“[E]verything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”—Viktor Frankl
[Previously spotlighted quotes]
“H.A.D.”: A Short Story by Shaun A. Saunders[Sunni notes: Shaun sent me this story sometime in September or October 2007. I really liked it, but being busy and lazy and having email problems all contributed to it being pushed out of my mind for a while. Ultimately, I think that worked all for the best; the recent spate of taserings and taser-caused deaths, along with the state-ordered forced vaccination of children in Prince George’s County, Maryland—a barbarous act that only the American Association of Physicians and Surgeons has protested thus far— make its publication now (11/21/07) an especially pointed reminder that dystopian fiction is increasingly becoming reality.]
In the cavernous underground parking area of the sprawling Fabcola Home Shopping Centre, a police cruiser flashed its lights, blipped its siren and cut across an old white sedan, forcing it to pull over near a trolley rank.
The police officer driving the cruiser was six hours into what had been an uneventful shift. Two runaway trolleys were hardly worth reporting, but this was different. With fifteen years on the force, the officer could smell trouble, and the behaviour of the driver he’d just pulled over was definitely erratic.
He radioed in the car’s plates, advised Central that he might have a situation on his hands, and hoisted himself out of the cruiser. Immediately he felt his knees protest, and rued that at thirty-five, he was just too old for these sorts of shenanigans.
“Good afternoon Sir,” the officer said as he approached the sedan, breathing heavily. “Would you mind explaining what you’re doing here this afternoon? I’ve been watching you navigating aimlessly around the lot for over a quarter of an hour.”
Surprised, the nondescript looking driver answered, “Oh, I’ve been trying to find a parking space.”
Warning bells tingled. Straightening his shoulders, the officer screwed up his face, gestured around them at the available parking spaces, and said, “There are plenty of disabled spots...so what’s the problem?”
“Officer, I’m looking for a regular spot,” the driver replied.
“What for? I doubt there are any left now by this time of day – since no one uses them they’ve usually taken for granted by trades and delivery people.” He narrowed his eyes, peering. “But I don’t see one of those stickers on your windshield.”
The driver calmly answered, “No, I’m not a trades or delivery person, Officer. I’m also not disabled.”
The officer stiffened; vestiges of his basic training kicked in. He took half a step closer so that he could get a better view of the driver through the open side window. The guy did look mighty thin and sure enough, there was no disabled sticker on the windshield either. His right index finger began trapping on the butt of the holstered Taser. He had to be careful. If the perp was one of those whacked-out vitamin freaks, even a jolt of a few hundred kV might not be enough to restrain him. Some of the stories he’d heard at the station...“Sir, can you please extend your arm so I can scan your SID?”
The driver complied.
With his other hand, the officer used a palm-sized uplink to scan the driver’s Subcutaneous IDentity chip for Medicare records. Almost immediately the results appeared on the screen of the device, and the officer knew there was something very odd about this suspect. There were no records of any visits to medical practitioners or pharmacists for over 10 years...
Tensely, the officer advised, “Sir, you’re either involved in something very illegal, like one of those vitamin rackets, or you’re actually a very sick man and just don’t know it. I’d rather not even think about the first option.” But I have to, he thought, for my own safety. “I want you to look straight ahead and slowly place your hands on the steering wheel and then don’t move. Not a muscle, not even a twitch. I’ve got to call this in.”
Bewildered, the driver complied. Then, “Officer, I don’t understand. What have I done?”
“Sir, there’s nothing in your file: No blood pressure, diabetes or ADHD medication, not even antidepressants or sleeping pills...in short, you’re a walking time-bomb, just waiting to explode.”
Realising what he’d said, the officer backed away from the car, right hand now firmly grasping the butt of the Taser. Puffing from the exertion, “But I don’t want to upset you Sir. No, not at all. In fact, why don’t you just take a few breaths, calm down, and we’ll sort this out. Sometimes, somehow, some consumers slip through the cracks.” With an edge of desperate hope to his voice, he added, “Maybe even there’s a problem with your SID,” but didn’t believe a word of it.
What he thought was, Hopefully back up will arrive soon.
Risking a quick glance at the at the officer, who was shaking now as he whispered into his radio-mike, the bewildered driver murmured, “It seems I’m not the one who’s stressed here.”
After radioing base and receiving further instructions, with great caution a miniscule blood sample was taken from the suspect’s thumb and analysed on the spot using the cruiser’s sophisticated onboard equipment. The results confirmed the previous information gleaned from the SID’s Medicare records: “No sign of any pharmaceutical medications...”
Desperate to buy more time, “Sir, this instantly qualifies you for an on-the-spot diagnosis of H.A.D.”
That’s right; keep him talking...make non-threatening conversation, using a soothing tone...
With a kindly voice, “Health Adjustment Disorder: it’s a medical term that applies to people who simply won’t look after themselves.” The officer forced a smile to match his voice. “I know from your SID that you’re forty two years old, right?”
The driver, with his hands back on the steering wheel, shrugged. “Yes officer, that’s correct, of course.”
“Well, in my job, and being in the public eye all day, I have a responsibility to keep up with all the latest facts and figures. Also, all officers have to complete basic first aid and health training. And when it comes to consumer health, I can tell you that the probability of someone your age – or my age for that matter; and I’m a few years younger than you ’ not needing drugs to control your cholesterol, to manage your diabetes, and then some more pharma just to help you get through the day and get some sleep at night when you have all those other problems, well, it’s just about zero. Modern health science tells us that diabetes in particular needs to be monitored from birth, and psychological disorders like attention deficit can make themselves known as early as two years of age.” The officer shook his head. “From there on, it’s just all down hill: arthritis, a smorgasbord of cancers, heart and kidney disease, and a psychological disorder for every day of the year. You know, they’re actually finding new diseases and new mood disorders every day! Oh, the tabloids sometimes have ridiculous stories about consumers who claim they’ve never been sick, but when properly investigated, you learn that it’s just smoke and mirrors to keep their readers interested.” He winked. “You know, those who don’t actually do much reading at all, if you know what I mean.
“But the important thing for health consumers to remember is that to stay one step ahead, you know, while the doctors and researchers and companies are looking for cures, is that we all have to do our bit by looking after ourselves.” The officer sighed with relief — multiple sirens could be heard approaching. “And that means regular visits to your medical practitioner, and taking their advice. Literally.”
The driver spoke. “What are all those sirens for?”
The officer dismissed the question with a vague wave of a hand. With the other he produced a plastic bin from the cruiser. It had multiple lids on top, like segments of an orange, although the officer didn’t realise that connection. “See this?” he asked. “Great idea: each of these little compartments is labelled with a different time of day.” He looked at his watch. “Right about now, I should be having my early evening pills.”
He tipped a dozen into his hand.
The driver’s eyes boggled at the coloured collection of pharmaceuticals. “Oh dear,” he said, “What on earth are all those for?”
“Well, these blue ones are for my depression. The grey ones with the white stripes are for cholesterol, the ones with the red stripes for my gout, and...”
Three vehicles screeched around the corner, sirens and lights blazing and flashing as they spilled backup officers into the car park.
“...you’ll get to know all of them yourself pretty soon, once you get some appropriate care.”
A short time later, after the driver had been Tasered repeatedly and tied into a straight jacket – “You can’t take chances with these sorts,” the officers agreed – and bundled into the back of a padded van destined for a psychiatric institution, he realised that the police officer had been correct, after a fashion: after years of constant exercise, careful eating, and avoiding disease before it required ‘managing’, it was certainly a case of being ‘had’. Before the van had left the subterranean car park, he was already feeling the effects of the “emergency” drugs the paramedics had injected into his bloodstream.
Life would never be the same again.
Another addition from Sunni: If you enjoyed this story, please consider buying Shaun’s new book, Navigating in the New World. It’s a wonderful collection of speculative science fiction.