Elliot tried not to think about itching. The monitors, one at his neck, one at his waist, were annoying but temporary. Two weeks wearing them twenty-four-seven. Two weeks with no meds, no treatments of any kind, but it would all be worth it in the end.
He’d finally know.
He’d finally be well.
Bedtimes were intrusive, but only as much as was absolutely necessary. The nurse bot asked regular questions such as “Please rate your pain on a scale from one to ten” and “Are you still nauseated?” The actual human nurse added questions such as “Is it the kind of nausea that makes you feel like you’re going to regurgitate? Or it is more that you just want to sit quietly for a while until it passes?”
Elliot had become an expert in self-evaluation. Although it was sometimes hard to annunciate exactly what was wrong, between the bot and the human nurse he was able to establish a record of all the weird things his body did.
Sleep came with only a slight delay. It usually did.
Waking was uncomfortable. Elliot had a vague memory that, once upon a time, he’d wake groggily to the sun peeking through the curtains. With a stretch and a yawn, his bladder would tell him he had to get up. Although his warm bed was so comfortable and inviting that he longed to spend just another twenty minutes there, a hot shower was just as appetizing.
For years now, waking had meant something different.
Elliot felt the wakefulness steal his dreams from him. He tried to relax into it, dreading what was about to happen. He succeeded for about five minutes, and then it hit.
Something was wrong. Something dire and dreadful was threatening him. Adrenaline or something like it began to pump through his system.
Nothing is wrong.
Elliot took slow breaths.
I am safe here.
Elliot forced his mind to go blank, to wait patiently in a safe, peaceful place until whatever chemicals his brain was producing wormed their way through his body and out again.
“Lightheaded. Like my brain is being filled with helium,” he announced to the room, knowing the monitors would record and add the information to his diagnosis. “My body is floating from the waist up…” he had to pause. Speaking out loud was jarring. It disconnected him from what he was trying to accomplish. “…but from the waist down, it feels very heavy.”
He squirmed out of the position that had been comfortable, but no longer was.
“The tightness is all through my chest, head, and shoulders. But only the upper chest. Oh no…” Elliot visualized a downward flow of comfort going from the back of his tongue down to his stomach. He shifted position carefully. It worked for only a minute, then the heartburn hit him. “Heartburn,” he reported.
He sat up, then stretched his muscles. He drank the water waiting on his bedside table. Slowly, he rotated each ankle, urging circulation into his extremities. Maybe today would be a day for joint pain. Maybe not.
“The heartburn is subsiding. The tightness is back up in my head, although there are remnants in my arms, and the backs of my hands.” He closed his eyes, searching for other sensations. “I’m not electric today.”
Elliot shuffled himself slowly to the bathroom and emptied his bladder. There was no point in taking a shower yet. His body had other things to accomplish first.
He returned to bed, sitting on the edge and reporting the various symptoms as best he could describe them. He waited patiently, not knowing whether he had five minutes or fifty. In the two weeks he’d been monitored, it continued to fluctuate. He hoped they would find some kind of pattern or causality. It was annoying.
Fifteen minutes later he returned to the bathroom. He was glad he didn’t have to describe what he’d just done. The monitors measured what they needed to measure, and the machines would evaluate his output. It was time for a hot shower, signaling the end to the worst of the morning’s trials.
Drying off was never instantaneous. He took the extra time he needed to make sure all the crevasses and foldable parts of his body were completely free of excess moisture. If he didn’t take that time, he’d end up with more discomfort, or even a rash. It was one of a dozen small things he did, not out of vanity or habit, but to maintain the delicate balance that kept him healthy. He found it all rather annoying, but it needed to be done.
He started getting dressed, then stopped. “Oh no, not again,” he said, then put his clothes on the bed and headed back to the bathroom.
A half hour later, after finishing what his body demanded he do and then cleaning up after himself in the shower, he went on with his day. The facility wasn’t exactly luxurious, but it had enough activities to keep him occupied. Elliot wondered whether the evaluation would show a major difference between his levels during the week he’d still been at home, and the week he’d spent at the facility. The doctors said they usually did. Of course. It was a clean, sanitary environment. Not that his apartment was particularly dirty, but it wasn’t kept sparkling every minute of the day. Elliot didn’t have to worry about fixing his meals or any of his regular household chores. Stress was minimal, especially with the promise that soon he would be healed.
The monitors came off that afternoon.
Soon. Just a few business days for the team to evaluate all the data that had been gathered, and he’d have an accurate diagnosis. They’d be able to find a treatment that, even if it didn’t cure him, would bring his quality of life back up to where he could be a productive citizen once more.
I wrote this story as wish-fulfillment. With our family’s upcoming move, I’ve put my WIP to the side. Still, I promised myself that I would write something every week, even if it was just a bit of flash.
I’d originally planned to have Elliot wake up at the end of the story, with no monitors and all his symptoms flooding in with no hope of respite. But it’s cheating to say an entire story is just a dream sequence. Instead, I leave it to the reader to wonder whether Elliot gets his wish of a healthy body, or whether it was all just wishful thinking.
Looking for something new to read? There’s a new story from The Cities of Luna with every full moon! I also have an urban fantasy novella called The House on Paladin Court, about a trio of immortals who keep a dragon locked in their basement. Also new is the next volume of the Biblical Legends Anthology Series: Deluge. My weird little story The Immersion of the Incorporeum appears in this one.