Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Remedy

Here's a fairly new one for me. As you might recognize, the scenario my character faces is an age old dilemma. The other day, I was teaching a course on ethics and we discussed a scenario very similar to this story line. To my amazement, 38 out of 40 individuals readily accepted they would compromise their standards under similar conditions. I would like to hear your thoughts on this topic and I hope this story challenges you.

The Remedy

In the still, cold hours of a predawn morning, Chris Chance ground his teeth in dissent to the agony pulsing through his veins. His eyes were crystalline, his forehead wrinkled from too many frowns. The crow’s feet which adorned his face were all too familiar.

He stood in the shadow underneath an extinguished lamp post, whose light had since yielded its source months before. He was dressed in a leather jacket and slacks, his boots were polished but worn. The hat he wore shrouded his eyes from any who would bother to notice him. He had not moved except to fidget in place, his legs ached from endless hours of standing motionless.

His keen eyes observed movement from the shadow near a dark street corner, and he watched as a man dressed in shadows stoically approached him. They each regarded the other in silence for the length of a minute before the man queried, “Have you decided?”

Chris faced away from the man to spit before responding. “I’m almost there.”

“You’re there. You just haven’t accepted it yet.”

His lips curled in anger. “Yeah? What do you know about it?”

“I know plenty. I’ve seen this before you know. You’re not the first one to stand underneath this lamp.”

“You don’t know me,” Chris said with disdain.

A soft chuckle. “Oh? I don’t know, you think you’re the only one who’s ever had to make hard decisions?”

Chris growled. “Look, Pal, you don’t know me, and you’re not going to know me, so mind your own P’s and Q’s or I’ll find a way to mind them for you.”

“Touchy, touchy. Aren’t you full of vinegar tonight?”

“Yeah? You wanna make something of it?”

“Easy does it, tough guy. You’ve got plenty of people to fight without putting me on your hit list.”

“Then back off and cut your meddlin’.”

The stranger paused. “Well? What’s it going to be? I’ve got other fish on the line who need reeling in. I can’t spend all night with you.”

“You’ll wait. When I decide you’ll be the first to know.”

The stranger tugged at his sleeve. “I have a few minutes to invest. What’s the hold up?”
Chris didn’t respond.
“I see,” the man probed. “You’ve never lived on this edge before. You’re a nice guy.”

“Yeah? And what of it?”

“Oh, just an observation. That’s all. You are clearly not the type of man who keeps the shadows company. You’ve never gotten your hands dirty.” He allowed his words to register before continuing. “So, what’s the issue?”

“None of your concern,” Chris replied tersely.

“Hmmm. Must be money,” he mused. “Is that your purpose here? Is it money?” The voice was taunting him.

“I could care less about money. What I want can’t be bought.”

“Is it for sale?”

“What did I just say? It ain’t for sale.”

“Maybe it’s a woman. Is that your game? Are you looking for some action?”

A hard edge tore through Chris’ response. “I have no interest in other women.”

“Other women?” he questioned. “Ah, I get it. You’re here for the medicine.”

Chris spat again. “And what if I am?”

The man shrugged. “I don’t care what you want, because it makes no matter to me. All I need from you is a decision.”

“You’ll get it once I’ve got it.”

The stranger laughed. “Still playing that game, are you? In your heart you’ve already decided what you’re going to do. You simply need to tell yourself it’s okay.” Chris had no response. “So, how bad is she?”

“Bad enough.”

“For how long?”

Chris paused. “Four years. She’s been sick for years.”

“Let me guess. You tried to get the medicine, but they won’t consider your application.”

“Okay, smart guy. Tell me the rest of the story, since you know so much.”

The stranger smiled at his harsh words. “I’ve seen this struggle so many times. You think you’re the only one who’s ever had to make this decision, but you’ll find out that you’re keeping company with a host of others. It always starts out simple. That nagging little ache right here,” he touched his abdomen below his liver, “that won’t go away. At first, it’s hardly noticeable—simply a discomfort. After a few months, the pain becomes a dull ache that nags at you like a mosquito in the night. A few weeks later, the ache becomes a pain, which develops into a crippling, bitter monkey on your back that won’t leave you alone. Before long, you know you’ve got it, but there’s no way you can get relief. The only help you can find is with them.” He turns to look at a large window on the storefront immediately across the street. “They have the cure, but you can’t get it. You try anyway, desperate for a cure. You fill out the forms and submit your doctor’s reports, but they still deny you—and keep your nonrefundable application fee. They tell you that there is only one dose left, and it’s ear tagged for someone else. Sometimes they go so far to tell you that it’s for a little girl down the street who has her whole life in front of her.” He took in Chris’ face with one knowing glance. “That’s what they told you, right?”

“Yeah? So?” Chris’ voice was loosing the harsh undertones. Hearing his story repeated was breaking him down.

“So, do you tell your wife she can’t have the medicine? Do you tell her that a guaranteed cure exists, but you can’t get to it? Can you face the disappointed look that will smear her face with tears? Can you face the fact that she’ll die without that medicine? Can you…”

“Enough!” Chris heard all he wanted. His breathing was labored and he was weak from years of struggling.

The man wrapped in shadows laughed menacingly. “And now you are standing here and looking beyond that glass window at the last dose of the medicine that can cure your wife. You’re staring at it and trying to decide.”

Chris faced the man squarely. “So, smart guy, what am I trying to decide?”

He shrugged without caring. “You might be struggling with whether or not to steal the medicine, knowing that it violates all of your beliefs. You might be weighing the lesser of two evils in your heart. You might even be struggling with whether or not God has appointed a day for your wife to die. And, you might be wondering if God will honor your faith in Him if you violate your principles. However, I know that you’re struggling with whether or not you can break that glass.”

A snarl curled his lips into question marks. “Why are you here? Why are you tormenting me? Don’t you have something better to do?”

His laugh penetrated Chris’ heart. “Oh, I’m here for you. I’m the only one who can help you. You know the stories about that glass. You know it’s the only glass that can’t be broken. But I know how to get through that glass shield that is preventing your wife from dying.” He leaned forward. “When will she die? Tonight? Tomorrow?”

Chris’ hands surrounded his face in frustration. “Stop it! Leave me alone.”

“If I leave you alone, you won’t get through that window.”

As if standing on a high dive and taking a gulp of air before plummeting to the depth of the waters below him, Chris drew in a deep, satisfying breath. “Fine. Show me how.”

“You see? That wasn’t so hard, was it? It’s not hard to violate your principles once you start. Just out of curiosity, how do you justify your decision?”

Chris, now relieved to be free of the struggle replied with passion. “She and I are one. There is no other relationship that is more important than the two of us. Not our kids, not my friends, and not my family. It’s a reminder of something bigger than me. I refuse to allow her to die.”

The man taunted him. “And what about that little girl who will die when you steal her medicine?”

“Who am I to decide whether or not she lives? I have my wife to consider and I’ve made my decision.”

“Good,” he replied with a throaty growl. “You’ll need this.” He reached into his pocket and produced a hammer.

“What’s this?”

“Like I told you earlier. That glass won’t break. You could hit it with a rock, you could shoot it, but it you hit it with this hammer, it will shatter on demand.”


“Because I designed the glass. I know how to defeat it. This is no ordinary hammer. You can only use it once.”

Chris turned the hammer in his hand. It was surprising light, and didn’t seem to weigh more than a few ounces. “And what do I owe you for this?”

“I’ve already been paid.”

Without further consideration, Chris walked defiantly to the large window and touched the glass with the hammer. It shattered under his touch and he realized the hammer had dissolved in his hands. He stared at the medicine sitting on the shelf in the back of the pharmacy, inviting him to finish its bidding.


Dave said...

I'm kind of curious: which do you expect more discussion on, the ethics of the man's decision, or the ethics of corporate america finding and controlling cures for illnesses (in most cases for profit). Or maybe you're hoping for the discussion about how satan tries to get us to sell out our convictions. Hmmmmm....several ways to go here and after thinking for a day I don't have anything yet to give. :-)

Travis said...

I certainly think there are plenty of topics to discuss. Honestly, I'm eager to see how creative comments will become. I hope everyone will take a moment to post a thought and maybe we can get an interesting exchange going...

My guess, most people won't know how to respond to a story like this. For some, it will be telling, for others, it will be appauling. I think the biggest discussion will center around how readily we will trade our values for something that we think trumps that value.

(Maybe the discussions will center on how well written the story is!)

Alison said...

How well written the story is??? Hmmm, I don't know... (just kidding!)

This issue reminds me a lot of a class I took in seminary--medical ethics. What an eye opener. I know this story is about more than just medical issues, but it reminds me a lot of that. It is amazing how when we're squeezed in just the right way (or wrong way), especially when it affects something we care about, our true character can't help but come out.

It's scarily interesting to see this on a large scale in our society. About the medical ethics side of it...I don't know if I ever told you this story: A few years ago, I was at a day of training for hospice. Part of it included the controversy surrounding euthanasia, and there was lots of discussion. Then one older lady raised her hand, asking the instructor if he thought there would come a future day when we'd have a mandatory cut-off age for the elderly, in order to preserve world resources for the young (kinda like "Soylent Green"). People snickered and scoffed at her, thinking that would never happen. I suggested to the group that although it seems like a huge leap between euthanasia and what she was talking about, the decisions we make today will lead to or away from the scenario she described. Issues like this are a slippery slope, both individually and as a society. I'm glad you're willing to bring tough topics to the surface to discuss.

I'll mention one other thing before I de-hijack your blog: you have an interesting habit of naming lots of your characters very deliberately. I like this guy's name.

Travis said...

I also considered naming the guy Fargo, but I wanted him to seem less exotic and more like an average joe.

I don't think you can divorce medical ethics from a story like this. Euthenasia is part and parcel with this topic.