After a few days at home to regain his strength and make sure he was not going to have a repeat of the TIA or something worse, Orville went back to RMD. The last time he had been here, the team had just finished the final assembled prototype for beta testing and he was stunned when he arrived back to find out from Thomas and Loraine that it had passed with flying colors except for one integrated module that unfortunately was vital to a fully functional product. They all tiptoed around Orville like he was some fragile egg when interacting with him on his first day back. Finally, Orville could stand it no longer and called a meeting of the entire development team in the conference room. He stood at the end of the long table, as they all looked on with concern in their faces.
“Look everyone,” Orville began, “I appreciate your concern but I am fine. I am sure you are all wondering what exactly happened, so let’s just get it out, clear the air, and get on with work. I had a TIA the week before last. You may have heard from Thomas or Loraine that I collapsed, and that is what was the cause.”
He looked around the table and saw mostly greater degrees of concern with a several exhibiting looks beyond that.
“I have some high blood pressure issues that seemed to have triggered it, but my doctor has cleared me and it is nothing to be worried about. I will be keeping better tabs on my health now than I have in the past, but there is no reason to see me as some rarified, fragile hot house flower now who might wilt at any moment.”
They got a few laughs and Orville could feel the tension in the air fade away.
“We will continue on with the current project as planned, though I may be handing off a little more responsibility to Thomas and Loraine as we finalize this one module that seems intent on refusing to cooperate. If you have any questions, let’s hear them now and not be slowed by a rumor mill of when your poor old boss might fall over in a heap again.”
This got a bigger laugh. A couple of the newer engineers who did not know Orville as well as the others inquired as to how they could step up to take any pressure off of him and to see if they could do anything of a personal nature for him while he got back into the swing of the routine here at RMD. Orville was truly touched that he had apparently inspired such devotion and dedication from his team, especially those who were new to RMD. In a day and age of high cynicism and distrust and self-interest, Orville was proud to have picked the team members he had.
“If nothing further, then let’s get back at it.”
Orville watched as all but Thomas and Loraine shuffled out and headed back to the lab.
“You really OK, boss?” Thomas asked.
Orville had seen no reason to go into all the details of his personal health situation with the team and for sure he was not going to let anyone know about his consultations with Dr. Fote, though that undoubtedly would leak back eventually. Likewise, though he was closer to both his senior engineers than anyone at RMD, save Frederick and Janice, Orville decided to stay guarded with them as well.
“I am. Dr. Rodden says I just need to keep a regular watch on my blood pressure and maybe ratchet it down a notch here.”
“He thinking all the hours and pressure from up top here brought this on?” Loraine asked as they sat in a tight triangle to chat.
“Not 100%, but with everything else factored in, it seems likely.”
“Anything Loraine and I can do?” Thomas asked.
“Actually there is. And I am confiding this in you based on our long-standing relationship here. We need to have this project move ahead and I do not want my health or anything else to interfere.”
They both sat back and listened intently.
“Rodden says the TIA could possibly be the harbinger of a full stroke. Needless to say that is nothing anyone would want to experience, including me. With that said, I would like to request a couple things from you two. I will lay them out and then you can get together and talk and let me know. I do not need an answer right this minute. And I am fine with your decision either way. It absolutely will not affect your careers here in anyway. Do you trust me with that assurance?”
They both nodded immediately.
“OK. For now, this is just between the three of us. Not even Frederick and Janice will be privy to this. Based on medical advice I am getting from various doctors, I am seriously considering taking an early retirement once we wrap up this ongoing project.”
Orville let that one sink in. One of those advising him was the psychologist, Emily Fote, though Orville was determined to keep this just to himself untl it leaked somehow and he had to fess up. Even in this enlightened times, he thought, there is still this stigma attached to mental health issues, and he would have bet his last bonus check that RMD, as ultra-conservative as the board was, would jump on that to push him out. Orville was, he decided, going to depart on his own terms, not theirs.
“If and when that happens, I would like to recommend the two of you to step in and take over my old position of running this group. I think I can convince Frederick and Janice that this is best considering how well you two work as a team and play off each other’s strengths.”
Orville paused again to let them absorb this information.
“Second, I need you to keep this under wraps. I do not want any rumors to get started which might jeopardize the project or alert the management here as to my intentions before I am ready to make it public knowledge. I know I can trust you on this, but all the same, I cannot emphasize the need for absolute secrecy on this anyway. OK?”
They nodded still sitting silent looking as shocked and stunned as Orville had imagined they would be.
“And finally, if this project produces the financial rewards everyone here seems to think it will, I would like to offer the two of you an additional bump of the normal bonuses we will receive as an added incentive to help me construct this subterfuge.”
He sat back and sighed knowing now that this was in the hands of his most trusted and valued colleagues. Even if they were resistant to the idea, though he could not imagine why, he was sure they would keep this conversation to themselves. But if not…well…he would deal with that in due time.
“You serious, boss?” Loraine asked.
“You ever know me to be the office cut-up?”
She chuckled and looked over at Thomas and he nodded. She agreed.
“No problem, boss,” Thomas replied. “We do not need think this one over. We’re in.”
Orville was sitting in the sunny alcove of Emily Fote’s clinic after their last session as he thought over all he had divulged to her over the weeks since he had taken Ben Rodden’s advice to see her. She was smart, intuitive, and never made him feel uncomfortable. That was key as he had been a bit reluctant and resistant in the beginning to see her. He was still a bit anxious about the whole idea that La Mala Hora could be just a creation out of his own mind, but Emily listened to him and offered her perspective in a non-judgmental and caring manner. They had mutually agreed that unless Orville felt the need to consult her again, that their time together had reached a logical conclusion.
Orville was about 80% convinced that the supposed sighting he had experienced of La Mala Hora in the RMD courtyard just before he passed out that day had not been real…it was just his imagination fueled by a combination of the legend from Guatemala and how much of an impact it had had on him at the time and this TIA incident. He had not had any repeat visions—not even in his dreams, which had occurred from time to time prior to his time with Dr. Fote—which led him to feel it had been just his imagination. However, the one other issue that had come out of his sessions with Emily was that she agreed with Ben Rodden that the continued cycle of the stress he would incur at RMD if he continued on there was not a good idea.
Like Rodden, Emily made sure he knew she was no prognosticator of such things but felt the risk of a fill-blown stroke or something worse, was not in Orville’s’ best interests moving ahead.
“I know it is a tiresome, hackneyed, and overused cliché, Orville,” she said following their final session together, “but stress really is the silent killer.”
“I am not telling you how to run your life, but I would strongly recommend you consider a change with RMD.”
“You and Rodden working together on this?” Orville said with a smile.
“No…I guess good minds think alike, though. We are just wanting what is best for you,”
“I know…and I appreciate it.”
“I know it would be an adjustment for you considering your strong devotion to your work all these years, Orville, but is it worth your health to ignore it? There are other options to keep your hand in the field without the day-to-day treadmill you put yourself on isn’t there?”
“You mean consulting? That kind of thing?”
“If you are feeling the loss of the intellectual component of your background, sure….I think that would be good. I just do not think, if you want to avoid another breakdown, that you can keep on as you have been for the last…what…30 years?”
“Thirty-eight, actually….” Orville replied. “It certainly is food for thought.”
“Besides…” she went on, “with what you guys over at RMD have accomplished, it is not like you need the money, right?”
“You keep up on the papers, I see…”
“Just as it relates to my patients.”
“Yeah…we finalized that project we were in the midst of when I had my TIA. And yes, it was and continues to be just as financially rewarding to me as it was intellectually satisfying.”
“And if I recall, this recent trip of yours to Central America kind of opened up another world for you, correct? That there are many things out there besides the lab? You are in an enviable position, Orville.”
“That I am, and yes that trip was a life changer….in more ways than you might imagine. Maybe you are right. Maybe it is time to pull the plug.”
“ I am sure you will make the best decision for yourself, Orville. Take care of yourself and know I am here if you ever need to talk again. It has been a pleasure.”
“Same here, Emily. Thanks for everything.”