Disaster Strikes: Episode 13

Tavis is filling his plate in the dining tent with a warm, if not particularly flavorful, stew, and hot bread. He's ~~ exhausted ~~, as are all the medical personnel who answered the call for volunteers to help out after the disaster.

Tavis wouldn't normally have come so far from Hannard's Ford, but he was at a conference not too far away at the time of the earthquake. He couldn't justify taking his planned two weeks of vacation afterwards, under the circumstances.

Tavis sits at an empty table, and starts shoveling fuel into his mouth. He learned long ago how important it is to eat well, when sleep is in short supply and the work unending.

Mendels finishes heaping his plate with hot food, glances around the tent, and spots a colleague. He's barely spoken to Dr. Tavis since he arrived and pitched in. This seems like a good chance to get to know him better.

Mendels: Mind if I join you?

Tavis: Please do. Not that I'm scintillating company at the moment.

Mendels: That's okay. Neither am I.

Tavis: At least you have the endurance of youth going for you. I'm used to regular hours and a real bed.

Mendels sits and shovels up a mouthful of stew before replying.

Mendels: Please don't mention real beds. Or the chance to use them.

Mendels: Hey, this stew isn't bad. Better than another Donor biscuit, anyway.

Mendels's culinary expectations have declined rapidly since the quake.

Tavis: Donor biscuit? What's that, some new contribution from a church group?

Mendels: Emergency rations for Gens. From the channels who are helping us.

Tavis takes a bite of the stew meditatively.

Mendels: Nutritious, but they taste like baked cardboard.

Tavis: If they taste worse than this stew, I have to agree with those who say that Gens have a hard life in Simeland.

Mendels laughs.

Mendels: Sosu Nick assures me that most of what he eats there tastes much better than Donor biscuits. Most of their regular cooking is done by Gens.

Tavis: I suppose they couldn't trust Simes with such a task.

Mendels takes another bite of the stew.

Mendels: Simes don't seem to pay much attention to food. I've seen Nick pushing Hajene Katsura to eat, at least once a day.

Tavis shifts ~~ uncomfortably ~~ on his camp chair, trying to find a diplomatic way to approach a touchy subject.

Mendels takes a sip of too-bitter coffee.

Tavis: I think you've done very well organizing this facility, overall, and I certainly don't envy you the job, but I'm not completely comfortable with some of your decisions.

Mendels, whose mouth is full of stew again, makes an enquiring noise.

Tavis: I'm not sure you've been prudent in working so closely with Simes.

Mendels: Oh?

Mendels keeps his tone carefully neutral.

Tavis: Whatever else they may be, they're not any more used to our medical science than we are to theirs. Such things should be explored in an orderly fashion, not piecemeal in the middle of an emergency.

Mendels: I'll agree there was some awkwardness at first, but we're working quite well together now.

Tavis: How can you be sure, for instance, that a patient you refer to the Simes will get better treatment than you can provide?

Mendels: One of the first things we did was hash out which things the Simes are good at, and which ones are our specialties. For example, Simes don't do surgery. Ever.

Tavis: Criminal! If they can't do it themselves, why don't they ask for a surgeon to come in?

Mendels: They've begun to, the last couple of days. Just this morning, for example, Hajene Kat sent me a hot appendix. There's nothing she could have done for the patient. On the other hand, Simes are superb diagnosticians. Even the renSimes -- the non-channels -- on search and rescue can often pinpoint exactly where an injury is.

Tavis: Marvelous. So they know exactly what it is that they can't do surgery on.

Mendels: That's where we come in. The biggest problem, really, is the language barrier.

Tavis thinks about that a moment.

Mendels takes a big bite of bread and chews slowly.

Tavis: They don't know any of our medical terms?

Mendels: Some, but not enough. They can say "ligament" or "compound fracture" but sometimes have to talk their way around exactly which bone or ligament they mean. And of course, our pharmacology is almost completely different.

Tavis: Diagnosis by sign language? Doesn't sound very professional to me.

Mendels: Oh, not usually sign language. Ten words instead of one, perhaps. But we manage. And the channels are picking up technical English very quickly. The biggest thing is remembering to double-check, in slightly different words.

Tavis: There's been trouble with misunderstanding?

Mendels: Not once we recognized the problem. A couple of times the first day, Hajene Kat had to say, "No, not that one, the next one up," or something like that.

Tavis: You've let a Sime into the surgical theaters?

Tavis is ~~ shocked ~~.

Mendels: Actually, the channels can't stand observing surgery. Something about zlinning the destruction of selyn-generating tissue. But they've done diagnoses for me, and post-op treatment.

Tavis: Have you ever thought that one day, the Simes may get pushed beyond their limits and snap? And that one of your patients might be attacked as a result?

Mendels: They've got layer upon layer of safeguards in place. I was worried at first, but not now that I've seen how they work.

Tavis: There are safeguards that can override the Sime instinct to kill?

Mendels: The channels, in particular, are completely safe. They'll die rather than kill. But the most visible safeguard is their professional Donors. Worst-case scenario, the Donor takes the brunt of the attack. And they can't be hurt by it.

Tavis: I've never understood that. They can't be that different -- they're human, after all. If they think they can't be hurt, and they're deluding themselves...

Mendels: According to them, if you've got the aptitude and training to handle it, having a Sime take their selyn actually feels good.

Tavis: Delusion.

Mendels: Experience. Have a chat with Sosu Nick if you get a moment. Or watch him with Hajene Kat.

Tavis's face twists in ~~ disgust ~~.

Tavis: No thank you. Call me old fashioned, but I don't find Simes as fascinating as some.

Mendels: You don't have to be fascinated by them. But they're colleagues, at least for the duration, and it's good to understand them.

Tavis: Colleagues. With tentacled monstrosities who live on human lives.

Mendels: With tentacled people who've been saving lives since the day they got here. Patients I would have lost.

Tavis: They're okay at diagnosing changeover early, I'll give them that much.

Mendels senses that there's a story here.

Mendels: Oh?

Tavis scowls at the memory.

Tavis: My granddaughter is at the dangerous age.

Tavis uses the Gen euphemism for adolescence.

Tavis: She's also subject to flights of fancy. And she hasn't the sense of a goose.

Mendels thinks he can guess where this is heading, but leaves his colleague to get it off his chest in his own way.

Mendels: And?

Tavis takes a savage bite of his bread, chews and swallows.

Tavis: Not too long ago, she managed to convince herself that she was in changeover.

Mendels: Mmmhmm?

Tavis: Instead of having the sense to come to me, she waited until night and ran.

Mendels is working on his stew again.

Tavis still feels the ~~ shame ~~ of having a child in his family who acted so irresponsibility.

Mendels: Mmh?

Tavis: She woke up a substitute nurse I used to hire, who was friends with a man who works at the Sime Center. Apparently, the girl thought a nurse was a better diagnostician than me.

Tavis is still ~~ hurt ~~ by the rejection.

Mendels makes encouraging noises around a mouthful of bread.

Tavis: Virginia has more sense than a child. When she couldn't get the girl to go home, she took her to the Sime Center. The first I heard about the whole fiasco was when one of Virginia's neighbors came knocking on my door. By then, of course, it was far too late to keep it private.

Mendels gestures encouragingly with a crust of bread.

Tavis: I got to the Sime Center and found the Sime bent over my granddaughter, her tentacles all over the girl.

Tavis pushes his food away as his stomach ~~ revolts ~~ at the memory.

Mendels: That must have been a shock.

Tavis: It was, believe me.

Mendels: So what happened then?

Tavis: The girl wasn't in changeover, after all. She'd humiliated the family for nothing. And the channel was "treating" her for a fever. Without so much as a by-your-leave, or even notification.

Mendels: Hmmm.

Tavis: I could understand, if not approve, if the illness had been life-threatening. But it wasn't anything that couldn't have waited until the channel had her family's approval.

Mendels: What did you do about it?

Tavis: I took the girl home and turned her over to her mother for discipline. And I fired the nurse for failing to bring the girl to me as she should have.

Mendels: And the channel?

Tavis: I protested in the strongest terms at the time, but there was nothing further I could do without holding my family up for even worse ridicule.

Mendels hesitates to chastise a colleague decades older than himself, but he can't keep silent in the face of injustice.

Tavis: My daughter has had a hard time of it -- a Sime killed her husband not long since. Making a public issue of her daughter's irresponsibility would have been too hard on her.

Mendels: Doctor, think back to your training, and to the oaths we've both sworn. Isn't the patient's wellbeing the first priority?

Tavis: Yes. Within the bounds of ethics. And treating a minor child for an illness that isn't life threatening, without the approval of her family, is a violation of those ethics.

Mendels: Seems to me that you're more concerned about turf wars, and what the neighbors might think, than about your own granddaughter's wellbeing.

Mendels has been working too hard, for too many days, to spare energy to be diplomatic.

Tavis: Please credit me with a normal degree of affection for my own granddaughter, Dr. Mendels. In fact, it is that affection that makes me so alarmed that she was being treated by a... physician... with such a poor grasp of ethics. It hints at carelessness in other matters, and that costs lives.

Mendels: The girl went to the one place where, if it really had been changeover, she could have survived without killing. And the channel, when faced with a sick child who wanted help, gave it.

Tavis: Do you have children, Dr. Mendels?

Mendels: Two. Both still toddlers.

Mendels smiles; he hasn't had time to think about his family since the current crisis began.

Tavis: How do you think you would feel, in a few years, if one of them broke a leg at school, and she was turned over to the third-best facility around, rather than the best, without your knowledge?

Mendels: This channel, then, has a reputation as an inferior healer?

Tavis: If she was one of their best, she wouldn't have been sent to a small, isolated post like Hannard's Ford. It stands to reason. Not much healing work for a Sime, there.

Mendels: My observation, Doctor, is that even a middle-of-the-road channel is still an excellent medic.

Mendels is not going to point out that Dr. Tavis himself is only a family doctor in a small sleepy town.

Tavis was a much bigger fish, of course, before he semi-retired.

Tavis: Perhaps. But when there was no urgency, there was no justification for violating the ethics of consent. Which, the channel admitted, are similar enough to our own.

Mendels scowls, chasing after an elusive fragment of memory. Something about this discussion reminds him of... something...

Tavis: Is something wrong, Dr. Mendels?

Mendels has it: a fragment of conversation he overheard among the nursing volunteers the other day.

Mendels: This nurse, Virginia.

Tavis: Yes?'

Mendels: About so tall, nearer your age than mine, graying hair. Used to work in surgery in one of the big city hospitals?

Tavis: It sounds like her. Why, have you met her?

Mendels: If we're talking about the same woman, she's on my second shift. Very competent.

Tavis: She does well enough.

Tavis's surgical practice isn't so great that it challenges a big-city surgical nurse: he sends the cases that he's not equipped to handle to the closest large hospital, when he can.

Mendels: I was hoping to transfer her to a team that doesn't have to work so closely with the channels.

Tavis: Oh? She didn't seem to have any issues with fraternizing with Simes back home.

Mendels: Maybe it's not the same woman, then. This one is a bit uncomfortable at close range with Simes. And that's hard on the channels.

Tavis: Not the sort of person who'd strike up a friendship with a Donor, then.

Mendels: I wouldn't know about that. But I don't think that would be an issue on your team here, anyway.

Tavis: No, I don't think it would be.

Mendels: Would you be willing to take her on your team?

Tavis: If she's competent, yes. I'll give her a trial, at least. My team is shorthanded.

Mendels: I'll send her over to you just after shift change, then.

Mendels has more nurses than he needs right now. Of course, that could change tomorrow.

Tavis: Good.

Mendels mops up the last of his stew with a crust of bread, eats it, and pushes back his chair.

Tavis: Yes, I know. It's time for rounds. Give me a moment to finish, and I'll join you.

Tavis pulls his plate back in front of him, and begins shoveling in the stew.

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