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The Singularity, Chapter Five, Diagnostics


  11:59:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 3066 words  
Categories: The Singularity

The Singularity, Chapter Five, Diagnostics

?You don?t sleep, do you?? Claire asked, blinking at Kevin through the light from the rising sun as he unlocked the front gate.

?Isn?t that a little pot and kettle, all things considered?? he asked with a smile, opening the gate for her.

?Me? I?m only up because I?m sharing my hotel room with my intern- two queens, by the way- and his mother must have been a locomotive, and his father some species of bear with particularly occluded nostrils.?

?I?d watch that nature channel mating special.?

?I didn?t really sleep after he fell asleep watching Cinemax.?


?Yeah. But he had the remote, and it didn?t seem worth the risk of him deciding to rent some motel porn if I rocked the boat.?

?In context, that sounds like a terrible euphemism,? Kevin said, chuckling to himself.

?It does. I may not be able to go back to my hotel room.?

?Well, if it helps, we aren?t at capacity; you could always stay at the clinic. There?s no turn down service, but our coffee is slightly better than motel coffee- though only slightly.?

?Yeah, I honestly figured I?d just get coffee and a bagel or something, but sleepy, small coastal town, nothing?s open, yet.?

?You probably just missed Cannon Beach Bakery. Make an excellent Danish Kringle. Raspberry?s my favorite, though the Marionberry?s pretty good. Our day nurse, Betty, picks up our standing order on her way in.?

?Nurse Betty? Like the Zelwegger movie??

?I have no idea. As a rule, I take some ketamine after hearing anything about Renée Zelwegger, to keep myself in the dark about her and her movies.?

?Is that legal??

?I?m a doctor. I can prescribe what I please. Can?t I??

?I don?t think so.?

?I need a better lawyer- or at least one with a law degree.?

?Crap,? she said.

?Your lawyer isn?t credentialed either??

?No. Well, I?m a professor, so I don?t have one, slash couldn?t afford one if I ever did get sued. But I forgot the reason I have an intern-?

?Other than to share a hotel room with him??

?It?s completely innocent,? she said, flustered, ?but he?s supposed to carry my expensive, fragile, and excruciatingly heavy equipment from the car.?

?I could help with that. I tend not to get enough exercise, and I relish the opportunity to impress women by lifting heavy things.?

?Maybe we could find someplace quiet later and you could open jars and kill spiders for me,? she said, smiling coyly and turning back towards where she was parked, on the opposite side of the gate.

Kevin followed. ?Slow down, cowgirl; I don?t open jars for just anybody. Maybe start small, lunch, conversation, and, you know, if it happens organically- say you need some banana peppers for your sandwich...?

?I love banana peppers,? she said. ?But even that might be too forward. How about some of that not as bad as motel coffee you were bragging about earlier, and I?ll let you pop the top off the creamer for me.?

?After I lift your heavy, sensitive equipment?? he turned red and scrunched up his face, ?Could you imagine that I?d phrased that so it didn?t sound like a quote from a porn movie.?

?Sure- though you?ll almost certainly have to extend me the same courtesy at some point in the next few days.?

?That?s fair. In fact, I?m declaring blanket immunity for accidental pornisms.?

?Deal. But we shouldn?t tell my intern; he?d abuse the privilege.? She reached into the driver?s side of her rental, and popped the trunk. Kevin sauntered around to the back of the car, but stopped when he saw the machine.

?It looks like a fax machine from the 1980s had sex with my water bed, also from the 1980s.?

?I call it a Manifestation Detector- but only because I like being able to tell people I'm a MaD scientist. But weren?t you going to impress me??

?How do I lift it??

?From the bottom,? she said.

?You?re not interested in being helpful, are you?? he asked, bear-hugging the device. He grunted as he pulled it out of the trunk, and started waddling towards the gate. She slammed the trunk shut, and jogged around him to open up the gate to let him through, then let the gate slam behind her, and took up the corner of the machine opposite him. He shifted his hands so they were sharing the weight.

?Helpful enough for you??

?I think you were just worried I?d drop your precious equipment.?

?Nah. It?s pretty solid. And your foot would have broken its fall.?

He led her through the courtyard, and they nearly dropped the machine when she tried to direct them towards his office. ?This way,? he said, ?bigger doors, fewer obstacles.?

She followed him around the corner, to a painted metal door with no windows. He balanced his end on his knee while he fiddled with his keys. He had to jiggle the door to get the lock to unlatch. ?It was colder when they installed it; the difference a few degrees makes.? He reached in through the door and flicked on the light switch, hefted his end again and pulled her inside. The lights stuttered to life as Kevin pulled at a wheeled cart to where they could set her equipment on top of it.

The room had concrete floors and bare walls, and was colder than Claire might have assumed. But she was distracted by the other piece of machinery in the room, dominating a large corner. ?Wow,? she said, ?I thought my equipment was big, but yours is so much bigger.? She turned red. ?Thank God for porn immunity. But yours is basically a giant sex-metaphor, since the patient, laying horizontal on a bed, is passed through the big ring.?

?Oh, this?? Kevin asked, presenting his CT Scanner with his best Vanna White hand gesture. ?It isn?t medical equipment. It?s just the centerpiece of my seduction room; you know, turn it on in the background to do its thing, and pretty soon, all a woman can think of is doing her thing.? He guided her device gently down onto the cart. ?Seriously, though, is a CT scan going to screw with your equipment??

?I don?t know,? she said, ?I?ve never shot x-rays at it before. It shouldn?t effect it. But I said the same thing when I tried microwaving a Ding Dong still in the foil in the faculty break room; needless to say, I?m not welcome in that establishment again.?

?It?s up to you,? Kevin said. ?You can set up here, or in the patient?s room, if you?d prefer. And now,? he pushed the cart towards her, ?you can do it without my impressive lifting skills.?

?Is Chris awake?? she asked, looking at the clock on her phone, which said it was still a few minutes before seven.

?Off and on.?

?Because I was promised coffee, and creamer.?

?I never promised creamer.?

?Creamer was implied.?

?Right through that door, there, down the hall.?

?You?re not coming with?? she asked, pouting.

?I?ll be there in a sec. Machinery this big and impressive needs to be warmed up first. Christ.?

?I know, straight out of a porno. It?s uncanny. I haven?t even been trying to make any of this dirty.?

?Me either.?

?Maybe science and medicine are just filthy.?

?That would explain Grey?s Anatomy,? he said, as she pushed through the door. Warmth enveloped her as she stepped onto the carpet in a hall she recognized as part of the clinic, and immediately she smelled brewing coffee.

She pushed her cart down the hall, and found a little reception area that she?d managed to bypass by being escorted in the first time by security. The coffee was still warm from the initial brewing. She found a pyramid of black ceramic mugs, and poured herself a cup. She blew on it, and took a sip. ?Needs creamer,? she thought, which made her think of Kevin, and their repartee. She felt she needed to address it with him right away, and to start reminding herself he was Dr. Guinne, a colleague and professional. She was so wrapped up in her thoughts that she didn?t realize he?d joined her, so when she turned she spun right into him, flinging her coffee across his chest.

?That was premature,? he said, ?uh, I don?t mean- women usually make it through the complimentary bread before flinging their drink at me.?

She sighed. ?I flirt when I get nervous,? she said. ?And sometimes I fling coffee.?

?Well, at least it wasn?t at my crotch. And I live on the upper floors, so a change of shirt is only a staircase away.?

She found herself wondering if that had been a come on, and redoubled her efforts. ?I mean to say... I think I?ve been inappropriate. That it?s kind of possible I stepped over charming banter into misleadingly inviting territory. And you?re the patron of this establishment which has so kindly opened its doors to my research. And in my experience, researchers who go down that road, pretty soon you get a reputation as the scientist who will do anything just to get down and dirty with a little physics, and it gets so you can?t even reorder test tubes without a strip tease being involved- and I just don't have the coordination for pole tricks.?

?That?s... unfortunate,? he said, ?since I was working towards asking you to lunch.?

?Well, I guess I can take comfort in that we?ve both contributed to the inappropriateness of the situation.?

?Withdrawn, then,? Kevin said. ?No quid pro quo, no strings. But if you ever would like to share a meal, friendly or no, you know where my office is.?

?Um,? Claire said, awkwardly.

?Down the hall,? he told her, pointing to the office at the end of the hall, past a bathroom, stairs and the front door.

?No, um. We?re both going to Chris? room to run diagnostics.?

?Right. Awkward.?

?Only if you handle rejection poorly.?

?So you?re still going to tease me, it?s just going to be mean from now on??

?Pretty much.?

?Then follow me. No reason my humiliation can?t have a live, studio audience.?

Chris? room was at the opposite end of the hall from Kevin's office, and culminated in a hexagonal tower, where his bed was. It had views of the coast and the wild, wooded cliffs beyond the clinic grounds. There was a light misting on the windows. He was talking quietly with Morgan.

?How long do you think your equipment will take to set up?? Kevin asked Claire.

?Half hour, maybe an hour. That really depends on how strong your coffee is.?

?Call it forty-five, then,? he said. ?Which should be just long enough for me to get my imaging done.? Kevin strode across the room. ?Good morning,? he said jubilantly, ?how?s my patient??

?It looks like it?s going to be one of his good days,? Morgan said happily from a chair beside his bed, stroking his hand.

?Yeah,? Chris said, with less enthusiasm, continuing to stare out at the surf.

?Feel like going for a walk, Chris?? he asked.

Chris turned to him. ?Sure. Mind if we walk out there?? he nodded towards the beach.

?We can take the scenic route,? Kevin said, ?out on the courtyard. That might be enough for you, when that mist isn?t being stopped by a pane of glass.?

Chris lifted himself off the bed and kicked surprisingly muscular legs under him. ?I grew up in Seattle. This is a day at the beach.?

?I told you,? Morgan beamed, nodding to herself, and peeled her jacket off the back of her chair, ?one of this good days.?

Kevin marched them down the hall and to the front door. He stopped at the bottom of the stairs. ?Thunder?? Chris asked, listening.

?Worse,? Kevin said, ?daughter,? as Molly stomped her way down.

?Love you too, dad,? she said sarcastically, spearing him across the stomach with a hug that knocked the wind out of him.

?Sorry,? Sam said, running down the stairs after her. ?It?s time to take her to school.?

?Already?? Kevin asked, but he knew his daughter never got dressed before it was time to go- if then. ?Have fun, Moll,? he said, and hugged her back just before she ran to the front door and through it. Sam nodded apologetically, and followed her out.

Kevin realized he still had an entourage, waiting for him to move. ?My daughter,? he said, to explain himself, then continued out the front door. They walked around the perimeter of the building, and Chris held his hand out over the stone wall, letting mist from the waves coat his fingers.

But when Morgan and Kevin rounded the corner out of the courtyard, Chris lingered. He hated to admit it, but Morgan was right: it was one of his better days, and the cold and the wet from the ocean cut through to a part of his mind he usually could only dream about.

Morgan leaned around the corner. She was happy to see him smiling, but still, her face was twisted by her constant concern. ?You coming?? she asked.

?Yeah,? he said. ?Sure.?

He followed her through the double doors, and into the room with the MRI.

?Chris, I'm going to need you to lie down on this slab,? Kevin started. ?It'll pass you through that ring, and take x-rays of your head from a bunch of different directions. Then all of this equipment will process the information, and combine it to make a 3 dimensional image of your head. It's called computed tomography. We do this just in case- but more than once it's saved somebody's life when a chronic condition proved to be an acute one.?

?Didn't I have a tomography key chain that pouted when I forgot to feed it?? Chris asked.

?That was a tamagotchi,? Morgan said, and shared a smile with him, ?and I'm pretty sure you know that.?

?Do I need to put on a paper gown?? Chris asked Kevin.

Kevin smiled. ?Only if you want to; we're only imaging your head- and given the nature of our work and our relatively low patronage, we aren't terribly concerned about paper gowns. Mrs. Mereta, if you want to join me over here.?

?Is it safe?? she asked, sitting down in a chair beside Kevin.

?We are bombarding your husband with x-rays,? he said, ?but the technology's come a long way from what it was. And compared to playing football, this is much safer for your husband's head- and since his head is already injured, it's much safer than doing nothing, too.?

Kevin struck a series of keys, and the scanner began to hum. He tried to focus on the slices the machine took, because he knew Morgan was watching him for any sign of Chris' condition. He saw something, and unintentionally said, ?Hmm.?

?Hmm?? Morgan asked. ?What's 'hmm'??

?It's nothing,? Kevin said.

?'Hmm' doesn't sound like 'nothing.'?

?'Hmm' means I saw something interesting- but not something conclusive enough to ethically tell you about.?

?And it's ethical to make me wait like this??

?I don't want you to be alarmed, but your husband is bleeding into his brain.?

?How could I not be alarmed by that?? she asked.

?Well, by listening to me. A bleed in the brain is serious. But the seriousness varies. And the way we respond to the injury depends a lot on what it's doing. A fast bleed has to be dealt with quickly- so does a deep bleed. You good, Chris??

He put up his hand with his thumb raised.

?There are varieties of brain bleed that don't require surgery, that are dealt with through medication.? He turned off the machine, and stood up and walked around the radiation barrier.

?I can get up?? Chris said.

?Yep,? Kevin said.

?So how serious is it?? Morgan asked.

?The slices I took of your husband's head-? Morgan made a face, and he realized he needed to explain it better. ?A CT scan works by combining multiple 'slices'- images taken from different angles- to get a 3 dimensional picture. But my image seems to indicate the bleed is growing at a slow rate- if at all. It's well below the 3 cm threshold; it?s not an aneurism, and it's relatively shallow- all things that would demand immediate action.?

?A bleeding brain doesn't demand immediate action on its own?? she asked, incredulous.

?It requires action, sure,? Kevin said. ?But it has to be the right action. Depending on the bleed and its cause, blood thinners might be the right course to take. Of course, blood thinners could make it much worse, and make him more likely to throw a clot and have a stroke, if we misdiagnose him. But in the meantime, we can keep an eye on his vitals, to make sure he's stable. And I have some questions. Your husband hasn?t hit his head, or suffered any other kinds of trauma recently, has he? Particularly over the last few days- but even weeks and months, because these bleeds can lie dormant??

She started to shake her head. ?Chris?? she asked.

He squinted, trying hard to remember through his returning fog. ?Nuh uh,? he said, shaking his head to assure himself. ?I stubbed my toe working out. But haven't hit my head in a long time.?

?And he's not on any kinds of medications? I know you didn't list any, but sometimes people forget; as an example, even aspirin can act as a blood thinner.?

?I know. He's been taking naproxen for his headaches, but those are intermittent.?

?Good. That's good. We really didn't want this to be a complication from medication. But what I'd like to do, then, is to take your husband to Astoria. I have an agreement with a clinic there for use of their MRI machine- and their tech.?

?And he's safe to travel?? Morgan asked.

?He's as safe as he is, here,? Kevin said. ?And my Bronco is outfitted like an ambulance- with the caveat that it's carrying more equipment specific to your husband's condition than a regular ambulance would. And it's much safer for him to get more imaging than it is for us to just wait to see if he develops any problematic symptoms.?

?I'm going with you,? Morgan said.

?I wouldn't ask you to stay.?

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