Times are eerily different in the late twenty-first century. There is no question that technological advances and wide health care reform have drastically altered the delivery of medical care in America. Technicians and computers have replaced doctors and nurses. Medical corporate giant, Med-Met, controls the majority of health care. Only a small vestige of the old system remains with the Hippocratins, a group of physicians taught through apprenticeship.
Michael Guidry is making a valiant attempt to ignore his own growing self-doubts about America's health care system as he works as a diagnostic technician at the Med-Met Regional Center in New Orleans. But when he accepts a fiery attractive stranger's dinner invitation, Guidry has no idea she is leading him straight into a desperate battle with a powerful corporation, a deadly epidemic, and his own conscience. As the death toll rises from a lethal virus, Guidry and the Hippocratins must do everything in their power to control the epidemic-and the forces of Med-Met who are determined to protect their interests, no matter what the cost.
In this sci-fi thriller, a medical conspiracy unfolds and holds America's health care system hostage as the future of medicine hangs in the balance and a group of humanitarian physicians and their latest recruit attempt to conquer something much bigger than themselves.
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.63(d)|
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By Alan M Miller
Abbott PressCopyright © 2014 Alan M Miller (TXu001820087)
All rights reserved.
Head down Michael Guidry plunged forward trying to ignore the taunting crowd as well as his own growing doubts. The number of protestors at the Med-Met Regional Center increased daily.
It was relatively quiet inside, in contrast to the noise outside. The constant soft synthetic music covered the background mechanical hum. Transport robots scuttled silently along the edge of the hallways or hovered overhead. Personnel wearing jump suits color-coded to match the hallways, hustled through the corridors. Pale blue for housekeeping, gray for computer systems and engineers, brown for maintenance, white for diagnostic technicians, mint green for treatment technicians, and finally canary yellow for the euthanasia attendants. Colleagues also referred to the yellow-clad crew as "Heaven's Helpers."
Michael arrived at his station just before eight. He touched his left sleeve and his schedule appeared on the material. The first clients would be coming through shortly. Many came just for their routine biannual diagnostics screen; sort of a preventative maintenance. Others made drop-in visits when they had specific complaints, such as a runny nose, a rash or a hernia.
He noted that several Synthotech employees were scheduled. It was one of the large corporations that contracted for regular biannual examinations of its employees. This allowed for early detection and treatment of simple illnesses, minimizing lost time from work, or expensive treatment for advanced disease. It also facilitated the early detection of incurable illnesses. This allowed Med-Met to plan early to ease the individual to their date with the euthanasia attendants giving the employer ample time to find a replacement.
Michael placed his palm on the work station, it registered his biologics and read the implanted data chip. The system came to life. He checked to see that all was functioning normally, and settled in just as he did every morning.
Clients rolled through as usual. Those with symptoms or problems stopped at the input terminal. They registered their chief complaint and answered prompts from the computer that would help lead to their diagnosis. Those coming in for routine check-ups with no symptoms to declare just moved on to the scanners.
Michael directed traffic. He determined whether a patient needed to go to the input terminal or on to the scanners. He answered any questions and handled any problems. There never were any problems. No one ever asked a meaningful question.
"Doctor could you help me?" It took Michael a second to realize that she was addressing him.
"I'm sorry," he said putting on his best Med-Met smile and courteous voice, "but, I'm not a doctor I'm a diagnostic technician. Can I help you anyway?"
A thin older woman stood in front of him, she was nicely dressed but in clothing that was out of date. She hesitated and spoke softly, "Please excuse me but this is all very new to me and a little frightening. The last time I was sick I was a young girl."
She looked at him, he held his smile and nodded for her to continue. "The last time I saw a doctor was when I had my last baby. It was in fifty. That was when they still had regular hospitals. I didn't like hospitals then and I've managed to stay away from these new places 'til now. I haven't really been sick and frankly these places scare me, so I stay away."
Michael fought the urge to hurry the woman along. His schedule was light and she seemed fragile. "Well, you're here now, so what can Med-Met do for you today?"
She shrugged, "I really don't know what I'm supposed to do. My daughter, she brought me. They made her wait outside, so maybe you could tell me what I need to do. Should I get undressed?"
He couldn't remember the last time he met anyone who was not Med-Met experienced. Children began visits at birth. By the time they were old enough to go to school most considered a trip to Med-Met a major fun event. There were holo-computers to play with, and all input was in game format. Cooperation was well rewarded with treats and prizes. By adulthood the Med-Met way was a common experience.
He didn't say anything for a few moments. There was something sweet about this woman, she reminded him of the old time grandmothers from the early vids. "No, that won't be necessary. The first thing you have to do is answer a few questions. Just sit down at one of the input terminals, and place your right palm on the pad. The computer will ask you some questions, and you just answer them." He demonstrated, holding his right hand over the table showing her what to do.
She eyed the terminal nervously and edged away. "I never really have had much experience with computers. I know that must seem strange to you, but when I grew-up we belonged to a very orthodox religious group that frowned on them. The whole community lived that way.
"As I got older there were always other people who would operate them for me. I never even used the cook-puters. My children make fun of me because I still use a stove. That's not so bad is it?"
She fingered the clasp on the old fashioned purse she carried. It was the type women used to tote before the time when identichips were implanted at birth. Back when people needed to carry things like money and multiple forms of identification. She looked at Michael for help.
"There's really nothing to it. All you do is answer the questions." He tried to be reassuring, but he was uncomfortable with the situation, which diluted his effort. She continued to look up at him and played with her purse clasp continuously. Her eyes spoke to him, they were soft and pale blue, not young, but with a child-like innocence. They asked for help in a deeper way than words could have.
"Why don't I sit with you for a few minutes and help you until you feel comfortable with the computer," he said in answer to her silent request.
Her eyes closed for a brief moment, and along with her voice, said thank you. He notified the registration desk that he would be tied up for awhile, and sat down at the computer with her.
She placed her palm where he had shown her. A small holographic avatar appeared on the table top in front of her. She flinched, Michael gave her hand a reassuring pat. The soft tones of the computer voice issued a greeting. "Welcome to Med-Met, I do not detect an identichip in your palm. I will need to ask you a few questions to get us started." It asked her the basic questions, name, address and other identifying information. She looked at Michael with each answer as if he was asking her the questions. He realized that she was looking to him for approval with each answer. He nodded and she continued.
She began in a shaky voice, "I'm Lettie, Lettie Rubin, and I'm 75 years old." Again she looked at Michael who gave another nod. "I was born in 2014 in New York City and I lived there until last year when I moved here to be close to my youngest daughter, Rachel, and my granddaughter."
Michael sat quietly in his chair giving her his full attention. When she hesitated the avatar pushed her to continue.
She gave her address and said that she lived on her own in a small apartment in a government subsidized elder hostel. She described it as "The kind of building where you care for yourself. There are nice people who work there in case you need help or for emergencies."
The avatar asked her to please describe her background and family history.
"My people are Jewish, very orthodox, they didn't take to a lot of the fancy new machines." She glanced at the avatar, which was seated cross-legged on the table top, and then turned her attention back to Michael. "I married Lou, my late husband when I was 20. We grew up in the same neighborhood and both had large families so there were always others around when it came to any crisis or event. We had each other and didn't have much to do with the outsiders."
Michael enjoyed listening to her. He hardly ever paid attention to clients as they interacted with the computer. His fixed Med-Met smile gave way to a soft genuine smile. Again the computer inserted itself and asked her about her activities and hobbies.
She no longer hesitated, but addressed herself directly to Michael, "I love to read and cook. I don't like those reading machines or cook-puters. I go to the antique shops on Magazine Street to find real books. Have you been there?"
Before Michael could answer she pressed on. "I can still see pretty well, but I have to hold the one's with tiny print farther back."
The computer was receiving more information than it needed. There was a subtle change in the tone of its programmed flexible voice simulator and the avatar stood and walked to the edge of the table as it pressed her for more pertinent information regarding her chief complaint. Michael resented the computers interruption. He had been feeling that this was a conversation between Lettie and him.
Lettie became less animated as she answered the more specific questions. "I felt fine until about six months ago then I began to have a dry cough. It wouldn't go away." At that point she made a small cough, almost to illustrate what she was saying. "At first I made some teas and they helped a little. When they weren't working so good, I bought some cough syrups, they helped me sleep. But now, they don't help so much either. I've started coughing up some thick stuff and sometimes it has red specs in it."
The computer asked her another series of questions, she continued to address her answers to Michael. She had not had any pain or fevers. She had never smoked, it wasn't something her people did, and by the time she was in her teens cigarettes were no longer being produced. The computer asked questions about where she had lived. It had been in an older building from the time she was a child until she got married. She remembered that for some reason they closed the building down for awhile and changed all the ceilings.
She began to cough more forcibly and removed a tissue from her purse. Looking embarrassed, she demurely spit what she had coughed up into it. She held the tissue looking around. Michael realized that she was searching for somewhere to deposit it. He passed his hand over one corner of the work station and an opening appeared. Taking his cue she dropped the tissue in, there was a brief flash of light and the hole closed.
The avatar pushed her to move on, requesting information about her family. Michael positioned himself between the avatar and Lettie, telling her to take her time. "Most of my brothers and sisters have all passed. I don't know what they died from. They were all more modern than me, they came to these places," she waved her hand indicating their surroundings.
"My Lou, god rest his soul. He was never sick, he died in an accident, shortly after our youngest, Rachel, was born. We had three children. Thank god they're all in good health."
The computer thanked Lettie, when it had all the information it wanted. The avatar instructed her to move on to the diagnostics room, and melted back into the desk-top.
She looked at Michael and asked, "Will you go with me?"
Michael didn't want to disappoint her, but explained she would be helped by another technician through the next steps.
Pursing her lips tightly she took his hand. "You're a very good doctor. You know how to listen to a person. I'm glad I could talk to you, instead of that machine."
Michael felt embarrassed, both by being called a doctor again, and because he couldn't help her further. "Thank you, but I'm not a doctor."
She shushed him and squeezed his hand harder with her frail fingers, turned and headed in the direction he had indicated.
A shiver ran through Michael as he wondered whether she might be walking to her death. He wanted to call out to her, to tell her not to go. He held back, feeling helpless, his job didn't allow that.
* * *
Michael thought a lot about Lettie over the next month. He wondered if he could have done more to help her, but reminded himself that he already had gone beyond Med-Met protocol. His curiosity caused him to violate another protocol. Between clients he called up her file to find out what had happened. His breath caught as he read the last entry in her file: Treatment Plan: Refer to Termination Center.CHAPTER 2
Michael headed for his break, once again thinking about Lettie. He was startled when a young woman wearing a white jump suit, identical to his snapped her fingers in front of his face. Recovering, he greeted Marsha Walsh also a diagnostic tech, as well as an occasional date.
"Mikey," she said, calling him a nickname that he hated. "Did you catch the demonstration yesterday? Those Hippies are becoming a real nuisance. Somebody should do something about them. I saw an expose' vid. It shows how these guys treat patients with these crazy medicines from the 20th century. After the people die a slow, painful death they cut them up. If that's not bad enough they dump the remains in lakes and rivers spreading the diseases that the poor suckers had."
Michael shook his head slowly, His curiosity had led him to try and learn more about the protestors that he encountered daily. He did some research and from what he read some of their philosophy didn't sound all that bad. "Really Marsha, do you believe everything you see in the vids?"
"Sure, they documented it. The narrator said that they had someone on the inside."
"Come on, you know they can put together a vid to show anything they want. I'm sure the Hippocratins, aren't animals, they---" He noticed the way she was looking at him and decided not to push it further.
Marsha jumped in before he had a chance to back track, "Well, I think they should be stopped." Without taking a breath her voice softened and she smiled at him. "Anyway, want to grab some dinner after work?"
Tired and still thinking about Lettie, Michael lied, "Sorry, Marsha, I've got plans. Some other time, okay?"
"Okay," she laughed, "but don't take any Hippie medicine."
* * *
When Michael returned to his station he had another surprise. A balding man was sitting in his chair. His black jump suit told Michael that he was from information security.
Remembering his breach of Lettie's records he began to construct a story to cover his actions. Before he could say anything the man turned and spoke to him.
"You Guidry?" The man's voice was flat and non-threatening.
Still Michael hesitated, "I'm Michael Guidry, who are you?" The man's badge was turned off.
"Doesn't matter, I just want to give you a friendly warning."
Michael wasn't sure what was going on, the man's manner was straight-forward and he looked directly at Michael's eyes.
When Michael didn't say anything the man continued, "You need to be careful where you wander in cyberspace. Do you understand what I'm saying?" He looked at Michael waiting for an answer.
Michael spoke rapidly, "I just needed to follow-up on that patient. I wasn't sure if her scans registered and I wanted to confirm."
The man slowly shook his head, "I don't need reasons, just want to make sure you understand. It isn't just the lady's records, it's also some of the research you've been doing from your home unit. Don't forget you're in a company apartment and you are on the system."
Michael felt his heart racing, realizing the man was talking about the materials he had been reading about the Hippocratins, and other alternative groups. Before he could think up an answer the man got up from the seat and walked over to him.
"This doesn't go any further, but you need to watch yourself. Next time someone else may be on duty and they won't be as forgiving," without waiting for a response he walked past Michael and down the hall.
* * *
Leaving work that day Michael was still shaken from his encounter with the security man. Despite his distractions he couldn't help notice that the demonstration had increased in intensity. Recent news reports said that the Hippocratins and the religious groups had been joined by a more radical and violent faction, the Weatherpersons or Weps.
Working his way through the noisy crowd, he stared straight ahead avoiding eye contact. Almost colliding with a woman, he mumbled an apology and moved to go around her. She stepped back into his path.
Excerpted from Reform by Alan M Miller. Copyright © 2014 Alan M Miller (TXu001820087). Excerpted by permission of Abbott Press.
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