Memory: A mental impression retained; a recollection.
It was an unusually warm spring afternoon. Stacks of snow retreated quickly as armies of thunder clouds amassed at the base of the western foothills ready to wreak mild havoc across the quaint mountain ski town.
Every day felt like a dream to James. He lived in a cozy three-bedroom cottage at the edge of town with his beautiful wife, two kids, and a dog. He enjoyed being the only doctor in this small hamlet helping friends and neighbors with minor medical issues and checkups. He couldn’t imagine a more perfect life.
Although at times, usually late at night when sleep eluded him, James felt out of sorts. Alone with his thoughts, doubt crept in. “Is this life real? Am I really a doctor?” After a few questioning moments, James always wound up in a state of reassurance and gratitude. He remembered how hard he worked in medical school to get here and how lucky he was to meet and later marry such a beautiful woman. The kids, the dog, and the town were the icing on the best tasting German Chocolate cake ever.
James walked into his favorite local cafe and ordered a small breve, his goto drink.
“That’ll be four-fifty,” said the barista.
James reached into his front pocket and pulled out what he thought was a five and placed it on the counter.
“That’s beautiful!” said the barista. “It must’ve been amazing to be that close up!”
“Er…uh…yeah it was,” stammered James. He’d never been to San Ramón Falls, but he didn’t want to have to explain to the barista that he just happened to find the picture in his pocket one day and had no idea where it can from. He just wanted to sit at his favorite table, sip his breve, and stare blissfully out the window. He placed the picture back into his pocket and reached back in for his wallet.
Just then, a loud screech startled the patrons in Serenity Coffee. After the initial shock wore off, two burly men burst through the side door. The first man wore a bright green windbreaker, zipped all the way to his neck. The second wore a light blue leisure suit with a dated cut.
“Quick!” the first man pleaded. “Is someone here a doctor?”
James hesitated, looking around for someone else to stand up and don the hero’s cape.
James cleared his throat and tentatively announced, “Uh…I’m a doctor.”
“Hurry!” beckoned the man with the green jacket. “Follow us outside! Our friend is dying!”
James slowly rose from his table. He began to walk, but not fast enough as the man in the leisure suit grabbed James’s arm and hustled him out the door.
The three men hurried over to a silver ‘82 Malibu Classic where the driver-side door stood wide open. James could see a man in a black tuxedo doubled over in the backseat groaning as he cradled his belly.
“It huuuurts,” the man cried in a muted, drawn-out voice.
“Sir, where does it hurt?” asked James.
“In my belly!” replied the man in the tux. Almost insulted by the question. “It hurts so much!”
“What part of your stomach? Can you point to it?”
“Right here,” said the man pointing to the lower right area near the crease in his hip.
“Okay. Sir? I’m just going to press down gently in that area and you let me know if the pain changes, all right?”
James knelt down and reached his right hand across the man’s face and down toward the lower right quadrant of his stomach. As James felt around, his fingers brushed over an especially tight area. He gently increased the pressure and then released it.
“Aye!!!” shouted the man.
James stood up, dusted off his knees, and took a deep breath.
“Well, sir. I believe you have appendicitis.”
“Is that bad, doc?” inquired the man with the green jacket.
“It used to be,” said James. “There was a time when we’d rush him off to the hospital and chop that appendix right out before it bursts. These days we treat it like every other life-threatening medical emergency – we offer him the pills.”
“Oh boy!” cheered the green jacket man. “No hospitals for our friend here!” And he leaned into the backseat. “George, this man’s a doctor. He says you have appendicitis. That means you get to choose a pill! Isn’t that great?!”
“Wonderful!” said George in a pained but relieved voice.
“Well? Go on doc! Give him the pills!” coaxed the green jacket man as he nudged James in the ribs with a cutting elbow.
James pulled a silver case out of his front pocket and offered the contents up to George. Inside the palm-sized clamshell are two metallic pills coated in transparent gelatin, one green, one red.
“George, as a medical doctor licensed by the Federal Board of Medicine, I am granted the authority to offer you a choice.
“Take the red pill and you’ll fall asleep, never to wake again. No pain, just permanent darkness.
“Take the green pill and life as you know it changes forever. The memory of this moment and all prior moments disappear. Instead, you’ll be left with new memories – all your hopes, unfulfilled dreams, and regrets become your new past. Your present becomes reshaped as a result of those memories and you will live in that new present forever.”
“George…er…uh… what’s your last name?”
“George Finn, which do you choose?”
George is quiet for a few moments.
“I don’t know, Doc. Which do you…”
James cuts him off. “As a doctor, I’m not allowed to give my opinion.”
“George, pick the happy one!” implored the green jacket man.
George thought for a moment. “Okay, I’ll pick the green one.”
James placed the pill in George’s outstretched hand. George looked at the pill in his hand and tossed it into his mouth. He washed it down with a swig of beer from a half-empty bottle lodged in the cupholder and waited.
“Let’s all give him a moment,” said James and the three onlookers gently backed away.
James thought back to his training in medical school. As a student, he read about the “old days” when patients like George presented with life-threatening conditions such as appendicitis. They would be rushed to the nearest hospital, hurried into emergency surgery for an appendectomy, and back on their feet in a few days. Nearly all patients could expect a normal and full recovery.
The financial hit, however, was large and permanent. Between the ambulance ride, the hospital bills, the salary for the medical professionals involved, the insurance companies, the administrative expenses, the simple-sounding procedure would end up costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. Sure, the patient often wouldn’t see the full impact of the bill, but society saw it and society was growing weary of paying.
In 2028, Dr. Emily Philips was elected president of the United States. She floated into office on a wave of tremendous enthusiasm for her radical but sensible ideas for cutting medical costs.
Dr. Phillips had a background in business and genetic engineering. Her company, Genedex was behind finding a cure for Alzheimer’s disease.
When Genedex first announced they’d found a cure, the joy was unprecedented. People were literally singing in the streets holding up signs on freeway overpasses that said, “Thank you, Dr. Phillips, for saving my Dad (or mom, or husband, or wife).” Finally, people could escape the clutches of this ugly and debilitating disease.
The enthusiasm subsided over the next few days as details of how the new drug worked trickled out. Warpexia was unlike any other drug. It was a single pill composed of dormant nano-bots, tiny microscopic robots that, when activated by human saliva, would swim through the bloodstream and reprogram specific areas of the brain. One group of bots would head to the part of the brain responsible for memory. Here, the bots would connect to each neuron and chemically alter memories, wiping existing recollections and replacing them with new ones. They could identify collections of thought that were regrets and unfulfilled wishes and use those to construct new memories and a new life which the patient would live out in a dreamlike state.
But, this dream state couldn’t play out in realtime without the patient bedridden in a vegetative state for years piling up expenses. Time needed to be altered. To accomplish this, another group of bots traveled to the supplementary motor cortex where the brain perceives time. This group of robots would dramatically slow time as the brain perceived it. So much so, that a lifetime could be experienced in a matter of minutes.
Once this new life completely played out, a third set of bots traveled to the heart where they injected a potent muscle relaxer. The chemical gradually slowed the heart until it completely stopped beating and the patient died.
The idea of tiny machines altering a person’s brain seemed strange and offputting to many people. The fact that Warpexia effectively euthanized patients made most people pause. But, no one could deny the results – Alzheimer’s patients could live life over again and die with dignity.
With the cost of healthcare becoming unbearable and governments around the world running short on funds. Dr. Phillips proposed expanding the use of Warpexia beyond Alzheimer’s. Using it for any life-threatening disease or condition meant immense cost savings for the global healthcare system.
This also made sense from an environmental standpoint as overpopulation and competition for scarce resources was reaching a tipping point.
“With this drug,” Dr. Phillips announced in her speech to the nation, “we can give people the lives they wished they had; while at the same time, reducing society’s burden to care for the terminally ill.”
After a few minutes, George closed his eyes and slumped into the seat. In a few minutes, he’d be dead. But in those last few minutes, George’s entire life would be rewritten and relived. The green pill slowed time down. So much so, that for every minute that passed in the world around George, 20 years would go by in George’s mind. In the span of 5 minutes, he could live the life he always wanted.
Green jacket man slipped a hand into his jacket pocket and pulled out a picture of a waterfall. He stared at it for a moment and stuffed the picture into George’s pocket. “San Ramón Falls was his favorite place.”
George died a few moments later.