts.  Either we’re going to do this or someone else eventually will.  And if we’re going to do this, we’ve got to have the best conditions possible.  Controlled conditions.  Instead of waiting around for an accident victim, we could have two living, healthy bodies, except not mentally healthy.  But relatively healthy.”

“More important,” said Dr. Phillips, “a controlled environment.  Two bodies on side-by-side operating tables, moving a heart from one to the other in the best possible conditions.”

“Maybe Dr. Frankenstein instead of Mengele,” said Dr. Green.

“What?” said Dr. McBride.  “We’ve gone this far with suggestions, how much further can we go?  If we’re going to Hell, we may as well be remembered.”

“Spoken like a true serial killer,” said Dr. Green.

“Well, if we have two bodies,” said Dr. Phillips, “let’s just switch hearts.  It doubles our chance of success.  If one fails, we might claim success with the other.”

“But there’s still the failure,” said Dr. McBride.

“Let’s be honest,” said Dr. Phillips.  “If we said a lobotomy patient died, nobody is going to care.  But if we say a lobotomy patient was about to die, but we used the heart of a dying patient to save him, everyone will care, and we will be heroes.”

“You won’t have that on your conscience?” asked Dr. McBride.

“Sure I will,” said Dr. Phillips, “but the success will far outweigh that on my conscience.”

“Mine too,” said Dr. Green.

“And let’s be even more honest,” Dr. Phillips added, “nobody outside this building really has a clue what happens in here.  I swear I could kill either one of you right now, claim one of those patients out there did it, and nobody would even blink.”

The other two men exchanged a quick glance, then looked at Dr. Phillips without expression.  His face drooped a little.  “Sorry.”

Dr. McBride sat back, letting his head ease enough to look up at the ceiling.  He was in the process of sitting up again, about to speak, when a knock at the door’s glass distracted him.  The door opened.

“Lunch,” called a nurse before closing the door and proceeding to the next meeting room.

As the other two stood, Dr. McBride said, “Gentlemen, before you leave, let’s get something straight.  We talk to nobody about this.  They’ve got their own projects to eventually reveal, and we’ve got ours.  Let’s get lunch, but we speak of this to nobody, and we pick it up where we left off when we reconvene.  Agreed?”

The other two nodded so.  A nurse held open the door to their meeting room, and the three men headed back to their private rooms for lunch and meditation to process all they had discussed.  Although each man thought in different directions, approached the suggested operation from different points of view, the one common thought among them was “crazy.”

_____________________

An hour later, two men returned to the same meeting room.  The nurse closed the door behind her after making sure everything was in place.

“Where’s Dr. Phillips?” asked Dr. Green.

“He got called away.  That lobotomy for tomorrow, emergency situation, had to be done today.”

“Dammit,” said Dr. Green.  “I thought we were really getting somewhere.  This is going to set us back a bit.”

“Or,” said Dr. McBride, “the opposite.”

“How do you mean?”

“Now we’ve got one lobotomy patient.  We likely won’t have to wait for than the end of the week before we’ve got another.”  Dr. McBride paused.  “I’m going to check the schedule.”  Before he reached the door, a nurse opened it.  “Can you see if there are any lobotomies scheduled for tomorrow?”

“Or later today,” added Dr. Green.

The nurse studied both men.  “Uh huh.  I’ll get on that right away.”  She closed the door but not without a smirk and a smile.

“She’s the sassy one,” said Dr. Green.  “I like that.  Short and sassy.”

“Just be careful this time.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Remember what happened the last time you had a liking for a nurse?”

“No,” said Dr. Green.

“No?”

“No.”

“I believe she was transferred,” said Dr. McBride.

“Voluntarily?”

“Not sure.  I’ll have to look into that when we’re done with this.”

“Unnecessary,” said Dr. Green.  “I’d rather not know.”

_____________________

Two men, startled by a door opening, rose quickly from their chairs at a square table on which they had both fallen asleep after hours of intense debate.  They looked up confused, but only for a second, as Dr. Phillips returned from the operation but in a wheelchair pushed by the sassy nurse.

“Wow,” said Dr. McBride.  “Surgery is over that fast?”

“No,” the nurse said.  “He just wanted to take a little power nap before surgery, to calm him a bit.  That’s all.  Surgery is in about a half hour, but he’ll be useless for a while.  Being asleep and all.”

“He is useless to us until tomorrow,” complained Dr. McBride.

“Yes, he is,” said the nurse.

“Thanks, nurse,” said Dr. McBride.  “That’ll be all.  We’ll take it from here.”

“I gave him something to, uh, relax,” said the nurse.

“I’d like to give you something to – ”

“Dr. Green!” shouted Dr. McBride.

“Something,” continued Dr. Green, “like my great thanks for your help with our colleague.”  Dr. Green wrinkled his nose at Dr. McBride while Dr. Phillips slept deeply enough to make others jealous.

“I’m afraid he’s going to be useless for a while,” said the nurse.  “I’ll be outside if you need me.”  As she stepped out, she knew the two men were watching her short, white nurse’s dress and stockings.  Once outside the room, she turned quickly enough to catch Dr. Green’s eyes following her.  He then quickly looked down at the table.

“You idiot,” said Dr. McBride.

“We all have a weakness,” said Dr. Green.

“True,” said Dr. McBride.

More seconds than usual passed while each man watched the slow inhales and exhales of Dr. Phillips, asleep in a wheelchair.

“Well,” said Dr. Green.  “What do we do now?”

“Well,” said Dr. McBride, “I‘ve been thinking about this transplant idea with the two patients on tables in the OR.  I’m worried that it violates the Hippocratic Oath.”

“Okay, I’ll give you two things,” said Dr. Green.  “First, like you said earlier today, nobody will know what happens in here.  And oddly enough, it was Hippocrates who first suggested and even successfully attempted the first transplant.”  He waited for a response.  “So, like, I think it’s like a sign or something.”  He still waited for a response.

“Really?  A sign?”  Dr. McBride watched Dr. Green lose his smile.  “How the hell did I get stuck with you on my team?”

“That’s not very nice,” said Dr. Green.  “I don’t think I want to be on your team anymore.”  Dr. Green stood, took a step towards the door, but then stayed in place while keeping his eyes on the sleeping Dr. Phillips.  Outside the glass door, the sassy nurse was watching while a taller nurse stepped closer to her.

“You think we need to go in there?” asked the taller one.

“Nah,” said the shorter one.  “He’s threatened to leave a few times but always sits his ass back down again.”

“You think it’s working so far?”

The sassy one moved her head a little to the right, a little left, back again.  “I think so.  Was a great idea, though.  Giving them those lab coats.  They really think they’re doctors.”

“I love how they move about,” said the taller one.  “Shows they’re paying attention.  They’re doing a great job mocking some of the mannerisms I see around here all day.”

“Yeah,” said the sassy one, “but it’s hard for them to move around in those straight jackets.”

“If it weren’t for those jackets, they would have kicked the hell out of each other by now.”

The sassy one looked at her watch.  “You’re on.  I’m punching out and going home.”

“G’night.”  The taller one adjusted her nurse’s cap, found a word search puzzle book and parked herself on a stool from which she could watch two men in straight jackets arguing about some kind of nonsense while a third man, with a strong enough barbiturate to knock out a horse running through his veins, was finding more peace than anyone else in the Bergen Hills Psychiatric Hospital.

__________________________

Question 1:  At what point did you either suspect or possibly know that these were not doctors but patients at the psychiatric hospital?

Question 2:  I wrote this as if the dialogue is what these men were actually saying.  However, it could be argued that they only believe they were saying such important things while, in reality, they were just babbling like fools.  Which way to you prefer to think?

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10 Responses to The Conference – short story, first draft

  1. ksbeth says:

    1. when they asked for the aspirin, i kind of began to wonder.
    2. babbling revealed at the would be good, kind of a twilight zone type of ending.
    3. good stuff.

  2. aFrankAngle says:

    Off topic … but I know you will enjoy this one … http://afrankangle.wordpress.com/2013/12/16/on-palaver/ … meanwhile, I’m dealing with the FP swamp factor. … Reminder …. Holiday party on Saturday into Sunday … After all, there will be something with your name on it … and your readers are welcome to attend and get a grab bag!

  3. Loved this one, great storytelling. Didn’t really suspect until the nurse offered something better than asprin.

    • brainsnorts says:

      thanks very much. i didn’t start out with this ending in mind, but as i continued, i realized what might work. then i had to double back to make some adjustments, such as the “arms across the chest” which caused me to make other changes so they were not doing anything with their hands at all. at that time, when a heart transplant had not yet happened, maybe someone would have been considered “nuts.” and of course, “nuts” is relative.

      thanks for reading.

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