I’m at the hospital, waiting to get my sacrificial lung detoxed. I’m a little nervous, and I keep fingering the cellophane wrapping on the flower. I don’t want to damage it, so I try to concentrate on the docu playing in the patient waiting area. The voice from the screen, a synthesized David Attenborough, explains the story behind the invention of the procedure I’m about to have.
“Vachellia xanthophloea, more commonly known as fever tree, was a species of Acacia native to south and east Africa.”
The screen shows an image of a tree in what I’m assuming is African savanna, and I squint trying to decide if it’s an enhanced video from the beginning of the century or if it’s wholly digital. I can’t tell.
“The tree has developed a unique survival mechanism that allowed it to flourish in a very harsh environment,” Attenborough’s voice continues.
Now the screen fades to a diagram representing a tree, and I lose interest again. They haven’t changed the docu from the patient waiting area in years, I’ve seen it many times before. The diagram will explain how the tree pumped clean water to the upper branches and deposited all the nasty stuff in one lower branch, which would eventually die. The sacrificial branch. Then they will show an interview with Dr. Hanjeet, the good old doctor, who will talk about his safari and how he saw the fever tree and became fascinated with it.
But today I won’t hear it, because a nurse calls out my name. I look up — it’s not Brenda.
I follow the nurse to the procedure room, and she sets me up in the chair. She’s older and there’s something very official about her.
“Mr. Harrow,” she says and I admit with a nod.
Brenda always asks me how I’m doing. I always ask her back which makes her pleased and she giggles because I don’t think other patients show her such interest. But this nurse, Meredith, I see from her name tag, doesn’t strike me as the type who’d appreciate small talk.
“I see your last detox was less than four months ago?” she says consulting my records on her tablet. “Yeah.”
“The procedure is recommended every six months, Mr. Harrow.”
“Yeah,” I say again and hope she’d let it go.
But no, not Meredith.
“Is there any reason why you came earlier?” she presses, eyeing me sternly.
I have a line prepared, just in case someone inquires.
“There was a toxic spill at my refinery, and we were recommended to detox asap,” I say.
There really had been a spillage. Meredith doesn’t need to know that it wasn’t on my shift. She seems satisfied. She presses a button and reclines my chair. I’m clutching the flower in its cellophane wrapping, forgetting not to squish it. For a moment I have the urge to ask about Brenda, but soon I’ve got tubes going down my nose and my throat and chatting is not an option anymore. So instead I think about dr. Hanjeet and the fever tree.
Inspired by the ingenious acacia, the good doctor decided to speed up our evolution some, rightly reasoning that we did not have the millennia needed for the natural process. So with his team of genetic engineers, Dr. Hanjeet developed for us a sacrificial lung. Which was brilliant really, because we don’t have to worry about polluting the environment any more now that we’re more resilient to it.
“Mr. Harrow,” the nurse’s voice wakes me out of my reverie, “the tests show that all the levels of toxins in your system are within the norm.”
Oh good. For some reason I want to laugh at this pronouncement, but it, too, is impossible with all the tubes in my larynx. And anyway, what’s so funny about that.
Meredith removes the tubes and sprays some more lubricant into my nose and throat to soothe the irritated skin. And I’m free to go.
Leaving the room, I notice that the flower I’m holding is broken and some of the petals detached. For some reason this makes me terribly sad. I rush through the waiting area.
I turn around. It’s Brenda. She smiles at me.
“How are you doing, Mr. Harrow?”
“Fine. I’m fine,” I mumble, surprised to see her, after all. “And how are you, Brenda?”
It’s the first time I use her name. I always refrained from it, not wanting to seem overly familiar, but today she caught me off guard.
“Very well, thank you,” she giggles, as always. She doesn’t seem to be offended.
“Have you had your procedure already?” she asks.
I nod, and I give her the line about the spill. Surreptitiously, I hide the broken flower in my pocket.
“Well, see you next time then, Mr. Harrow.”
“See you soon, Brenda.”
Next time, I’ll bring her a better flower, I think, a proper plastic one.