FIFTEEN | Biopsy
“When did this happen.” The words were more of a demand than a question. Especially coming from Dr. Blair.
“Not long. There shouldn’t be any clotting.”
“Still warm...” her hand rested on E7′s arm, just below the sleeve of his t-shirt. He held his breath and hoped she couldn’t see the color drain from his face as coldness seeped through him from her touch.
“I would’ve been happy to collect samples for you and your team.” James stood next to the bed, his shoulder brushing against the wall. “You could have saved yourself the effort.”
“I’m sure you would have,” Dr. Blair retorted, her lilting accent always a surprise. “Happy to take samples from every patient in the hospital except this one.”
The ceiling tile was starting to blur but E7 kept his eyes trained on it, refusing to move as Dr. Blair’s hand flashed above him, then out of sight.
James exhaled something that sounded like a forced chuckle. E7 recognized the irritation in his tone as he said, “you think so?”
“Don’t laugh, Dr. Crane. This situation is anything but humorous. What’s happened today is a tragedy. One that could have been avoided, had you allowed my team to monitor the subject after testing.” She turned her head, motioning to the other person in the room. “Set the table up right there.”
Movement. Metal bars clanging together. E7′s eyelids twitched at the noise, but the movement was imperceptible.
James scoffed, clearly annoyed. “And have the entire hospital come crumbling down on our heads?” he snapped. There was no sign of laughter in his voice now. “You saw the dead rabbit. Did you also see the busted pipe in the hall? Those things are nothing when you think about what could’ve happened. A sneeze compared to the Ebola virus. Or the plague.”
“You’re the plague.”
“I try my best.”
“Ceaselessly juvenile. Always. You’re a grown man but you’re a child, Crane. A child.”
“Well,” James straightened his shoulders, lifting his head a little. “I suppose I should feel a little nervous, then. Since we all know what happens to children around you, Dr. Blair.”
“Open the case, Dominik.” Dr. Blair barked, angry and impatient. E7 fought the urge to inhale deeply, his lungs starting to ache from the effort of maintaining shallow breaths. “Do I need to do this myself or are you going to assist?”
The other person in the room, the one called Dominik, shuffled closer and spoke to Dr. Blair. The words meant absolutely nothing to E7, who couldn’t understand them at all. But the way he said them so softly, it seemed like an apology.
Dr. Blair made a short reply and then turned to James. “We have a job to do, Dr. Crane. As do you. Why don’t we leave each other to it?” It was an order. Shifting away from James, she said something to Dominik. The words sounded heavy, and compressed, with emphasis in strange places. There was a creaking sound as Dominik moved the table closer to the bed, his gloved hands closing around E7′s ankles. It took all the control he had not to spring up and jerk his legs away from the man’s tight grip.
“You’re moving him?” James asked, surprised.
“Of course,” she said as if he should’ve known. But he hadn’t known. At least, he hadn’t warned E7 that they would be doing anything but taking blood samples. “Now, are you going to get out of my way, or do I need Dominik to help me with that, as well?”
E7 could tell by Dominik’s firm pull that he was strong. Probably tall, and large. But he wouldn’t do anything to James. No one could. Dr. Blair could speak to James however she pleased, that much was clear. But getting him to do what she wanted...that was different.
Across the room, the door slammed.
“What happened?” Soto’s voice trembled, her tone shrill. “What are you doing?”
E7′s breathing slipped for just one inhale, causing his chest to shudder. But no one was looking at him. They were distracted by Soto charging into the room, practically screaming.
“Why wasn’t I called? I could’ve—” she was forced to stop only when James put his hands on her arms, blocking her from seeing the bed. She pushed back, leaning around to see E7 on the table, laying perfectly still. He wanted so badly to look at her. I’m okay, he would tell her if she could. He hated that she was worried. It made him sick to hear the utter despair.
“There was nothing to be done. We tried everything,” James said, still holding her back. There was a scraping noise, a squeak of shoes against the tile, and the wrinkle of plastic and rubber.
“Don’t do that, it’s dangerous,” Dr. Blair exclaimed.
“I don’t give a f—”
“We don’t know what will happen with Cerelux postmortem!” Dr. Blair went on. “It’s not worth the risk. Put it back on!”
"Stop giving me orders!” Soto snapped, her finger jabbing at the other woman’s face.
“Soto.” This time it was James who spoke, his voice calm. “Think of your boys.”
Soto sucked in a breath, pressing her gloved hand to her mouth, her brown hair spilling onto her shoulders in sweaty clumps. “How—how did this happen?” she demanded brokenly.
“Come with me. I’ll explain,” James offered, taking her by the arm.
“I-I want to see him,” she said, swallowing back a sob.
“Later,” James promised. “Just come outside with me.”
“This would never have happened if she hadn’t come here!” Soto cried, pointing at Dr. Blair. “You did this!”
“Now, Soto,” James snapped.
E7 felt the air go cold—or maybe it was the fear silently creeping under his skin. They were going to leave him alone with Dr. Blair and the man whose hands were still clutching E7′s ankles even tighter than before as if Soto would’ve tried to drag him out of the room. They were walking away, their footsteps thumping to the other side of the room. The door opened again and then closed. Gone.
"Suka,” Dominik muttered hatefully.
"Zatknis’!” was Dr. Blair’s sharp, impatient reply. “Let’s get him onto the table.”
Fighting the urge to squirm away from them, E7 tried to let his body go limp. He wasn’t supposed to be stiff—that’s what James had said. He should be pliable and not resist them. Otherwise, they would know about the game and it would end too soon. But what was the point of this whole thing? It was mean to make Soto cry, and it was terrifying to be alone with Blair and Dominik, who had lifted him without much trouble from the bed to the padded table.
"Nozhnitsy,” Dr. Blair held her arm out over the table. Dominik placed a pair of scissors in her hand. They were bent at the ends and sharp. Starting at the ankle, she put the fabric of E7′s pants between each blade and slid upward. They cut through as if each pant leg was made of paper. E7′s eyes went the tiniest bit wider, his leg twitching.
“Doctor,” Dominik said, speaking English for the first time. “The leg. It moved.”
Dr. Blair paused, the icy blade of the scissors pressing against E7′s hip. She had already sliced through the entire left side of his pants. “Just a spasm, I think.” She lifted the scissors away from his skin and handed them back to Dominik. “Get the 18-gauge and a swab.”
There was more clinking as Dominik dug into a small black case sitting at the end of the table. After a few seconds of searching, he pulled out a needle and a small white square of cloth, bringing them wordlessly to Dr. Blair, who then instructed him to lift E7′s left leg.
Don’t, E7 thought as the man’s gloves rubbed against the skin under his knee. Don’t touch me, please don’t touch me! A million questions raced through his mind. What were they doing? Why hadn’t James told him about this? He wanted the game to end. Right now, he screamed inside the cage of his thoughts. Stop!
Something cold pressed against his inner thigh. Though he was terrified, E7 stayed frozen, wishing that he really was dead and that James would’ve just let him go back to his cocoon and then pull him out again, like he always did. E7 didn’t care that it hurt, or that it might wake the monster. He just wanted to disappear from this room, to go to a place where he was away from these people, where he was safe.
Dr. Blair set the swab aside and pressed two of her fingers against his upper thigh, near his groin. She tapped, then pushed into his skin. “I might have to do a cutdown,” she mumbled, speaking softly as she leaned over his torso to get a better look at the inside of his leg.
Cutdown, he thought anxiously. What is that? Although only one side of his pants had been sliced open, E7 felt totally naked. Vulnerable. Helpless.
“Ah,” Dr. Blair exhaled happily. “There it is.” The needle slipped into his skin and went deep into his thigh, burning painfully as she lifted and pressed, altering the angle. “Vacutainer,” she held out her hand again. Dominik placed a small, clear tube in her palm. Attaching it to the cup at the end of the needle, Dr. Blair watched blood pour out, filling the tube. She then removed the tube and held out her hand, where Dominik placed a second vacutainer. Once attached, it filled up as rapidly as the first. She then requested a third tube, which promptly turned black, before extracting the needle, at last, from his thigh.
“We go?” Dominik asked, lowering E7′s leg back onto the cold surface of the padded table and placing the tubes carefully into the open black case.
Dr. Blair heaved an impatient sigh. She turned her head, watching the door. “No,” she said after a moment. “I want a liver biopsy. We can do it before he gets back if we hurry. We’ll need more than blood if we want to find out what happened here. I’d like a sample from his hypothalamus as well, but that’s impossible. They’ll have to settle for whatever we can manage. I didn’t bring a biopsy needle but there must be one nearby—check the supply room.” She pointed to the door.
“No ultrasound?” Dominik asked, sounding surprised.
“I think I know where to find his liver, Dominik.”
"Khorosho,” he responded with a nod.
“I’ll prep. If I leave his shirt on, Crane won’t even notice the incision. Apparently, a lot of things slip by him these days,” she mumbled as Dominik passed by. “And Dominik,” she said as he got to the door. He looked at her. “Hurry.”
E7 counted the seconds, holding his breath whenever he felt Dr. Blair hovering over him. She worked methodically, preparing a small blade as well as some sort of antiseptic. He could smell the sharp odor from where he lay on the table, even when taking only the shallowest of breaths. His eyes, already aching from lack of moisture, started to water. Tears pooled in the corners, threatening to spill over onto his cheeks. What was she going to do to him now? A liver biopsy? Would it hurt? Would it make him cry out, unable to stay silent amidst the pain?
Pouring the antiseptic onto some thick gauze, Dr. Blair approached E7′s right side steadily. Without hesitation, she shoved his shirt upwards as high as it would go and lifted his arm, placing it beside his head. She then proceeded to rub the gauze on the skin above his ribs toward his side, just below the armpit. The antiseptic was cold and left a trail of orange stain in its wake. His thigh chose that moment to remind him of the needle wound near his groin, aching and burning as if the needle were still there.
E7′s thoughts turned to James. He hadn’t come back. Where had he and Soto gone? Was James telling her the truth—that this was a game to trick Dr. Blair? Would she come back and end it, or would the two of them let him stay in here until he moved or blinked or made some kind of mistake that would ruin the game?
Please, he begged wordlessly, please come back, James. Don’t let them do this.
Something clinked as Dr. Blair grabbed an item out of the black box. Her back was turned to him long enough to allow a few deep breaths. He blinked carefully, trying not to let the tears escape his eyes. His body stilled once more as she turned to face him again. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught the unmistakable glimmer of light as it bounced off the edge of a scalpel. He’d seen that object enough times to know what was coming. It took everything in him to fight back the scream gnawing at his throat. He had to hold his breath to stay silent.
Just then, the door opened. Dr. Blair’s head shot up. It was clear she expected James to be the one who walked through the door. Instead, Dominik’s voice filled the room with a triumphant tone, his words sounding like gibberish to E7′s panicked brain.
“Just in time,” Dr. Blair said as Dominik came to stand beside her. There was a grey object in his hand. It was cylindrical in shape, with a button on the side and a needle attached to one end. The longest needle E7 had ever seen before. Dominik removed the cap from one end and held the object at the ready.
The blade felt cold as it pressed against him for an instant before splitting his skin. It began to move up and down, sawing upward. His jaw clenched—an imperceptible movement to the two of them as they concentrated on a spot below his ribs were blood was beginning to spill out. The pain was overwhelming and the tears that had been hovering in the corners of his eyes suddenly spilled out, followed by two more. Stepping on broken glass had been nothing compared to the fiery ache of the blade as it sliced deliberately and deeply into his body. He was sure they could see his heart beating out of his chest.
“Interesting,” Dr. Blair said.
E7 felt the air grow thick and heavy in his lungs. She knew. She must’ve figured it out and now she would find James and tell him that she knew it was a game, and everything would be ruined, all because E7 couldn’t do as he was told. His fault. It would all be his fault. He couldn’t breathe.
Dr. Blair reached out with her empty hand, touching the blood with her fingers. “No clotting. Not even viscous.”
“Is like alive blood,” Dominik commented.
“Very interesting,” she repeated, setting down the blade. “Give me the needle.” Dominik hastily removed the cap and handed it over. Leaning forward, she stuck the needle through the incision and guided it deeper than the blade had gone. There was a quick snap when she pressed the button on the side and then pulled the needle back out.
Dr. Blair exhaled. “Done.”
E7 could feel warm blood pooling on the table at his side. He wanted to shout, scream, kick and cry his way to the door and pound on it. He wanted to shout for Soto or James, or anyone to come into the room with him so that he wouldn’t have to be alone with Dr. Blair and Dominik anymore. All at once he remembered the images from earlier that day; the person strapped to the chair, screaming. He felt like he was there again now, but the voice crying out would be his, this time. Not someone else. Inside, he was already screaming.