| One |
October 15, 2016
Dr. Ethan Lewis had finally tracked Lily’s parents down to Poughkeepsie, New York with the help of Agent Mike Sims. Dr. Lewis promised it was a one-time thing so Mike agreed. Mike owed him one because, as he said, “Without Ethan the FBI wouldn’t have found the 27 missing people.”
Dr. Lewis sat in the passenger seat of the Mercedes AMG S63, his knee bouncing up and down nervously as he stared out the window. He was trying to focus on the beauty of the colorful trees and rolling hills but the scenery had little effect. His palms began to sweat and he sighed heavily as Junior wailed in the back. Junior was only 20 months old, but Ethan wanted to take the drive from Saint Louis to Poughkeepsie. He needed the time to think, to go over the conversation he needed to have with Lily’s parents—a conversation 20 years in the making.
“Sorry about Junior,” Annie said as she glanced toward Dr. Lewis.
“Don’t be. It’s not him,” he responded shifting in his chair. He reached toward the dashboard and turned the temperature down on his side of the car.
“Wanna talk about it?”
“No. I know what I’m gonna say. Just not sure if they’ll let me in,” he said, sighing heavily once again.
A moment later they drove past a sign, “Welcome to New York.” Dr. Lewis began to sweat. He reached forward once again turning down the air, pointing all the vents toward his face. He closed his eyes trying to stop the car from spinning. His heart was slamming against his thorax and his respiratory rate increased significantly. In that moment he saw her eyes; Lily’s eyes. The eyes he’d dreamt about for the last 20 years. The eyes he saw just one week earlier. He couldn’t handle thinking about what happened. The stress of the present moment was too great for him to handle the thought of seeing her.
Several hours and three pit stops later, Dr. Ethan Lewis, Annie, and Junior all pulled up outside the moderate two-story home. It was beautiful, white with lush, green grass and old growth trees throughout the neighborhood. Ethan sat motionless in the car staring at the front of the house. The hundreds of scenarios he ran through his head over the two-day road trip immediately evaporated into an empty mind. He had no idea what to say, how to start; but he was there and it needed to happen. He closed his eyes and, for the first time in a long time, said a silent prayer.
The smell of fresh cut grass and burning leaves leapt at him as he opened the door. Ethan walked to the trunk and grabbed a basket full of flowers, Lilies of the Valley.
“Are you ready?” Annie asked as she met Ethan at the rear of his car holding a smiling Junior.
“I don’t know where to start,” he said with tears piling themselves against his eyes making it hard to see Annie’s dark red hair.
“At the beginning, Ethan. That’s the only way it works.”
“You’re gonna hear things you may not feel comfortable with.”
“This was all your idea, Doc,” she said smiling, knowing it would make him laugh. It was what Kyle had often called him when they were giving each other a hard time.
“That’s cheating,” he said smiling back. “I miss him too.”
“Don’t be. It was my fault.”
“No. Don’t do that. It was just as much my fault as yours. He wouldn’t have been there if it wasn’t for me,” Annie said allowing herself to shed a tear as she squeezed Kyle Junior tightly.
“We’ve never talked about this before. I don’t think now’s the time,” Ethan said wiping the tear from her face.
Annie nodded and they turned toward the house.
The three of them began to walk up the edged sidewalk, past the manicured flower garden, and up three small wooden steps onto the porch. Ethan wiped his hands on his pants several times and his eyes began to dart all around, looking for a way out. Annie stood rooted beside him, she squeezed his arm firmly, reassuring him he was making the right decision.
Ethan rang the doorbell at 4:00 p.m. on a quiet Saturday afternoon. The maroon door swung open and there stood Edward Fisch, Lily’s father.
“Captain Fisch,” he said to the former police officer.
“Well don’t you clean up nice?” he blurted harshly.
“You look good. Apparently you found a way to move on,” Edward Fisch said as he nodded his head politely toward Annie and Junior.
“No sir, we’re just friends,” Ethan said looking toward Annie.
“Been seeing you on TV over the years. Must be pretty well set up now huh?” Mr. Fisch said.
“Yes sir I’ve done well. But that’s not why I’m here.”
“Well spit it out Ethan I don’t have all day,” he said crossing his heavy arms as he stood in the doorway.
“It’s about Lily. I’ve thought about her every single day since she left. I wanted you to know you should be proud of her.”
“She didn’t leave, Ethan, she died,” he said as he shifted, accidentally hitting the front door and opening it wide enough for Ethan to look inside, revealing beautifully stained hardwood and a white with blue rug that lay just inside.
“She made me a believer.”
“Is this a joke? She’s been gone 20 years Ethan. In fact, I don’t know why we’re entertaining each other right now. What’s your pitch? What are you selling?”
“Please. Let us come in and tell you a story. I’ll start from the beginning and end with what happened last week.”
“Pat!” Edward yelled through the house without taking his eyes off Ethan.
A few moments later a petite woman with long, silver hair stood next to her husband. It was the first time Ethan had ever seen Pat’s eyes. She had never looked at Ethan before, let alone into his eyes, but as soon as she did, he saw where Lily had gotten hers. For a brief moment Ethan was taken back to the island, only to be immediately brought back by Mrs. Fisch’s firm voice.
“Ethan?” she asked in shock. “Why are you here?”
“Mrs. Fisch, please. I’d love to tell you the story but can we come in? It’s going to take a while.”
“About how your daughter saved my life.”
“Are those Lilies?” Pat asked.
“Yes. Lily of the Valley-—”
“Her favorite,” Pat said as she placed her hand over her mouth and began to cry. It had taken her years to allow herself to even look at a lily since her daughter died. They had often looked at flowers together; Pat had always been a gardener.
Ed and Pat both stood there for a moment with tears in their eyes. Ed placed his right arm around his wife and pulled her gently into his shoulder, kissing her on the head. Pat began to cry and nod her head.
“Let them in Ed. I want to hear this,” Pat said after a moment of silence. The two of them stepped back allowing Ethan, Annie, and Junior into the home.
“Your home is beautiful,” Annie said as she admired the 10-foot ceilings and the large living room where Ed had gestured them to go.
“Not as beautiful as that baby of yours,” Pat said smiling. “May I?” she asked holding her hands up toward Junior.
“Be my guest,” Annie said gently passing Junior to her.
“Come on in here and we’ll sit down. You can tell us that story,” Ed said walking toward the couches.
Ethan sighed heavily, preparing himself. He envisioned this moment occurring, but never thought it would truly happen. His mind was a whirlwind of stories, of events that led to him meeting Lily. He thought of Harvard and Lily, the treatments, the secret commitment to each other with their tattoos and what ultimately killed her. He thought all the way back to the beatings as a youth, the courtroom decision that left him in foster care. But most of all, he thought about the research and how it led to so much more than they ever understood. He took out a rock, and a notebook that he had used in the car to make notes, ensuring he wouldn’t leave out a detail.
“This is going to sound unbelievable,” Ethan said as he placed the black lava rock down onto the glass coffee table that rested between himself and Lily’s parents. He looked to Annie who smiled and nodded back. “But she’s here to corroborate everything I say,” he said looking at Annie again. “I love your daughter with every part of me. She’s the only person who knows me completely. Nobody comes close. She’s saved me more than once.”
| TWO |
November 8, 2005
Dr. Ethan Lewis sat in a black leather kitchen chair in silence as the sun progressively brought the room to life. Steam gently twisted and rolled from a coffee cup, the swirling moisture matching the figured wood of the walnut table. Tall dark custom hickory cabinets hung over black granite counters speckled white, creating the illusion of the heavens. The backsplash was several shades of green glass tile that glistened in the crescendo of light. The counters had a few items: a toaster, a coffee maker, and a glass jar containing carrots in a preservative solution, bringing a pop of contrasting color, which the decorator had suggested.
Sitting at his kitchen table in the indigo light of a young morning, Dr. Lewis was gently running his finger along the surface of the table, craving a comforting sensation he felt in his youth. He remembered, the scarred wood on the bedpost from his finger tracing the circular pattern over and over again. The touch of the smooth wood gradually revealed its true texture as he wore away the polyurethane. It was his favorite game as a young boy, the only thing he was allowed to do in his prison cell of a bedroom.
It had taken opening up to Lily to realize how traumatizing his childhood was. He told her about the countless times he was beaten, then locked in his room, told to “stay on his bed or get another whoopin’.” He rarely wanted to leave his bed. It was a safe zone, a place he could hide, where his parents wouldn’t see or hear him. While sitting on the bed as a malnourished youth, he would imagine wonderful places he thought he’d never see. In his mind, he painted his dingy white walls with lively colors, crashing waves, and rockets launching skyward with a red and orange trail of fire. He allowed the visions to overwhelm him, to take him away, to be his reality; if only for a moment. His fantasy would often be broken when the yellow light from under his door became fractured by two long shadows. His anxiety would return and prayers would be silently said, only to be unanswered each time by his mother or father entering. But with Lily, things had been different.
Lily had broken him, like a young stallion, bucking wild and retreating from anyone’s advance, Ethan always found himself alone until her. She found a way to calm him, to talk to him, to show him she could love him, and he loved her back. The treatment she manufactured for his anxiety had worked. Every time he went into treatment it was like being back in his room with vivid scenes laid out before him. However, during the treatments he was able to fully interact with the incredible sensory experience. When he awoke, he would always feel relaxed, happy, loved, which is why reminiscing still caused a deep ache in his stomach knowing she was dead and at his hands. All he wanted to do was show his beautiful fiancé what she had shown him through the treatments so many times.
Ethan stared into the black hole of coffee, its color remaining unchanged, just as his thoughts. It had been a sleepless night, something that had lately become customary. He was gathering a lot of momentum in his most recent study on the treatment of anxiety and depression. The research had been mocked and certainly was unorthodox, but with over a thousand positive outcomes and lacking any side effects, it was looking promising. He had tweaked the formulation of the treatment several times, and that morning would be no exception. It would be the most aggressive treatment to date, but he knew the effect he was searching for, and so naturally he would have to continue to push the envelope. But pushing that envelope always caused him to reflect on Lily.
Ethan allowed himself to think about her, to remember her soft blonde hair, her captivating eyes and her empathy for him. He thought about how they used to spend hours talking about his past and how she used to hold his head into her chest while he silently cried the tears that hadn’t come as a youth. She would hum to him, running her fingers through his dark wavy hair and gently scratch the top of his head. It had been so soothing. And when the thoughts of the botany lab came rushing back he wouldn’t fight them. He still remembered her scent, flowers and the sea, and he could never forget how her lifeless body felt in his arms.
Dr. Lewis allowed the anxiety of that moment to wash over him. It helped him focus on the person being treated, not the research he was trying to prove worked. He took out his phone and clicked on an app. After entering the four-digit code, an image folder popped up, the cover photo was a close-up shot of two blue-green eyes staring into a camera, the corners of the eyes lifting slightly. He clicked on the folder and several more photos spread across the screen in a grid. There were pictures of Lily sticking out her tongue, crossing her eyes, making kissing faces and funny gestures with her hands. Other images were candid shots of her working on an assignment, or in the lab, focused on getting things perfect. The best images were of the two of them together enjoying a playful kiss, a hearty laugh with friends while at a bar. His favorite picture was one where he was sleeping while she laid on him. She was awake, staring directly into the camera for whoever was taking the picture. She looked like a lioness watching over her lover; so powerful, so protective, so much in love.
One picture stood out from the rest. He clicked on it and stared for several minutes. It was the last picture he ever took of them together. They had decided to commit themselves to one another, without the church she grew up in, without the government, just the two of them with Jimmy the tattoo artist. The picture was of both their left hands, hers resting on his, all ten fingers spread out with their ring fingers almost side by side. Their skin was irritated from the needle penetrating it hundreds of times, but essentially there was nothing to be seen. They had matching white tattoos where rings should be.
They didn’t have money for a wedding. Lily’s parents had all but disowned her after meeting Ethan. He was an atheist, and who could have blamed him, having dealt with regular beatings from both a mother and father who wore crosses around their necks and told him he “better be good because Jesus was watchin’!”.
Dr. Lewis closed the images and locked his phone. Reaching for his coffee he hesitated for a moment, watching the still present but fleeting steam rise up and out of the cup. What bothered him the most after her death hadn’t been the police visits, the interrogations, or that everyone felt he had a larger part in her death than he was admitting. It was the fact that her parents kept him away from the funeral. They hadn’t told him a single detail, but he gathered it in bits and pieces from acquaintances.
He had flown to New York City, and from there, took a cab to the church where a police officer prevented him from entering. He wanted to fight, to press his way through the large officer, slam through the doors, and see her one last time before she went under the ground. But he didn’t, he couldn’t; and when more family and friends passed him and entered the large, arched doorways he saw two more policemen standing inside.
He waited for hours, loitering against a brick wall of a building, watching for the casket to exit the church. The afternoon sun felt much hotter than the actual temperature, and he baked in his black suitcoat, pants, and tie. His white shirt was sticking to his torso and had become saturated, transparent at his chest. His mouth was dry, but when the church doors opened he saw her casket and began to walk quickly toward it.
He saw no policeman, only pallbearers carrying an all white casket with brass handles. His heart quickened and so did his pace. He removed his hands from his pockets and he flexed them, swinging his arms back and forth attempting to walk even faster.
Then he saw them, Edward and Joey Fisch exiting the church directly behind Lily’s casket. The look her father and brother gave him still brought a chill—cold, angry eyes, bloodshot from tears and tissues for days. Her mother, Pat, came next without even a glance in Ethan’s direction, which at the time felt like nothing, but looking back was worse than the men’s hateful glares. Joey Fisch pulled back his suitcoat and flashed his service nine millimeter freezing Ethan in place. He stayed there until the hearse pulled away and his eyes welled up so full that he could no longer make out the street scene spread before him.
As Dr. Lewis sat in the morning light he squeezed out tears he hadn’t allowed himself to cry that day standing on the street in New York. He blinked hard and took a drink of the warm coffee. With each sip he gained a little more emotional control. The tears stopped forming and gradually his thoughts morphed from Lily, to the cocktail, to the research, and finally to the day’s testing.
Today was finally the day he had been building toward. The anxiety and depression drug had been tweaked several times, each step of the way being tested and carefully measured out for the dosage, always getting closer to that elusive ratio Lily had used on him. It was her drug mix that finally allowed him to ditch his anxiety meds and feel his mind open once more, rather than the fog he was living in.
After Lily had died, Ethan had convinced his advisor and research coordinator to trial the cocktail while he was getting his PhD. They found the first preliminary results extremely successful—so much so, that he was asked to continue his research as a full-time faculty after he presented his dissertation. He had turned it down in order to pursue his career at Washington University in Saint Louis. He loved Harvard before Lily’s death, but everything there reminded him of her.
An hour later Dr. Lewis walked the campus of Washington University Medical School toward 4500 Parkview. It was a short walk after parking in the surface lot across the street from The Rehabilitation Institute of Saint Louis, but he was able to feel the warm sun hitting his face and arms as he carried a satchel across his body and over his right shoulder.
Upon entering the building, he took the elevator to the third floor, exiting into the treatment suite. He sat at his desk and reviewed the case file on Linda, their subject for the day. Clinical depression diagnosed ten years ago, no history of suicidal tendencies, lost a father early in life, two children and a happy marriage. Full-time job she was satisfied with, no financial difficulties.
He then walked to a couch that sat opposite a TV. He turned it on and tried to relax, waiting for Kyle his lab assistant to arrive. Kyle wasn’t always on time and it was irritating Dr. Lewis today. Donna, the part-time receptionist, had told Dr. Lewis Linda would arrive at 10:00 a.m.
“You’re late,” Dr. Lewis said turning off the TV and standing up as Kyle walked into the office.
“Not really,” Kyle said smiling and throwing his bag into the chair.
“We’ve got prep to do and now we’ve only got an hour before Linda gets here,” Dr. Lewis said frustrated as he walked through the office and into the lab.
“We can do it Doc,” Kyle said jokingly and grabbed Dr. Lewis playfully on the top of the shoulder.
“You’re lucky we’ve been together four years. Otherwise I’d find someone new,” Dr. Lewis said while trying to hide a growing smirk.
“You couldn’t replace me!”
“Just get in the lab,” Dr. Lewis said reaching behind Kyle and pushing him forward with his left hand.
Linda arrived promptly at 10:00 a.m. Donna led her up to the treatment suite where Dr. Lewis conducted a preliminary questionnaire and prepped her for the procedure. He also ensured all the recording devices and safety equipment were working before he had Linda enter the treatment room and get comfortable on the bed.
“You’re going to feel a chill go up your arm when we start the titration.” Dr. Lewis watched as Linda brushed the hair away from her forehead.
“I remember you said that,” she faked a smile, something she had become quite good at.
“Just making sure you’re as comfortable and relaxed as you can be Linda,” he said. “Ready?”
“I hope so.”
“Kyle how are we doing?” Dr. Lewis said looking through the glass window and into the observation suite where Kyle was reviewing the data coming in.
“Heart monitor’s a go, EEG is recording, pulse is 85, BP looks good, pulse ox 100 percent.”
“Cameras are all up and running.”
“Start recording please,” Dr. Lewis said as he squeezed Linda’s hand and smiled. “This is test number 50-09, Linda Reynolds, age 36. No comorbidities, clinically diagnosed with depression and anxiety disorder. She has not taken medications in the last six weeks. Weight, 124 pounds, height 5'4". Titration of PB-50 has been determined to be 75 percent saline. Linda, do you consent to treatment?”
“I do Dr. Lewis,” Linda said squeezing his hand.
Dr. Lewis’ shoes made a scuffing sound as he walked several feet across the white tile floor. He took a deep breath as he tried to relax himself. The slight hint of rubbing alcohol and latex filled his lungs as only a clean research lab could. He reached the IV machine and checked the saline bag, still 90 percent full. He looked at the glass bottle containing the cocktail of ingredients he had become all too familiar with. A hint of ketamine, a dash of propofol, etomidate, thiopental, methohexital, and her secret ingredient, Convallaria majalis the Lily of the Valley.
“Beginning titration,” Dr. Lewis said as he pressed several buttons on the IV machine, and checked to ensure there was not air in the line. The IV machine hummed to life, gears turned and gently pressed the fluid from the glass bottle, down into the main line, and into Linda’s arm.
“Whoa,” Linda said blinking her eyes hard then trying to open them wide.
“Everything ok Linda?” Dr. Lewis asked concerned.
“Yeah, just cold.”
“That’s what I was referring to. It should pass. Kyle, how are we looking?”
“Everything’s green Doctor.”
“Ok Linda get ready. Count down from 100. See you on the other side.”
“99 . . . 9 . . . 7 . . . ,” Linda said.
“How are the vitals?” Dr. Lewis asked as he watched Linda’s eyelids close.
“Looks good Doc.”
Dr. Lewis stood in the room with Linda for a while watching her breathe. She looked comfortable, and the wrinkles that screamed sorrow, worry, and regret had leveled across her face allowing her to look her age. He found it sad how the inner battles could often manifest themselves externally; as if it wasn’t hard enough to bury the emotions, just to be reminded of them when you looked in the mirror. It was cyclical, and he was simply trying to break the cycle. He knew how rough the cycle could be.
“Doctor Lewis can you come to the observation room? It’s starting,” Kyle said after Linda had been unconscious for several minutes.
“What are we seeing?” Dr. Lewis said entering the room and peered over Kyle’s shoulder trying to decipher the live data coming in.
“Her EEG is basically flatlining. Her BP is 95/60, heart rate is 55, pulse ox still 100.”
“Ok good. Set the audible alarms for anything lower than 95 percent O2, less than 50 beats, and 85/50 BP.”
“Let’s wait and see.” Doctor Lewis crossed his arms and began watching the HD monitors feeding live video of Linda. There were several cameras monitoring her. One was infrared monitoring her body temperature, another was plotting her eye movements and graphing them, a third was a full body shot to monitor gross motor movements, and a fourth, which was automated, quickly responding to any noted movement, focusing its 4K camera on the object.
This moment was what Dr. Lewis felt was the most critical. It was where he felt he lost Lily, but also where he felt the treatment would reveal its deepest secrets. It hadn’t happened yet, but he felt as though they were getting close to having someone experience the vivid world he had. Everyone had come out feeling anxiety free, but nobody described the vibrant colors, the depth of sound, or the physical sensations he had when Lily treated him.
“Doc, look at her eyes,” Kyle said pointing to monitor four, breaking Dr. Lewis’ thoughts.
“Hmm . . . What does her EEG say?”
“What are the odds we have a bad lead?”
“Zero. We had a good read before and after she went under. It’s accurate.”
“She’s smiling now,” Dr. Lewis said with a smirk as he stared at the screen. “Still nothing?”
“Nothing Doc. Is this what we’ve been looking for?”
“I’m not taking the leap just yet, but it does look promising.” Dr. Lewis grabbed a microphone. “Twenty-three minutes 15 seconds, patient is exhibiting rapid eye movement and smiling without any brain activity. Vitals are steady.” His hands began to sweat and it was hard work focusing on the subtle details of the experiment.
“Oh my God, Dr. Lewis. She’s talking!”
“Rewind the audio,” Dr. Lewis said quickly.
“What . . . is this . . . ,” Linda said as camera four focused on her lips.
“All the EEG readings are still flat Dr. Lewis.”
“It’s all being recorded right Kyle?”
“Yeah Doc. Can you leap yet?”
“I’m getting closer.” Adrenaline surged through Dr. Lewis. It was the first time he saw documented evidence of the experience.
Beep. Beep. Beep. The alarm went off on the monitors. “I’m pulling her out Kyle, that’s it,” Dr. Lewis said when he spotted her BP had dropped to 80/45 setting off the prearranged alarms. Lewis jogged to the door, rushed through, and stopped the titration. He immediately gave her a shot of epinephrine directly into her IV line.
“Ahhh,” Linda sighed deeply and smiled as her eyes popped wide open.
“How are you feeling Linda?” Dr. Lewis asked. She looked through him peacefully, as if she could see something behind the doctor’s eyes. “Linda?” Dr. Lewis asked again.
She began to cry, then sob. She covered her mouth as she looked around the room. She began giggling and sputtering uncontrollably.
Dr. Lewis approached her bed. “Linda,” he said and sat next to her, as she reached up to remove hair from her face once again.
“I want to go back,” she said.
“I’m sorry?” Dr. Lewis said signaling Kyle to keep recording.
“I want to go back,” Linda repeated.
Linda was all smiles. She danced a little with her fork as she ate a small plate of bland pasta, some melon, and washed it down with bottled water. It was really quite a terrible lunch but she seemed preoccupied with her bliss. She had already gotten dressed and was sitting alone in the small 10 by 20 recovery room humming Happy by Pharrell Williams.
“Hi Linda,” Dr. Lewis said as he walked into the room with her. “Just so you’re aware, we are still recording from that camera,” he said pointing behind him into the corner of the room. “I’m going to conduct a small exit interview if that’s ok with you. Thanks for retaking the written questionnaire.”
“Sure Doc!” she said excitedly and capped her water, holding it in front of her with both hands, resting it on her cross legs.
“Well you sure do seem happy. On a scale of one to ten, how happy are you?”
“When asked six weeks ago, you said you were taking your medications regularly, and you answered that same question with a three. Do you remember that?”
“How could I forget,” Linda said smiling and throwing her hands gracefully up into the air. Her eyes glistened and her teeth were exquisitely straight, something only braces could have done. It was the first time Dr. Lewis had seen her teeth and the first time he wondered what had given her so much anxiety and sorrow. She was beautiful when she smiled.
“You have weaned off your meds as we discussed since we spoke six weeks ago, correct?”
Dr. Lewis smirked as he wrote down her response. “I think we are both happy with the results of today. Can you please describe the events you experienced during treatment?”
Linda sat for a moment with her face relaxed, still lacking the wrinkles she wore before the treatment. She opened her mouth, then closed it. Again she opened her mouth and scowled in frustration. She reached up and played with her hair for a moment.
“You described it as heaven––“
“Oh, I remember Dr. Lewis, I’m just having a hard time describing it.”
“Well you can take your time.”
“It was white on white, a little hazy. It was like when you wake up in the middle of the afternoon and the blinds are immediately pulled back. It was so intense but I didn’t strain against the light. It smelled like every flower I’ve ever smelled mixed into one. I love flowers. I kept breathing deeper and tried to pick a few of my favorites out to see if I could differentiate a mum or a rose but it was useless; I gave into the intoxicating medley. It felt like I was floating, like I had no sensation below my feet but it was solid. I know it was because when my feet hit the ground they made a noise that was so rich, so full, almost musical. The longer I stayed, the more contrast developed between objects, but still lacked depth and character. I feel like if I spent more time there it would have continued to improve. It sounds terrible, but it was soothing having everything the same. I feel a little silly.”
“I don’t know. Seems a bit weird to have such an abstract dream affect me so much.”
“Let it happen Linda. Remember, you’re ten out of ten happy. Don’t ask why.”
“You’re right doctor,” she said laughing and pointing jokingly at Dr. Lewis.
“Last question. Do you have any adverse effects? Any headaches, nausea, things like that?”
“No. Completely perfect.”
“Ok. Thanks Linda. That’s it for now. I think you can go home. Your husband is out front waiting for you. He’s going to drive you home. You were under anesthesia. I don’t care how happy you feel you still need to let him drive.”
“Thank you Dr. Lewis.” She paused and looked at her water.
“What is it?” he asked reading the slight rounding of her shoulders.
“How long was I there?”
“Well, you were under for less than thirty minutes.”
“Incredible,” she said softly. She stood up and walked toward him. She threw her arms around his shoulders and kissed him on the lips. “Don’t tell my husband. I just wanted to thank you for making me happy.”
He stood, stunned. Even though he was a handsome man by most women’s standards, he hadn’t allowed himself to kiss a woman in close to a decade.
“Don’t look so shocked Doctor. Nothing meant in it,” Linda said and walked out the door and into her husband’s arms. It took a moment for Dr. Lewis to turn around, but he was able to wave as the two lovers left the glass doors of the clinic.
Kyle sat in the control room still analyzing the data from Linda’s treatment. He pored over the EEG readings looking for blips that could explain Linda’s episodes of smiling, which involves over 40 different muscles in itself, talking, which would activate various different areas in the cortex: Broca’s area, the primary motor cortex, and the anterior insula. Even her brainstem was showing no activity, despite clearly having basal metabolic functions, such as a heartbeat and breathing. Nothing was active. The fact that the EEG was receiving positive brain activity immediately following the administration of the epinephrine injection was driving Kyle mad.
“Hello Kyle,” Dr. Lewis said leaning on the doorframe of the observation room.
“Dr. Lewis, what is it we’ve created here?”
“Same thing we’ve always been. A cure for psychological disorders.”
“This is clearly different. I’ve gone through the data several times and she was brain dead for the entire time she expressed outward emotions, language, movements. I’m not sure I’m worthy of a PhD because I don’t see how this is all possible,” Kyle said half frustrated and bewildered.
“Well what makes a good experiment Kyle?”
“Controlling the variables.”
“Have we done that?”
“I’d say we have.”
“Every patient has a background check, we eliminate those who have comorbidities and anomalies such as adverse reaction to anesthesia. We take only patients suffering from anxiety and/or depression. They are weaned off all meds for at least six weeks prior to our trial. Other than that we allow them to be as normal as possible leading up to the test to eliminate covariables that could otherwise affect our tests. We go through all of our pre-treatment discussions based on a script you have devised to eliminate a placebo effect, we don’t feed them answers, no guiding questions.”
“What else makes a good experiment Kyle?”
“Let’s say you and I write a paper on Linda. One case study. What makes it more powerful?”
“More results, a bigger sample size, randomization across a population.”
“How do we make that happen?”
“I think you might earn that PhD after all, Kyle,” Dr. Lewis said with a smile.
“Ok,” Kyle said looking at the computer and pulling up a schedule for the next day. “Looks like we have another woman, 142 pounds, 5'3", 43 years old. I can start calculating the percentages for the cocktail now if you want.”
“How about for a male, 28, 6'2", and, I don’t know, a buck eighty-five?”
“Me?” Kyle said pushing the chair back as he swiveled to face Dr. Lewis head on. He froze, eyes wide and pointing to himself.
“No time like the present. You heard Linda. Wanna’ see heaven?”
“Not sure I’m a believer.” He shrugged and his face went flat.
“That makes two of us. No pressure. Just a bit antsy is all. Been working on this for years, you know.”
It was bittersweet for Dr. Lewis. He wanted to scream for joy, to tell Lily he finally got it right. He wanted to hold her, to tell her to take him back to where he felt the bliss. Maybe they could go together now. But it was too late. It had taken hundreds of different formulations to get it right. How did she just randomly create such a wonderful cocktail? She was so brilliant compared to me. His eagerness had taken her life so many years ago but nobody knew it was him. She was too smart to kill herself. I should have tested it first.
Kyle sat in the chair staring out into the open office space. His mind was relatively calm despite the looming question. He had thought about asking Dr. Lewis to allow him to be treated. He himself had suffered from depression and wanted the problem to go away, but now the proposition was made and it caused a reflective moment. Would it be a huge change? Would I even notice a difference?
“Ah screw it. Let’s do it Doc,” Kyle said and jumped out of the chair shaking his hand. It was worth the risks, if any were associated with the treatment.
The room was comfortable as the two men went to work. Kyle was lying supine on the bed in a standard hospital gown. Light was reflecting off most of the floor and walls; the glossy white tile acting as mirrors bathing the room from every angle with a bright white glow. A soft but steady drumbeat was present from the music playing in the observation room. Kyle heard it, and was a bit shocked that Dr. Lewis had never asked him to turn it down during testing. Kyle was always in the observation room listening to music and never knew it could be heard it in the treatment room.
Kyle had never been in the treatment room with a patient before. He smelled the alcohol, the latex. He felt the cool sensation from the alcohol wipe and the small sting as Dr. Lewis inserted the IV into his left hand.
“Good veins Kyle.”
“You’re going to feel a chill go up your arm when we start the titration.”
“Just making sure you’re as comfortable and relaxed as you can be Kyle. Ready?”
“Ok, I’m going to check on the readings, making sure we’re all green and the cameras are running.”
Dr. Lewis quickly walked into the observation area, taking off his gloves on the way. “BP is reading, heart rate reading, EEG is good, camera feeds are live, pulse ox . . . hey Kyle!”
“Wanna’ put that pulse ox on for me?”
“Sure do,” Kyle said and grabbed it, placing it on his right index finger. “So much for the script.”
“Ah, shut up,” Dr. Lewis said but not quite loud enough for Kyle to hear the joke. “Ok, pulse ox is 100 percent,” he said to himself. He walked back out to Kyle. “You ready? I’m recording.”
“This is test number 50-10, Kyle Braun, age 28. No comorbidities, no clinical psychological disorders. Right?”
“Correct,” Kyle responded smiling.
“He has not taken medications in the last six weeks. Weight, 172 pounds, height 6'2". Titration of PB-50 has been determined to be 78 percent saline. Kyle, do you consent to treatment?”
“I do Dr. Lewis.”
“Are you sure you want to do this Kyle? No lies.”
“Yes, I’m good.”
Dr. Lewis walked back across the floor, heels scraping tile several times along the way. He checked the saline bag, still more than 80 percent full. Next he checked the IV lines, and prepped the IV machine, making sure it was churning the way it should: no bubbles, no kinks.
“Wow, Doc it is a bit chilly.”
“That’s what I was referring to. It should pass.”
“Back to the script I see.”
“Ok Kyle get ready. Count down from 100. See you on the other side.”
“99 . . . 9 . . . 7 . . . ,” Kyle faded into the experience.
Dr. Lewis walked into the observation room and sat down in the soft cloth chair. He bobbed his head gently to Modestep playing through the speakers as he watched the monitors. He didn’t care for Kyle’s music, but never changed it either. He liked the predictability of the beat, the rhythm, the constant up and down swinging of the electronic sound. The song began to evolve, to fold together, to soften, and then it happened, the beat dropped. Dr. Lewis felt it in his entire body. The music was tinder for his adrenaline, his mind becoming more focused with each hit of the bass.
Dr. Lewis saw Kyle’s vitals were leveling off: BP was 110/68, heart rate was steady at 62, O2 was 100 percent, and his EEG was flat. “Ok, let’s throw some alarm values in ’er. BP, 90/55, heart rate, 50, O2 at 82,” he said out loud to himself to the beat of the song.
Several more songs came and went as Dr. Lewis continued to watch the HD screens and tap his foot. Kyle’s eyes were still, his body motionless, and his body temperature unchanging. The EEG was flat.
Camera four jumped to Kyle’s mouth and Dr. Lewis caught the change out of the corner of his eye. Kyle’s mouth was moving, slightly, but organized. It wasn’t merely a muscle twitch. Dr. Lewis turned off the music and switched on the room audio. He placed headphones on to hear the subtle, quiet noises in the hum of the lights, the rhythmic clicking of the IV machine, and Kyle, whispering.
Kyle’s EEG was flat, no brain activity. “We are 23 minutes into the test of Kyle Braun, he is whispering—” Dr. Lewis paused, “and exhibiting rapid eye movements. EEG is showing no brain activity.”
Bing, bing, bing. The alarm sounded on the monitor. Dr. Lewis looked right and saw Kyle’s heart rate had dipped to 42 beats per minute. He stood up, grabbed the epinephrine, and walked into the treatment room. After turning off the IV pump he grabbed an alcohol swab, quickly rubbing the IV port clean, and injected the drug.
Kyle snapped awake and took a deep, cleansing breath. He tasted the drugs in the back of his throat but the bitterness didn’t ruin his state of mind. He felt whole; loved. “Doc,” Kyle said softly and slowly turning to meet Dr. Lewis’ eyes. “You’ve gotta try this.”
Dr. Lewis smiled and rubbed Kyle’s head, ruffling his brown hair. His eyes were sad but Kyle hadn’t noticed. “I could tell you stories,” Dr. Lewis said; only half joking.