I kind of don’t believe this is happening. I’m at the hospital downtown, the big one, I’m wearing a backless gown, and I’m sitting upright in my fourth waiting room of the day. I’m here instead of my job interview because my car wouldn’t take me anywhere else. Something urgent in my chart, or at least that’s what I’m guessing. I’m a little mad I missed my interview but I’m more scared of what I’m here for.
I feel fine but everyone is really not acting normal. After a few minutes alone during which I nervously bite the skin off my thumbs and forefingers and pick my toes, the door in front of me opens and I see a lot of bald, greasy heads and mops of blonde hair sprouting from white coats. It looks like one thing, one doctorganism. From the center of the mass a single doctor is ejected and she enters the examination room.
She pushes the door closed behind her, piling the other doctors up against each other in the hall. She turns to me, looking breathless and excited to talk to me.
“Hey, I’m Diane Rushdie, M.D.”
“So, I read your chart. None of the others thought I should say anything, because what’s the point, but I’m here to tell you there’s something very wrong with you.”
It isn’t the best start to a friendship, in my opinion.
“What is that?”
I’m thinking hey, big fella, you probably have cancer. Or some rare blood disease. You got some deadly thing and now she’ll tell you and you’ll have to divvy up the rest of your years or months and say your goodbyes and all that.
She says, “In about ten minutes you’re going to split apart, and a person who’s been using you as a host body will emerge from your husk.”
Which, obviously I’m not super expecting to hear. So I ask for clarification, and yeah, what she says still sounds a lot like what she just said a moment before:
“A different person is going to come out of you in about ten minutes and you’ll just be a pile of flesh on the floor.”
It’s pretty hard to take.
“What the fuck?”
“Basically inside of you there’s another person and he or she is going to be taking over the space you occupy in the universe and you’ll be dead, in about ten minutes.”
This is a joke, I’ve decided, a real big joke. I’ve never heard of this disease before. Now, I guess academically I’m aware that there are probably thousands of diseases I have no idea exist, and a doctor probably has a slightly better idea about something like that, but a person having a condition where they open up like a pea pod and instead of organs and bones another person comes out? Right? I mean, this is a joke.
“Wait a minute,” I say, remembering something. I know her game. This is some candid camera show and I’ve got proof.
“You said your name was Rushdie, right?”
“Yeah, Diane Rushdie.”
“And now you’re rushing my death along. This is just some prank, isn’t it?”
“Oh. Haha, yes, I could see how you would think that.” Rushdie laughs again. “Haha. Unfortunately, no, your death is very much going to happen very soon here. I have the chart that shows the parasite is only going to wait a few more minutes to bust from the casing that is you.”
Let me pause here to interject while this is happening to me, that I happen to think laughing at a patient with a terminal illness is rude, so there’s a part of me that at this point still pretty much believes it’s still possible this is all a joke. So I say:
“And if I open the door and ask any one of those doctors out there what they think, they’ll say the same thing you said?“
“Oh yes, we all discussed it,” Dr. Rushdie says. “None of them wanted me to tell you.”
“Maybe they didn’t want you to tell me because it’s not true, what you’re saying is just some weird made up diagnosis and that’s not something a real doctor would tell me?”
“Hmm, I hadn’t thought of that. Why don’t you open the door and ask one of them like you said?”
“Okay.” I stand up and I open the door a crack. They’re all still out there, milling around, scratching their heads, mumbling, waiting.
“Which of you have seen my charts?”
Each cell in the the mass of doctors all answer in the affirmative, either by raising their hands, nodding, or saying “Yeah.” They’d seen what the machines had printed out on my chart.
“Is someone about to jump out of me?”
Eyes slide away from mine, faces turn down, feet shuffle. I close the door. I sigh. I turn around.
“So you’re telling me, Dr. Rushdie, that I have an extremely incurable and imminent deadly disease; one that ends my life by spawning another not alive right now person, and I only have about eight minutes to live, is that right?”
The doctor holds up a hand, her thumb and forefinger together in a circle. So that’s it. I’m over.
I think of...
“You don’t happen to have my family out there, ready to run through the door and say their goodbyes, do you?”
She shakes her head. “In fact, in cases like these most families choose to accept the new inner person as a part of their family. Sure they’ll remember you, but there’ll be someone else to take your place.”
I start being unable to breathe. More symptoms.
“Is this…” I stammer, “part of it?”
Rushdie checks my breathing and my pulse.
“No,” she says, “I think you are just really scared and angry. But think about it like this – the mourning period for your family will be extremely short.”
“I don’t care, I won’t get to see any of that!” I shout at her, “And the guy who comes out of me is probably going to be some douchebag!”
“All of the inner people I’ve ever met have been really polite, really good,” Dr. Rushdie says.
“Yeah, well. Maybe mine will be a douchebag just to break the pattern. Also it came from me and I obviously wasn’t good enough to live out the rest of my life.”
She pats my head.
“Listen, it’s not your fault that this is happening to you. This illness doesn’t happen to bad people or to good people: it just happens. Nobody knows why, or why the inner people always immediately claim personhood and seek asylum in the nearest church. How they always think to do that will never make sense to me. I suppose it’s a defense mechanism.”
Like cymbals crashing over my ears it hits me I have no time. No time to eventually get to the dreams I’d had my entire life, no time to finally get around to directing a film, writing a book or even getting a good job and not living off my parents for once. I am six or seven minutes from the end. I decide even if it is a short amount of time, I don’t want to spend it here, with this doctor and her smug professionalism.
“What’s it like outside today?”
“It’s very cold,” Dr. Rushdie says.
“Thanks. I’m gonna go now.”
I get up off the examining table, hearing the sweaty crinkle of the paper peeling from my butt for the last time. That particular sound I don’t think I’ll miss.
I open the door and squeeze into the hallway with the doctors.
“Dead and someone else in five minutes here, make way,” I say, and the sea of medical professionals parts. I run for the elevator.
The elevator down is slow. I think about looking at my hands, trying to take them in one last time, but thinking about what’s inside them just makes me sad. I want to look only at the numbers changing, which is still one of the worst ways to feel your life slip away. By the time I reach the ground floor (finally!) I probably only have a minute or two left.
I rush past people in the waiting room, people in queue to be treated for various ailments. As I flow past I imagine trading with them, trading what’s wrong with me for what’s wrong with them. I’ll take cancer, gladly. I’ll raise a tapeworm like it’s my own. Faces follow me, eyes lit up with interest — there goes a lab animal, a mad ape on the loose! I push through the double doors and start pounding the pavement.
Now I’m in the road, sprinting, blue asbestos gown flapping behind me, bare ass a beacon for every honking pervert. I’m going to die, and all that’s left to decide is where. I pull the gown the rest of the way off, for speed, and lumber toward where I can see sunlight busting through tree cover.
I stop, gasping, and stumble into the circle of sunlight. My feet are numb. Goosebumps tickle every pore. I feel my mother’s touch on my face. My skin starts to itch, starts to boil. Cars swerve around me, and people shout out windows that I’ll get myself killed and to put on some damn pants. When will it happen?
I’m still here.
A sparrow knocks a piece of bread out of another’s mouth. No, it’s a popcorn kernel.
The sun comes out from behind the clouds. I look directly into it and give birth.
“Excuse me,” came a voice from behind Carolyn as she walked on her way to return books to the library. She turned. It was a naked woman, covered in blood.
“Excuse me,” the woman said. “I am a person. I think I just killed someone. I’m looking for the nearest church. I’d like to seek asylum until things are figured out. Do you think you could point me there?”
Carolyn couldn’t, but she could scream, so she did that.