The Angel of San Diego

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Chapter 7 - Diagnosis: Positive

\The day was just as the doctor promised, long and tiring. After the way the night nurse had reacted to him, he decided not to mention the voices to anyone else.

Dinner was another adventure; Puréed foods and liquids. He managed to eat most of it in spite of his small stomach. He felt like a stuffed turkey, but he was satisfied he was able to eat as much as he did.

That night Robin was too exhausted to be wakened by the strange voices. His dreams were full of people he had never met, but seemed to have known for years. In one dream he was a middle-aged woman with three children who was married to an electrical engineer. In another he was a twelve-year-old boy who was an expert at riding his skateboard.

When he woke in the morning he wasn’t sure who or where he was for a few moments. It was as if he had relived past lives all night. Dr. Noah Jr. was there right after breakfast carrying a large envelope.

“We don’t normally do this, but I thought you might like to see these.”

Dr. Noah took x-ray films from the envelope and put them into the viewer next to Robin’s bed. He switched on the light. Robin could see that they were of a skull, but he couldn’t make anything from them.

Dr. Noah Jr. pointed his glasses at the pictures. “Your x-rays show no abnormalities – see? They are all clear – except for the plastic replacing the back of your skull here…. and your electrodes, of course.”

He pointed his glasses to a shady white area that curved around where the back of the skull should have been and then to the ten small white silhouettes of the electrodes embedded in Robin’s skull and brain.

They really do look like spark plugs, he thought. Dr. Noah Jr. looked at Robin for a response.

Robin looked at the x-ray again. He hadn’t a clue as to what he was seeing.

“Well, that’s good news, I guess,” he said after a few seconds.

Dr. Noah Jr. put his glasses back on. “More like a miracle, Mr. Oracle. Your brain appears to have healed itself. Take another look at these x-rays.”

He pointed his glasses at what Robin thought might be his brain enveloped in the skull.

“Look here… especially here, at the back of your skull. Your brain is completely healed. On top of that you seem to be growing bone over the plastic cap we inserted.”

“Great. It’s amazing what the human body can do.”

“That’s the point, Mr. Oracle,” he said, putting his glasses on, “The human body, at least the normal human body, can’t do that.”

“I don’t understand what you are getting at,” Robin was confused.

The good doctor removed his glasses again and tapped them against the palm of his hand. “To put it simply: The brain is similar to our modern day electronic computers. It has storage areas, computing areas, connecting ‘cables’, input and output. If you take a hammer to some of a computer‘s memory chips, you lose memory capability. Hit the hard drive and you lose stored files or you might lose the DOS program that makes the whole machine work. The same theory applies to the brain. If you smash the area that knows how to talk – you lose the ability to speak. Unlike the computer, which allows you to replace broken parts, the brain when damaged is permanent. Sometimes we can teach it through therapy to overcome the problem. This doesn’t mean the brain grows new cells – it just makes new connections to other already existing cells to replace the damaged ones. Did you take biology in school?”

“Yeah, it was required in those days,” Robin replied.

“Then you know that when a human achieves adulthood their brain has as many cells as its ever going to have and no medical or surgical technique known to man at this time can replace damaged ones. Brain cells don’t grow back. At least they never have in the course of human history; until you came along.”

Robin gave him a funny look. He knew instinctively that the doctor was telling him the truth, but he didn’t quite understand why he was telling him all this.

“What are you trying to tell me, Doc? Can we get to the point?”

“Okay. To make a long story short, Mr. Oracle, you are the first human in known history whose body spontaneously reversed the physical damage sustained in a brain injury.”

Robin sat looking at the doctor as if waiting for the punch line.

“In plain language: Your brain has grown new tissue to replace the damaged parts.”

“Wait a minute, Doc… That’s impossible… at least that’s what we were all told in biology,” Robin declared.

“We know it’s impossible, Mr. Oracle, but the x-rays don’t lie.”

“But how…?” He looked into the doctor’s gray eyes.

“We don’t know. As you said, ‘It’s impossible’. Just as by all rights you should still be a cadaver lying on the table in my lab. It goes against everything we have learned in the study of physiology.”

“Aside from the dead part, maybe my brain wasn’t as badly damaged as you thought. Maybe it was just bruised and appeared damaged?”

“I operated on you myself. The back of your skull was shattered. Many of the pieces were as sharp as razors. They sliced and diced the back of your brain. You lost quite a bit of brain tissue. So much in fact that by all rights you should never have….” He paused.

“I repaired what I could as far as your skull, but I’m no miracle worker. Even if you had only been in a coma you should have remained a…” He paused again trying to find the right words.

“A vegetable…?” Robin said, finishing the Doctor’s thought for him.

“Well… Yes.”

“Then why would you bother to operate at all?”

“We normally wouldn’t, but you were supposed to be dead. I wanted to test the front of your brain to study its reactions to electrical stimuli even though the back of your brain was useless. I put the plastic skullcap in to keep your frontal lobes from deforming and to help reinforce the area where we placed the electrodes. I wanted to make sure that they stayed where they were connected. In brain distances we’re speaking of micro measurements.

“You see, at the end of those posts in your head is a micro filament wire which is placed in specific microscopic areas and the amount of current we inject to those areas is also microscopic. It has to be or we’d burn up the synapse and it would become useless. The idea is to stimulate not to annihilate.”

“It certainly stimulated me, doc. It brought me back from…” Robin thought a moment. From where? I don’t remember a thing. “…Well, back anyway.”

“Yes and no one here can figure out how. There are volumes of books on the brain, but we still know very little about it. We all agree it’s a remarkable organ. We weren’t sure what would happen, but we certainly didn’t expect this. When you came back from the dead it was miracle enough, let alone being able to talk, but after examining you and discovering that your brain appears as though nothing had happened to it at all… well, all we can say is that you are a real phenomenon.”

Robin stared at him in shock.

“Are you telling me I’m back to normal?”

“Well, I will say you have no sign of injury, no diseases, and appear to be healthier than most men your age, so you could be considered normal…whatever ‘normal’ is… except for the very abnormal fact that you shouldn’t be normal at all.”

“I think my death has confused my ability to grasp reality. Did you just say I am normal? As in able to be discharged and walk out of here?”

“Not quite ready to walk yet, but normal in most every other way, as far as we can tell. You can continue your physical therapy today and we’ll see how you progress. Judging from what you have already accomplished, medically speaking, I’d give good odds you’ll be on your feet in no time.

“I’d like to do more tests to understand how your body has accomplished what it has done, with your permission, of course. If we could understand it, we could help a lot of people who have no hope. Our research grant at Scripps will pay you for your time. It wouldn’t be a lot, but it would enable you to make some money while helping us to find a way to heal many others.”

“Are you asking me to volunteer to be your personal lab rat again? You’re not thinking of wiring my head back up, are you, Doc?”

“No, not to the shock machine anyway.” Dr. Noah laughed, “We would only take blood samples and run batteries of tests to see what we could find.”

Somehow, deep inside his unconscious mind, Robin knew he was speaking the truth.

“Okay. I’ll do it. I’m curious myself.”

The doctor won his bet. Robin was walking by the end of January and ready to be discharged a week after that. There was a small contingent of doctors around his bed the day of his release. Dr. Noah Sr. was one of them. Lisa the lab technician was there too. Dr. Noah Jr. was speaking.

“Well, Robin, it’s been a remarkable pleasure meeting you. Your recovery, to say the least, is one for the medical journals. Your physical therapy went so well we didn’t really get a chance to figure out what happened. I would still like to continue studying you and your progress as time goes by even though we have found nothing yet that gives us even an inkling of why your body was able to do the things it has done.”

“So how much longer do I get to stay here?”

“Our recent tests and your phenomenal improvement all say you are perfectly healthy. I’ll sign the release forms now and you should be free to go after lunch. You can come to my office here at Scripps for follow up tests.”

“Thanks, Doc. I’ll be happy to keep checking in with you just to be sure my miracle cure sticks. What about my headaches? I can’t seem to shake them off.”

“I’ll give you a prescription for that. Do you have a place to stay?”

“No. Not really, my last home was a cardboard box in an alley and I have no way of paying rent anywhere, much less for all this hospital stuff.”

The doctor wrote something on a piece of paper. “Here… This is the address of George and Anna McNeely. They run a Christian half way house for people recovering from injuries like yours. I’ll call them and tell them you’re coming. Don’t worry, it won’t cost you anything and they don’t preach at you. They just offer room and board to help people get back on their feet again. I took the liberty of checking with them just in case, and they said you could move in this afternoon. I’ll call them back and tell them you’re coming.” He reached into his pocket and handed Robin a twenty-dollar bill. “Here’s some money for the taxi.”

“Thanks, Doc, but I feel I owe you my life. By the way, where are my clothes?” he quickly averted his eyes so no one would notice they were wetter than usual.

“Destroyed, I’m afraid. We didn’t think you’d need them. Besides they were in really bad shape.”

Dr. Noah Sr. spoke up. “You’re my size, Robin. I’m sure I have something I can give you to wear.”

“Thanks, Doc. I really appreciate it.”

“Think nothing of it. I’m always happy to help out a phenomenon.”

Everybody chuckled. Robin shook his head and ran his fingers through the stubble that was growing there. His hand caught on something sticking out of his skull.

“Wait a minute, Doc. What about these spikes in my skull? When do you take them out?”

“We can’t yet. Until we are sure you are completely well we don’t dare risk an operation. It could kill you.”

Robin laughed. “Now that’s funny, Doc, having been dead once already, but I don’t think I want to do that again. So, I’ll wait until you think I’m ready. Besides, I’m beginning to like them. They look kind of attractive in a bizarre heavy metal kind of way.”

They all chuckled. Dr. Noah Jr. pointed his glasses at Robin’s head. “When your hair comes in its full growth no one will know they are there – except you, of course – They only stick up ¼ an inch or so above your scalp.”

“I hope I can find a girlfriend with a spike fetish. Otherwise: I’m screwed.”

They all laughed again.

“I should think we could operate in a few months – just to be safe.”

“I’ll take your word for it, Doc. I think I could get used to the constant buzz, but I really wish I could lose the headaches.”

“Before you check out the nurse will give you a prescription and instructions on how to get to the half-way house. Take a few days to relax at the McNeely’s and come and see me next Friday. Is ten a.m. Okay?”

“Sure. I don’t have any pressing engagements. Thanks again. Thanks, all of you. You’ve been great. Sorry I messed up your experiment, Doc.”

He turned to Lisa and said, “Are you sure you’re okay, Lisa?”

She smiled and said, “I think I’m over it, but I don’t think I want to have the experience repeated. I’m staying out of the morgue and as far away as possible from dead people.”

They all laughed.

“I guess dinner would be out of the question then?”

They all laughed again.

“That’s okay – I’m broke anyway. Well… I guess I’ll be seeing you then.”

“See you Friday, Robin.” Dr. Noah turned to leave. “Oh. I almost forgot. We all chipped in and got you a present. Lisa?”

“On behalf of all of us here we wanted you to have this,” she said.

She held out a baseball cap with the word “Phenomenon” stitched on it.

“Gee. Thanks.”

“It will cover up your spikes until your hair grows in,” Dr. Noah Sr. said. “We wouldn’t want you to be mistaken for a punk rocker. Would we?”

They all laughed.

“Thanks a lot,” Robin said with mock sarcasm. He was touched by their sincerity. He was going to miss everyone even though he was happy to get out of the place. “I’ll see you next Friday, Doc.”

What a great bunch of people, he thought, as the group left the room.

After lunch Robin put on the suit Dr. Noah Sr. had brought by for him. He looked in the mirror. His sandy brown hair had flecks of gray in it. His Hazel eyes appeared to be blue because of the blue suit he was wearing.

I don’t look too bad for a forty-five year old, he thought.

A chunky, middle-aged, blond nurse with a pretty face entered his room pushing a wheelchair.

“Here’s your chariot, Mr. Oracle,” she said cheerily.

“Thanks, but after all that time on my back I’d rather walk.”

“Sorry, hospital rules. Nobody walks.”

“Why not?” he asked as he got into the chair.

“We wouldn’t want you to fall down and injure yourself, would we? Got everything?”

He looked at the wall clock. It said eleven thirty.

“Yeah, I’m ready to face the world I guess.”

She wheeled Robin into the corridor. All the nurses said goodbye to him as he went to the elevator. He thanked them and said his good-byes I wonder if they’ll miss the phenomenon, he mused.

Downstairs he signed the discharge papers, received his headache medicine, and then headed for the front door. His head was throbbing. There was a dull roar in his head, like a swarm of angry killer bees. He asked the nurse to make a U-turn so he could take his medication at the nearest water fountain.

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