Well, Hurricane Irma prevented me from posting a new installment of this story last week. Preparations for the storm and the eventual loss of power impacted my blogging and writing schedule. It also gave me time to think of what direction this story might take and I think I’ve got some cool ideas in mind. It appears that there will be at least one more part after this one as it’s taking a bit longer to unwind the events that are affecting our poor main character, Joyce.
Please enjoy Part 3 of No Pain, No Gain
No No Pain, No Gain – Part 3
Joyce sat in the waiting room wearing a ball cap she found in the back of her closet. What was going on? Did she have cancer? But cancer patients lost their hair from the treatment, not the disease. Maybe she had one of those other diseases that caused women to lose their hair.
The nurse called her back to the intake area and made her stand on the scale and took her vital signs. She then led Joyce to an examination room.
“I just need to take a quick history,” the nurse said.
She led Joyce through a litany of questions that had nothing to do with this visit.
“So, what is the reason for your visit today,” the nurse finally asked.
Joyce explained the initial hair loss and the tooth. Then she took off her ball cap and four or five more clumps of hair came with it. The nurse had seen many situations in her employ with the medical practice, but her response to this was, “Oh my. The doctor will be in soon.” She said this as she exited the room as if it was on fire.
Within minutes, there was a quiet knock at the door.
“Yes,” Joyce said.
The door opened and a fifty-something man with a white coat and a ruddy face entered.
“Hello, I’m Doctor Swanson.”
“Um, Hello. Where is Doctor Igler?”
Doctor Igler was Joyce’s regular physician.
“She’s on vacation. I’m covering for her emergencies.”
Joyce immediately felt uncomfortable with an unfamiliar male doctor. Dr. Swanson looked through the thin chart and at the computer screen that the nurse had filled in.
“The nurse said you’re losing hair and lost a tooth. I also see that you’ve lost about 25 pounds since your last visit.”
“Um, yes. That’s right. What do you think it is?”
“It’s hard to tell without running some blood work. Have you changed your diet recently?”
“I’ve been eating much healthier, but that’s all. I’ve been exercising also.”
“Hmm. Well, we can talk about that more after we get your blood levels checked.”
Joyce did not like the tone of the doctor’s response. It was almost as if he suspected her of being responsible for her condition. The doctor asked joyce to remove her ball cap and he looked at her scalp. More hair was coming loose. He also looked at the spot where her tooth had fallen out. Another tooth had already pushed through to fill it.
“This is very curious, but we really need to run your blood work. I’m going to ask the nurse to do a draw and we’ll send it to the lab with a rush.”
“What do you think it is?” Joyce asked again.
“I really don’t know. You appear healthy overall. Are you feeling sick in any way?”
“Actually, I’ve never felt better physically. My energy is up and I feel great.”
“Interesting. Let’s get that blood draw done,” the doctor said as he rose to leave the examination room.
The nurse came in almost immediately and led Joyce to an area outside of the exam room. There was a row of chairs with arm rests that were designed for drawing blood. The nurse tightened the rubber tourniquet around Joyce’s right bicep and searched for a vein.
“You’re going to feel a pinch,” the nurse said.
Joyce’s mind was cycling so fast that she didn’t feel anything as the nurse finally found a suitable vein and jabbed the needle into her arm. She gathered three vials and labeled them with a Sharpie marker.
“Your results will be back tomorrow afternoon,” the nurse said.
Joyce had a surreal feeling as she left the office. She headed back to her apartment feeling like she was in a dream, the car navigating itself into a parking space by her unit. What was she going to do until she found out what was wrong with her? The doctor offered no advice. She let herself into her apartment and called Vivian at the office.
“Viv, this is Joyce. I went to the doctor this morning.”
“Are you okay?”
“Well, I don’t know. They’re running tests. The results will be back tomorrow. I’m scared.”
“I’m so sorry, Joyce. Listen, don’t worry about coming in here. You’ve got vacation time stacked away. Take as long as you need.”
“Thanks, Viv. I’m just not sure. I feel fine, but the symptoms.”
“I know. Don’t worry about it. Keep me posted.”
“I will. Thanks again.”
Joyce hung up and sat at her kitchen table and put her head down on her arms. What was going on? She really did feel fine. In fact, not just fine. She felt better than she had in a long time. She was full of energy. She didn’t have any of the digestive problems that had haunted her most of her life. She felt fit. She decided, as long as she felt this way, she would make the most of it. She went into the bedroom and changed into her running clothes, ball cap and sneakers and was out the door.
Joyce came back to her apartment feeling invigorated after a five-mile run. Invigorated was an understatement. She felt like she could run forever and was barely winded. She took a hot shower, ate some salad and went to bed feeling healthy, but filled with worry.
The technician at KG Bio-Labs prepared the sample to run a complete blood count (CBC) and blood chemistry test on another sample. As the blood counts and chemical analyses were completed, the technician was unaware of other readings that were captured by the lab software. When Joyce’s blood sample was processed, 1,500 miles away an alert was received by Dr. Mitchell Haybrook at Kongo Fit headquarters.
“Damnit. Another one. That’s the twelfth this week,” Haybrook said to the walls of his office.
Dr. Haybrook had asked the IT department to install this additional blood check in all of Kongo’s medical labs. It wasn’t commonly known, but Kong Fit’s parent company owned 60% of all of the medical testing labs in the U.S. and that percentage was on the rise. Since installing the check, 15 anomalies had been detected. All of the patients were Buff Cuff owners. Twelve alerts had been sent to him just this week since the latest update had been propagated to the devices. It was time to escalate to Hanson again and possibly above him if he didn’t act on this trend.
In a dark sub-basement three levels below a secondary laboratory in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Ray Hanson entered the elevator to take him back to ground level. He was trying to process what he saw during this visit. This lab on San Mateo Boulevard, a few miles outside of the city, was just another KG Medical Laboratory on the surface. The three sub-floors below, however, were dedicated to research which, as its latest project, had produced the technology behind the Buff Cuff. The technology was both patented and classified.
Kongo Fit had developed the technology as a proof of concept for a military contract that didn’t come to fruition, but the company’s leadership saw the potential for consumer usage. Favors were called in and FDA approval was fast-tracked. Animal testing was skipped and the government, through secret channels, supplied human test subjects. Hanson wasn’t high enough on the food chain to know where the subjects came from, but he had just seen the results and the situation was beyond anything he could imagine.
The former test subjects that Hanson saw on this trip to the lab didn’t resemble anything close to human. They were more machine and reptilian in appearance and the sounds they made, a combination of pain and rage, would haunt him going forward.
Was Haybrook right? Would Kongo Fit customers turn into monsters like the ones he saw today? Hanson needed to do something, but he didn’t want to be on the radar of Kongo leadership by doing so. He would think about it on the flight back to headquarters and then meet with Haybrook to figure out a course of action.
Joyce was up early the next morning. She wanted to call the lab first thing to see if her test results had come back. She had some yogurt and fruit for breakfast and felt the urge to run again. Her desire to exercise was becoming automatic on a daily basis. She turned the shower to its hottest setting and wondered why the water didn’t scald her skin as she entered. She lathered her legs and grabbed her razor. As she shaved her leg, the razor came apart in her hand. It apparently needed a new blade. As she looked at the four-blade cartridge, she couldn’t help but notice that the strips of metal that made up the set of blades were mangled. She looked at her leg and, not only was it not cut, the skin felt like scaly leather. Was this another side-effect of her condition? Joyce sat in the shower while the hot water pounded her skin and sobbed uncontrollably. Her Buff Cuff vibrated on her wrist telling her it was time to get up and move.