by Reed Kuehn
Artist: Nathalie Huijbers
&&&The sun warmed him as the rolling waves sang their hypnotic song. Eyelids heavy, he licked the salt from his lips, content to lie there on the sand without a care in the world.
&&&“Mr. Askerian,” a soft voice called to him. The sunlight dimmed and the crashing waves quieted. “Mr. Askerian,” the singsong voice whispered. His eyes fluttered open and met the soft light of the operating room and the deep blue pools of the nurse somnoanesthetist. “We’re all done, Mr. Askerian. We’ll head to the recovery room soon.” He smiled. He was in no pain. The door to the operating room swung and Dr. Janus entered. She looked over the record and glanced at the patient.
&&&“Everything go okay, Cheryl?” she asked.
&&&“Everything went wonderfully,” Cheryl said as she patted the patient’s shoulder. “Paul here had a nice little rest on a beach in Bora Bora.”
&&&“Nice choice,” Dr. Janus said with a wink, the smile hidden behind her surgical mask.
“What’s up next, Susan?” she called to the surgeon who was in the corner of the room.
&&&“Looks like a healthy thirty-six year old woman who needs to be relieved of her gallbladder. Should be straightforward.”
&&&“Standard protocol for us up here?”
&&&“Yes. Paralyzed and sedated. Nice little trip. I think she said the mountains when I talked to her in the clinic?”
&&&“Yep, mountain cabin,” Cheryl chimed in. “I had a second to speak with her on break.”
&&&“Great. I’ll finish up, Cheryl. Go get her ready and we can keep this day moving,” Dr. Janus said, which elicited an approving thumbs up from the surgeon. The operating room staff moved the patient to the gurney and they escorted him to the recovery room as the cleaning staff rushed in to turn over the room.
&&&“So it’s hypnotic?” Hannah, the next patient, asked Cheryl in the preoperative holding room.
&&&“It’s somnoanesthesia. It’s been a wonderful breakthrough. We combine standard anesthesia practice so you are asleep and don’t feel any pain with the addition of new technology that interfaces with your brain. We project a dream into your mind while you are asleep. The current scenario bank has over four thousand options so we can get pretty close to your perfect place to relax”
&&&“It is. Studies show patients tolerate surgery better, recover faster, and use less pain medication. We do have some interesting requests from time to time, but the scenarios are for you alone. No partners if you get my drift. We can’t have your heart rate going all over the place during the procedure.” Hannah raised an eyebrow. “You’d be surprised. Both men and women. So your surgeon mentioned a mountain cabin.” She asked as she was scrolling on a tablet. “Let’s see, season?”
&&&“Nice. Inside or outside?”
&&&“If possible, outside wrapped in a blanket.”
&&&“How about this?” Cheryl showed the tablet to Hannah. It showed a picturesque view of snow capped peaks in the distance above rolling verdant fields. A lone cabin, smoke rising from its chimney, sat along a small brook. Third person and first person images flashed in succession.
&&&Hannah nodded her head. “That looks perfect. How long does the surgery take?”
&&&“From start to finish, a little over an hour, but the time for you won’t seem that long. We adjust for that, especially for long cases, so patients aren’t subjected to hours and hours of dreaming. Your perception will be much shorter.”
&&&Hannah shook her head in amazement. “All right. Let’s do this.” They went through a few more required perfunctory steps and rolled to the operating room. Cheryl situated the patient, got her attached to the monitors and somno equipment, and started the case. The surgery began and Hannah was transported to the chilly air of the mountains. Wrapped in a thick blanket and the smell of woodsmoke, she absorbed the beauty around her through half opened eyelids.
&&&The case was about halfway done when Dr. Janus returned. Her eyes widened, recognizing the patient. Betraying nothing, she told Cheryl to take a long break and get the next patient ready and she would finish this case. Cheryl, not objecting, casually left the operating room. Dr. Janus drew some medications, tapped on her tablet, and began adjusting the somno equipment.
&&&Hannah’s eyes slowly opened completely. The seconds began ticking off in her mind. She was aware of time’s passing. Something was wrong. She began noticing a tickle in her abdomen. She stood up from the chair as the sun quickly set and she was left in near complete darkness, save the firelight from the cabin. A distant howl caught her attention and a feeling of dread washed over her.
&&&“Just so you know,” she heard a malevolent voice call, ”you’re not going to enjoy this. You may not remember any of it. Or, you may remember all of it.”
&&&“What is going on?” Hannah yelled as the intensity of the discomfort in her abdomen grew. She was still asleep on the table but stuck in the dream. She began feeling the intense pressure on her abdomen from the insufflation and the burning pain at the incisions. She screamed, grabbing her belly. The single howl became many and were very close now. She looked into the dark void as the firelight reflected multiple sets of eyes closing on her. In terrible pain, she stumbled toward the cabin door as it slammed in her face. Tears streaming down her face, she collapsed onto the ground with her back to the door. She writhed in pain and heard a great snarl. She looked up at the lunging maw of the wolf as her scream was lost in the darkness.
&&&“Everything good up there?” the surgeon asked.
&&&Dr. Janus looked at her bare left fourth finger. “All good up here Susan. How much time do you think?”
&&&“About thirty minutes.”
&&&Dr. Janus leaned back in her chair and watched her monitors contently.
Reed Kuehn is an avid runner and combat veteran. While literature has always been an important part of his life, recently he has brought it to the forefront with his endeavors in writing.