Wilson let the CA fall to his desk as he sat down. It clattered toward the edge, but he made no move to catch it.
He’d adapted to it, but every so often he was reminded how strange it was having a computer diagnose his patients for him. When he’d trained with the thing, it all seemed wrong. All those years of classical medicine, and now he was reduced to a glorified sentinel for the state. Licensed to speak for software and prescribe on its behalf. That was pretty much it.
There was opposition at first. Could a computer do better than a doctor? The traditional thinking had always been, certainly not. That is, until Kiljoy and Oliphant. Wilson remembered the day, twenty long years ago. They published a groundbreaking paper: a randomized control trial over fifty hospitals with the Sal Clinical Assistant. Adverse events dropped to nil, and with that, evidence-based medicine made the medical profession obsolete. SalCA was the upgrade.
There had been a push to put Sal in drones, but that was a step too far. People still wanted to be seen by doctors. That much, at least, was sacred. And so, Wilson and his colleagues held onto their jobs.
Some of them at least. The scared ones. The brave ones were a different story. Wilson remembered watching her walk out the door. She wanted him to go with her. France was holding out against the Sal. Something about French medicine or French pigheadedness, depending on which papers you read. But Wilson didn’t know French, he couldn’t (wouldn’t) go. She couldn’t speak French either, but where he was a practitioner of medicine, she spoke it fluently. Lived it.
They met on rotation at Maimonides. Her Midwestern accent said Missouri or Illinois. She embodied small town medicine in the big city. He was born and raised in Brooklyn. Never even left—well, except for that high school trip to Washington back when it was still a beautiful place. They talked over too much coffee and too little sleep, got close. And he became her tour guide in the city. He showed her the streets just as she showed him medicine in ways the university never had.
She taught him how to touch a patient. Not in the physical sense, though that was a part of it. She taught him how to dig deep and find the place where they needed help the most. She showed him how to heal with his heart, not just with his brain. Then she showed him her heart, sweeping in its scale like her Midwestern plains, and open like them too. She reminded him to put the patient first. The school taught him that, but he’d learned it from her. Every time he did something right, he did it because of her.
He wasn’t strong enough to go with her when she left. She held out to the end and in the end he’d had to finish it. For her sake, he told himself. He didn’t know why she’d pushed for it, waited for him to say yes. Maybe she’d seen something in him that he didn’t see in himself. Thinking back, that was probably the case. She saw the best in everyone. But the best in him was still an embryo. Barely formed. A few years out of residency, and he couldn’t walk, let alone run. And so in the end she ran alone. Or, without him at least.
He often thought about her. Wondered what happened when the Clinical Assistant became la Médicale Auxiliare a few years later. Sometimes, he imagined she’d given up like him. Practicing in some rundown French clinic halfway around the world. Feeling as wrong as he did. Feeling as alone as he did. But that didn’t fit with Lena.
Wilson felt a vibration in his pocket.
“Doctor Wilson,” he held the handset to his ear.
“Who’s this?” Wilson replied.
“Marta.” Her voice felt cold against his ear. Wilson immediately understood. He’d expected the call, but not so soon.
“She needed it.” The CA had shown that Jordan was pregnant. Due in seven months, with a little bit of change. With that, she needed the insulin even more, and Wilson had obliged with a third vial.
“If she needs it, she can pay for it.”
Wilson felt his nails digging into the palm of his hand. “How did you know?” Wilson slumped in his chair.
“Spot checking. Standard procedure since last month.”
Right, Wilson thought. I forgot.
“Listen Wilson, you’re a nice guy. Too nice maybe. You keep going down this road… let’s just say you’re on thin ice.”
“For what? Taking care of my p—”
“—that was two-thousand dollars worth of insulin, Robert,” Marta cut him off.
“They were samples,” Wilson said, “back in the day, we did what was ri—”
“—I don’t care about back in the day, that’s not how we do things anymore. One more breach and I’ll have your license suspended.”
“What do you care about more? People or money?”
“The doctor asks that,” Marta laughed.
“I don’t make as much as you think.”
Marta laughed, then answered. “Money.”
“Marta, I’m done talking to you.”
Her voice shifted. “Okay Doctor Wilson, I trust I’ll see you at the end of the month, and not sooner.”
Wilson cringed at the artificial sweetener in her voice, but said nothing.
Wilson hung up the phone before she could finish. He stared at it on his desk for too long. Sometimes, he thought if he concentrated long enough, it would ring. He would pick it up and Lena’s sweet—truly sweet—voice would fill his ears. But that was too much to hope, too much to dream. This was real life.
He picked up the phone and quickly dialled a familiar number.
“Hey Ren, the usual for delivery?”
“Home or office?”
Wilson looked at the stack of papers on his desk, “office.”
– Stay tuned for Part 3 next Tuesday, May 27, 2014. –