Six-Step Protocol

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

A fictional take on the six steps of delivering bad news to a patient.

Submitted: October 29, 2017

A A A | A A A

Submitted: October 29, 2017



Six-Step Protocol


You make an appointment to see your doctor for let’s say 8 am. You call work to say you'll be late. Any rational man knows that being seen at the time of your scheduled appointment is not an improbability but an impossibility. You persevere nevertheless, you bring a book with you or watch some old reruns of Friends they have playing in the waiting area. I wish that was my predicament currently.


Currently, I am locked in a quarantine room "for my own protection" they say. I've been here for 9 hours now with nothing but the flickering of a fluorescent light for my entertainment. The room is 8 by 9 feet with 3 walls painted medical white, you know the kind that makes people question their sanity. The other wall is the more interesting one. It is made of 5 inch thick glass with a contraption cut into for transferring items between the outside and inside in a sterile manner.


Why you ask am I here? Well, I've been trying to figure the same thing out myself. You see I am an overnight security guard at NPDC out of Virginia (that’s Nuclear Power Development Coalition for the folks that don't watch the news). Several months ago I read a wanted ad for the gig I jumped right on it. It stated 45k a year pay with flexible hours plus on the job training. Usual security pay is 25-30k with overtime. Interview day comes and they ask me how mechanically inclined I am. They wanna know if I would be willing to learn some emergency procedures. I say sure, for 45k I would wear a silly hat and sing you happy birthday.


The job started off great. I man the entrance for a few hours and then switch with another guy to walk around the facility. I check that no squirrel is stealing national secrets and then head back to the front. Last night things didn't exactly run according to protocol. It was around 12:20 am when the other night shift guard came by to relieve me so I could start my patrol. My route takes me around the perimeter of the facility, by the reactor room and the research wing. All is going hunky-dory until I enter the research wing. I never know what’s going on there, way above my pay grade. But tonight there is a silent red light flashing like a police siren outside one of the labs. Those lights can flash for any of a million reason but never anything serious (or so I thought). A month ago we had a drill for what a serious incident may look like and let me tell you if AC/DC were playing a concert at the gate we wouldn’t hear them. This place lights up like it’s the turn of the century in NYC on maximum volume. According to my procedure I have to investigate. As I said before I don't know much about labs but it looked like a standard chemistry laboratory. It had black tables and different devices piled everywhere that were attached to computer monitors. I keep walking toward the back of the room and noticed another smaller red light blinking. Below the light is a heavy metal door with one of those radiation warning stickers on it. It was ajar. That was my guess of why it was blinking. I walked up to it peeked inside with my flashlight. To my disappointment no ninja squirrels were stealing state secrets. I did notice a metal case wide open with a dark purple orb in it.. So I flipped the lid closed with the butt of my flashlight and locked the metal door on my way out. As soon as it shut the little blinking light on top the door stopped. Great I thought disaster averted. I walk out the lab and continue my route through the rest of the facility. As I was leaving I began to think about my BBQ ribs I got waiting for me back in the guard post.


Let me tell you I never got to see those ribs. I open the building doors to the outside and all hell breaks loose. Have you ever seen those tall scanners they got outside department stores to make sure you’re not stealing? Well they got a similar set up here too except it’s for radiation. As soon as I walked by them, they lit up with alternating orange and red colors. Alarms were blaring across the whole compound. It was New Year’s Eve at NPDC.


After a bunch of commotion and men in yellow hazard suits, I ended up here in an isolation room in who knows where. It’s been 9 hours since they've locked me up here and I still do not know a single iota of information about why I am here.


After another 2 hours of zero information and total confinement. The peace eventually gets disturbed by a radio crackle followed by "Mr. Leonid Nikov?" I turn to see a middle aged man with a long white coat, spectacles that were made in the 80's, and equip with a mustache to follow.


"Hello, Mr. Nikov. My name is Dr. Seaborg. I've been working with a team of medical staff to assess your health status."


I burst out "MY HEALTH STATUS, how about somebody explains to me what I am doing here first?"


Dr. Seaborg reaches for a rolling chair from around the corner and sits in front of the thick glass.


"Mr. Nikov, can I call you Leonid?"


Catching me off guard. "Yeah, Leo for short."


"Thank you Leo. Please sit on the bed, I wish to talk to you for a bit."


"So am I going to finally get some answers to what is going on?" I exclaimed.


"Oh yes, of course you will Leo. But first let me ask, do you know why you are here?"


My blood immediately started to boil. I stood up off the bed and hollered "I've been trying to find that out all day! Why are you asking me?"


Dr. Seaborg crossed his left leg over his right, looked at me as if my outburst had zero effect on his disposition.


"I understand you're frustrated Leo. This is why I am here. But I need to know what you understand and know so we can both start of on the same page."


Can't argue with that logic, at least I will get answers finally. I sit back down on the bed.


"Well Doc, I was doing my patrols in the research lab. I entered a room with a flashing red light, closed some lid and a door and then saw myself out. Then as soon I stepped out the building all hell broke loose. Followed by more guys in suits and wham bam thank you ma'am I ended up here."


Dr. Seaborg waited for a few seconds as if to process everything I said.


"I see Leo, thank you for telling me."


"Can I get some answers now?" I burst out.


"Yes, of course. You see the room you entered is a plutonium development lab. Due to certain circumstances that are currently being investigated the door to the storage chamber was left open as was the canister containing the raw element."


"How much do you know about radiation, Leo?" Dr. Seaborg asked


Took me a minute to recall some of the training sessions I got when I first started working there.


"You know Doc the basic and such. It's bad, stay away, the usual spiel."


"Understood, you see Leo when you went into the room the red flashing light was a radiation warning signal. For some reason that is being looked into it did not trigger the facilities alarm only the local one in the room." Dr. Seaborg explained.


"Okay so did I get exposed a bit or something? I wasn't in the room longer than 5 minutes tops."


"Yes, this is correct you weren't in the room for long which is a saving grace in itself. Unfortunately, you were exposed to a significant dose of radiation while you were in that room. This is why we have you in quarantine currently."


You know when you’re scared and your pupils open up real wide and you can hear your heart in your ears, well that happened to me. A chill ran down my spine followed by a cold sweat the kind you get when you know bad news is coming.


As all the blood vanished from my head and my heart skipped to a million beats per minute. I grab the side of the bed to balance myself. Dr. Seaborg sees my reaction. Uncrossing his legs he leans forward and says "Leo stay with me,we have to finish having this conversation. Leo can you say something?"


"Yeah Doc, got the nerves. So how much of this radiation did I absorb?"


"Before we get there, I need to know how you holding up?"


I look straight at Dr. Seaborg. He was cool, calm and collected. It was like looking at an opposite day mirror. I notice him taking a deep breath in and my body mimicked him without my say so. I loosen my grip on the bed and reply "Yeah Doc, I am holding my own. Tell me more about what hit me?"


"Have you ever had an X ray or CT scan done?" Dr. Seaborg asked.


The question threw me off a bit. “Umm, back in high school a broke my index finger playing basketball. Got an X-ray then of the hand. That’s about it."


"I see well when you got that X-ray you were exposed to 1 rad of radiation. It is a unit of measure for radiation."


"Gotcha, so how much did I get this time around?"


"It was a larger amount. It was close to getting 800 of those hand X-rays to your whole body. We are presuming that it was close to 1000 rad in those few minutes you were there. The reason that you were exposed to this amount was because in an X-ray there is a small source of radiation. But when you entered that vault it was holding enriched plutonium which is weapon grade and highly radioactive."


"You're saying that they had nuke stuff in that closet? Whoa Doc I didn't know that."


"It's alright Leo, nobody here is blaming you. We all understand you were doing your job and who knows you might have even saved somebodies life."


I looked at him puzzled, "Save a life? How?"


He looked back at me with the first smile that I’ve seen this man crack.


"Well whoever entered there in the morning would have been in the same predicament, it could have been a whole team of people. With your diligence you prevented that." He continued smiling.


"Ah" I replied not sensing fulfillment from that.


"These 800 X-rays I got, tell me is that a bad thing and if so how bad?"


"Well, you see Leo this is why we have taken so long. We have been assessing your situation to be able to give you the best care we can as quickly as we can. We have a medical plan in action right now. Soon you will be receiving large doses of special compound such as DTPA, Prussian Blue, and Potassium Iodide. They will lower the amount of radiation in your body but unfortunately you were exposed to a serious amount."


That cold sweat came back I stuttered "Come on Doc, be straight with me, how bad is it?"


He took a pause before he spoke "I am going to be honest with you Leo, we can't predict how you will respond. There hasn't been a case like yours since the Chernobyl incident."


My hand wasn't strong enough to support me anymore. I crashed onto the bed staring at the florescent light still flickering that same pattern. Did I kill myself by closing a door, life can't end that simply. My doomsday spiraling thoughts were interrupted by a shout from Dr. Seaborg "LEO ARE YOU STILL WITH ME?"


I lift my head up and open my mouth to respond but nothing comes out.


"We are doing our best Leo. Is there anybody you would like me to contact or do you have any requests?"


I start laughing, "You taking final requests Doc?"


He moves his eyebrows closer together "Leo don't give up we are going to do our best here. You have my word"


I stop laughing as a wonderful idea presents itself. "Yeah Doc I got a request before you go. You got a pamphlet for those 5 stages of grief I need to skip a few of them."


© Copyright 2018 Daniel Dvoskin. All rights reserved.

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