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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic
A short story with a kafkaesque atmosphere which depicts a surgeon's bureaucratic struggle with the faceless and nameless System.

Submitted: June 04, 2019

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Submitted: June 04, 2019

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Checked

 

Dr Janet Shelley leaned against the blue sanitary wall. She felt she wanted to cry but managed to muster up enough strength to withhold her overwhelming emotions. Janet worked as a surgeon in the A&E department of a busy hospital and had just come out from an intense 3-hour operation that ended with a failure.

 

‘Another life has been lost,’ she thought. ‘We tried everything we could but I still feel so guilty…’

 

Janet wasn’t quite sure how she was going to tell the news to the mother of the child she had just seen leave this earth. Even after 10 years of working here, the thing she found the most difficult to cope with was telling the truth in the eyes of the relatives, the friends, the guardians.

 

‘Maybe I can send the senior nurse to tell her,’ she raised her head and got rid of some small dust particles from the short sleeves of her uniform.

 

She walked towards the reception desk of the floor and gave the task to her colleague.

 

‘Will do, Janet!’ the senior nurse told her. ‘Oh, don’t forget that you have a check-up meeting with the inspector in a couple of minutes!’

 

‘Thanks for the reminder, Sue!’ replied Janet and rushed to her office at the end of the wing.

 

On her way there, she took a glance at the clock on the wall. It was 15:56. She saw a tall, slim man in a black suit and tie waiting next to her door. He was carrying a briefcase and his look was stern.

 

‘Hello,’ Janet greeted. ‘Are you the inspector?’

 

‘Yes, I am,’ he replied in a neutral baritone voice. ‘And are you Dr Shelley?’

 

‘Yep. You’re a bit early. Anyway, come in! Sorry about the mess in the office, I guess it’s just me being all over the place,’ she tried to giggle in an attempt to distract herself from the tragic death she had just witnessed, but was too tired to even smile.

 

The man didn’t respond. He followed her inside with slow but determined steps. Janet sat down behind her computer and the man placed himself on the chair in front of her desk.

 

‘So then,’ Janet said with a note of fatigue. ‘What can I help you with, Mr. …?’

 

‘Smith,’ he promptly replied. ‘Well, Dr Shelley, I’m here today to go through some checks with you. Firstly, I’ll need…’

 

‘Sorry to interrupt, but I’m afraid my memory’s not been that good lately. Could you please remind me which agency you were from?’

 

‘None,’ the man said in a chilling voice. He pronounced the word in such a way as if he was dissecting it. ‘I am one of the Administrators which are all part of the government. No need to know everything about it. I’m just here to do my job.’

 

‘I’m afraid I don’t quite understand…’ Janet frowned at him. She felt a sort of electricity in the room. She would normally get the same type of feeling every time her surgical team realised their efforts to revive a dying patient in the operations room were going to waste and that they were fighting a losing battle.

 

The man didn’t speak for a few seconds and watched with an expressionless face.

 

‘You see, I represent both everyone and no one,’ he finally said. ‘I’m here on behalf of my superiors who want to make sure you are up to date with everything and that you have read and signed all the paperwork for the new implemented policies on health and safety.’

 

As he was speaking, he opened his briefcase and handed her a big pile of documents with the stamp “Confidential” on each one.

 

‘I am also here,’ he continued, ‘on behalf of the people. The ordinary people. They want to make sure they are being treated by someone who is competent. That’s why I need to conduct some checks on your certificates and to sign you up for mandatory training sessions as new practices are constantly being improved.’

 

‘But I’ve already done my training ages ago!’ Janet responded in a defensive manner. She felt bombarded by countless tasks that were a needless déjà-vu to her.

 

‘As I said,’ the man continued, ‘new policies are introduced ever so often and your position requires you to go through them. I’ve already signed you up for these training sessions.’

 

He then handed her a sheet with all the different dates and times for her training.

 

‘But I have very important operations for most of these dates!’ Janet gasped.

 

‘I know,’ the man said in his voice which now sounded like the noise from an echo in a hollow piece of wood. ‘That’s why I had the gracious permission to cancel, postpone or transfer some of these operations to other members of staff.’

 

Janet looked at him with aggression. She wanted to hit him. But she felt even more tired now.

 

‘Moving on,’ the inspector continued, ‘I’m also here today on behalf of the government and do you know what they want to see, Dr Shelley?’

 

She was still processing what to say but he didn’t give her time to answer.

 

‘They want to see results!’ his voice was in a slightly higher pitch now. ‘More precisely, they want to be told that there are results. And it’s Administrators like me who make sure this happens no matter what. I checked your portfolio before I came and I can see that in a month, you have an average of 63.7 surgical operations. 79% of these operations are successful, the report says, while 21% end fatally or have not had any effect. The government want to see 95% of successful operations at the very least. You do realise that, right?’

 

The man stopped talking. Janet noticed that during his monologue, he had leaned closer to her desk and looked like a hunched, elegant creature holding its dearest possessions in that briefcase. For some reason, what struck her the most at that moment was that the inspector had remembered the precise statistics of her work efficiency.

 

‘Yes, I do realise that,’ Janet finally managed to concentrate enough in order to mutter any words. ‘But some patients are in such a critical state that the operation is bound to be unsuccessful, regardless of the effort we put in.’

 

‘They want to see 95% at least, Dr Shelley!’ the man repeated, not losing sight of her eyes.

 

‘Did you not hear me?!’ Janet replied angrily. ‘We put all our efforts to save every single life in this A&E department, Mr. Smith! We simply can’t do any better than that. Some of us are already at breaking point because of the high workload. Do you really think it’s easy being in that room for 3 straight hours, witnessing the loss of a life you worked so hard for and then living with that failure for the rest of your days? And multiply that by every single operations failure that I’ve had in my career and you’ll see how I’m feeling!’

 

Janet was panting. The man didn’t flinch a muscle while she was talking. He was still carrying that expressionless face. She caught a glimpse of the clock in her office. It was 16:28 and she still had to enter her clinical notes for the day. Before she could tell the man to leave the room, he said:

 

‘I’m afraid that your emotions are something that I am not able to comment on, Dr Shelley. I am part of the System. I am an Administrator. Whether you want to reach those 95% or not is your choice, not mine. You either reach them or you don’t, there’s no middle option. I’m only here to let you know that you must do it. When you stay up to date with training, policies, documents and targets, the System will be happy with you and won’t bother you. But for now, I can only say that you have been checked.’

 

She opened her mouth to protest but didn’t know what to say to him, feeling helpless, confused and alone.

 

‘Goodbye, Dr Shelley!’ he slowly stood up and headed outside, leaving the pile of documents on the desk and the door to the corridor open.

 

Janet could still hear his footsteps disappearing amidst the chaotic noises of the hospital. The hospital that never slept. Yet, the hospital that did not quite meet the standards of the System. One of the many. And the many of the one…


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