“My medical records, but only if that would make it all go away.”
Roslin fiddled anxiously with her datapad. She’d been waiting for this meeting for nearly three years; so much hung in the balance. It was odd to be wishing she was sick enough, the sickest person they’d seen, really, but that was what she had to do, had to be, if she wanted priority placement in the program.
She breathed rapid, shallow breaths through her oxygen tube. Of course, Roslin always breathed poorly, limited by her faulty, broken, accursed lungs, but this was worse than usual. She flicked the regulator to increase the flow of the life-giving supply, and tried to slow her breathing. Too nervous. Had to calm down.
A nurse appeared at the door. “Roslin?” he called, mispronouncing her name.
“Here,” she answered, her voice hardly a whisper. “Here I am.”
Roslin guided her chair forward, careful on the hard turns that could disrupt her stabilizers. The nurse nodded and held the door open. “Follow me, please.”
He led her back into a sparse conference room. At the table placed perpendicularly to the entrance sat five people: the program representatives. The people who would determine her fate. Roslin could find no smiles, no reassuring looks. She sucked air nervously into her failing lungs.
“Ms. Roslin Miller?” A woman on the far right flicked through a datapad. “Cystic fibrosis patient, already rejected one set of donor lungs; also incompatible with all known synthetic lungs?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Roslin wheezed. “I’ve had a number of challenges.”
“That seems like an understatement.” The speaker this time was a man on the left. Roslin didn’t know how to respond, so just sat silently.
The man in the middle folded his fingers into a tent. “Do you understand the implications of what we are offering with this experimental program, Ms. Miller?”
“Yes,” Roslin said. She breathed deeply, trying to compensate for the difficulty of speech.
“And why should you be selected, Ms. Miller?” The man, this whole group that was weighing the fate of her life, seemed so indifferent. If her broken, disabled body was not enough, weren’t the detailed medical records they each read with such detachment?
“My only hope – left is to be – admitted. Please — accept my application. — I have already – more than – outlived – doctors’ expectations.” She panted for a moment, struggling. “I don’t know – how much more time – I have.”
“Thank you for your time, Ms. Miller,” said a new speaker, a petite woman sitting toward the left. “Please give us a few minutes to confer and we will have our response as soon as possible.”
With that, the five people stood and stepped out of the room.
The next five minutes were the longest of Roslin’s life. What if they said no? What was left for her then? She blinked her eyes closed against the depression lurking, and said a prayer. To anybody, anyone who would listen; God, the hospital, this panel. Please. Please let it work out this time.
When the door clicked open, Roslin froze with terror. The faces of the panelists were unreadable. Oh god—
“Ms. Miller,” the center man said, “We believe you are an excellent candidate for the process.”
Elation. Pure ecstatic elation.
The next hour was a blur. Fingerprinting datapads, releasing indemnity, contacting her mother, her emergency contacts, preparing for the procedure, settling in the chair in the shining metal hospital room.
“You understand all risks and possible side-effects from this procedure? You voluntarily agree to this experimental process?” the nurse asked the questions for what felt like the 10th time.
“Yes, yes,” Roslin said eagerly.
“Then the process will begin in a few moments.” He left the room, and Roslin heard the door behind her click closed.
The air filled with a buzzing hum, the temperature growing warmer, a too-hot coat worn in summer. Roslin sucked air into her impaired lungs, frightened of the heat, of the building pressure. The machine above her clicked on, and a blue light scanned her from head to foot and back again.
The mix of air in her breathing tube changed: the nanobots released into her system to reprogram her genetic code—to repair her body from the inside out.
Every cell in her body burned with an internal fire, erasing the record of damage done, of every attempted and failed medical procedure, of each tortured breath.
Roslin burned as the Phoenix process remade her anew.
“Roslin? Roslin, baby, wake up. Roslin?”
Roslin blinked slowly, eyes heavy. “Hello?” She stretched and yawned, rolling toward the voice.
“Hey baby.” The woman smiling down at her looked kind, the wrinkles around her eyes relaxing at Roslin faced her.
“Hello,” Roslin said again. She took a deep breath and sat up, and the woman at the side of her bed gasped in surprise and covered her mouth with her hands. “Are… are you my mother?” Roslin said uncertainly.
“You can breathe!” The woman who might be her mother said. “Oh my god, baby, you can breathe!”
Roslin considered for a moment. “Yes, I can. Is that unusual?”
“The procedure worked! It’s a miracle!” The woman rushed forward, arms extended. Roslin balked, and the woman stopped. “Don’t you remember? You went through the Phoenix process? Just yesterday. You have—had!—cystic fibrosis, but they’ve cured you, baby!”
Roslin stared back. “I—I don’t remember.”
A nurse in green scrubs came in. “Mrs. Miller, come with me, please,” he said, and took the older woman aside.
“Mrs. Miller,” he said when they were out of the room with the door closed. “We’re finding that retrograde amnesia is associated with this kind of procedure. Roslin may not remember anything from her life before yesterday’s surgery. It seems…” he paused, pursing his lips. “It seems that her genetic deformity may have been interrelated with her memories of the illness. We cured the genetic mutation; it’s possible that we also rewrote her memories from the time of her illness.”
“What?” Roslin’s mother said. “My daughter has had cystic fibrosis her whole life. What does that mean? What will she remember?”
The nurse looked away. “She agreed to the Phoenix procedure. We have all the documents…She may not remember anything. It may all be gone.”
The elder Miller stared in shock. The nurse tried for a bright side: “It is possible, with time, that she will remember parts of her old life. But I recommend you focus on her rejuvenated future.”
Mrs. Miller wiped the tears from her eyes and walked back into the room that held her daughter, new-born at 43 years old.
(This story inspired by my friend David Miller, who has cystic fibrosis and as I was writing this was getting his new lung transplant after three years on the waiting list! Please consider being an organ donor to help people like David.)