Vital Signs. A new flash fiction.

It’s been such a long time since I have posted a story here, that I was beginning to think it was never going to happen again. However, I decided to start the year as I hope to go on, writing more and posting more frequently. I haven’t written anything for a month or so, having taken the month of December off (I wrote about this the other day), and I found it much harder than I though to get back into the swing of things. Having said that, the subject matter for this one came to me easily: a leaflet was posted to me recently, offering ‘life signs’ screening. Clearly, this is the sort of thing which starts happening when you reach your forties; it’s just a matter of time until I’m being offered invisible hearing aids and bulk purchase trusses. Until then, I aim to continue writing and posting.

Incidentally, I had some flash fiction success this week: my story ‘Worm Hole’ was published at Every Day Fiction. Please nip over and tell me what you think.

On with my first #fridayflash offering for the year. As always, comments are hugely useful, so please take a second to leave one. And don’t forget to check out all the other #fridayflash writers over at fridayflash.org .

image: google images

image: google images

Vital Signs

Dr Lovric re-examined the evidence. For the first time in his career he wasn’t quite sure how to proceed; whichever way he looked at it, his client was clinically dead.

‘Are you certain?’ The client was on the bed, attached by electrodes to the clinic’s machinery.

‘The facts, Mr Kanting, do not lie; you have no vital signs.’

The client stared down at the mass of wires stuck to his torso.

‘You’re telling me that you are one hundred percent certain that I have no discernable heartbeat?’

Dr Lovric paused for a moment. It was his belief that one ought always to appear to consider a question carefully, especially when the answer contained such monumental tidings.

‘I am certain.’

It was another of Dr Lovric’s beliefs that uncertainties in life were unnecessary and dangerous complications which, left unresolved, bred pessimism and misery. Certainty was so central to his philosophy that it had led him to establish his screening clinic whose motto, “It’s your future; be certain of it”, placed the concept centre-stage.

‘I’m sorry,’ the client closed his eyes and shook his head, ‘I must be missing something.’

At Med School, where the young doctor had had a reputation for a macabre bedside humour, his response would have been ‘you’re not wrong there’, but today it seemed inappropriate.

‘Missing?’

‘Yes, missing. You said these tests were supposed to identify the absence or presence of an irregular heartbeat.’

‘That is correct.’

‘Well,’ continued the client, ripping an electrode from his chest, ‘they haven’t, have they?’

Dr Lovric took a step back. Experience had taught him that when a consultation appeared to be going badly, it paid to be prepared to make a quick exit.

‘They haven’t what?’

‘Found the absence or presence of an irregular heartbeat.’

Dr Lovric nodded sagely.

‘Indeed.’

‘So, I’ll be requiring a full refund.’

‘Mr Kanting, I haven’t been able to discern whether your heartbeat is either regular or irregular because I have been unable to discern any type of heartbeat at all.’

‘Exactly. I want a refund.’

‘Mr Kanting, the situation, or more precisely, your situation, is very serious.’

‘Dr Lovric, I have paid to have my life signs screened, which thus far you have singularly failed to do.’

Dr Lovric couldn’t recall an occasion where a client had been so difficult. He prided himself on his clinic’s professional service and even those people who needed to be referred for specialist care left his clinic happy; happy in the knowledge that a medical disaster had been averted.

‘I’ve looked for your vital signs Mr Kanting, several times. In fact,’ and now the doctor finally felt he was rising to this most unusual of challenges, ‘you could say that you have received rather more of our service than you have paid for.’

‘I don’t believe I’m hearing this,’ said the client, ripping off the remaining electrodes.

‘Please get back on the bed Mr Kanting; I’m sure we can come to an arrangement.’

‘Arrangement?’

The doctor cleared his throat. The clinic’s satisfaction ratings were riding very high and this client wasn’t going to change that.

‘The ‘Signs of Life’ clinic is prepared to offer you a full refund.’

‘It is?’

‘Indeed. But I must advise you to seek urgent specialist attention.’

The client laughed.

‘You must take me for a fool Doctor,’ he said, ‘according to you I am no longer alive.’

‘Well, medically speaking, that is correct.’

‘And yet, here I am, talking to you.’ The client reached for his shirt. ‘Philosophically speaking, since you can see me, I must be here, and since you can hear me speaking, I must be alive.’

Dr Lovric squirmed. It was arguments like this which had led him to dropping out of his philosophy minor at college.

‘So Doctor, am I alive or not?’

‘Medically? No.’

‘But philosophically, you must agree, I am alive.’

Dr Lovric felt he was being backed into a corner.

‘You could say that the two points of view cancel each other out.’

‘Which,’ said the client, ‘leaves us back where we started.’

‘Indeed.’ Dr Lovric took a deep breath. ‘Would you like to be re-tested? At no cost, of course.’

‘I think not,’ said the client, ‘I am, on balance, happy with the status quo.’

‘That’s probably for the best,’ said Dr Lovric, leading his client to the door.

 But despite his best efforts, the doctor couldn’t forget about the unexplained phenomenon. He’d never previously been stumped like this; there was, in his experience, a medical explanation for every anomaly.

Before closing for the day, he wandered past the bed recently vacated by Mr Kanting. The doctor couldn’t help wishing that he’d never set eyes on the man. In fact, he wished he’d never known about his existence.

Suddenly, a thought struck him: in one of the few philosophy lectures he’d attended-metaphysics, was it?-hadn’t they discussed unperceived existence? A quote rang in his ears, dredged up from the murky depths of his academic memory, “To be is to be perceived”. Yes, thought Dr Lovric, that was it, and he smiled for the first time in over two hours. If he could no longer see Mr Kanting, he must no longer exist, which meant that none of that afternoon’s shenanigans had ever happened;  and even if they had, it no longer mattered.

Dr Lovric locked the door behind him and headed for his car. He might, he thought, have made an equally brilliant philosopher after all.

© flyingscribbler 2012

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22 comments on “Vital Signs. A new flash fiction.

  1. cogito ergo sum! This was fun

  2. alisonwells says:

    I really enjoyed the philosophical twists and turns in this and I’ve always like the motif of someone not being alive when they are right there. I’d recently started a story where the woman claimed she was dead. This story throws up all sorts of conundrums and I feel sympathy for both the characters.

  3. John Wiswell says:

    At least it didn’t culminate in a “heartless” pun. Good to have you back, Scribbler!

  4. Deanna Schrayer says:

    Super story Justin! I love the voice and, as Alison mentioned, the philosophical twists and turns. I’m glad you didn’t allow it to end up a zombie story. 🙂

  5. Icy Sedgwick says:

    Ah, it’s a little bit Death Becomes Her…but altogether more intelligent. Bravo!

  6. See, I would have said to the patient, “Ah. It seems you’ve broken my equipment. I’ll just add that to your bill. No charge for the office visit, though.”

  7. Larry Kollar says:

    Welcome back! After a few minutes of thinking about it, I have to sympathize with the doc’s decision. Editing the patient out of his day is intellectually lazy, but there isn’t anything else he can do about it.

    The question is, what becomes of the patient? Is he turning into a zombie or vampire? Is he perhaps a cyborg who has forgotten about (or been reprogrammed to forget) his extra hardware?

  8. Steve Green says:

    Dead or alive, Mr Kanting can certainly hold his own ground in an argument.

    Good to hear from you again Justin. 🙂

  9. ganymeder says:

    Quite the intro to the new year! I imagine being told you’re dead would put a gloomy cast on anyone’s new year. 😉

  10. Chuck Allen says:

    I imagine being a doctor is hard enough when the patients are alive. I enjoyed this thinking story very much. 🙂

  11. What a wonderfully absurdist illustration of what happens to real patients every day. This reminded me of the time I went in to see the doctor about an inner ear infection and got told I didn’t have an infection — rather, in the good doctor’s opinion, I was pregnant. I wasn’t pregnant. I did wind up treating the damn ear infection myself.

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