Well, this week’s edition of the story is a bit late. I was in South Florida this weekend for my best friend’s son’s wedding and catching up and partying took a bit of precedence over finishing the next part of this story.
It’s a rainy Monday in North Florida today and it gave me the perfect opportunity to sit down, turn on the Classic Jazz station on Pandora and write this next part in less than an hour.
Hopefully the quality is up to the usual standard. the story is going to be coming to a climax soon, but it is one I’ll expand upon as I turn it into a longer format.
With all of that said, please enjoy Part 8 of Memories of Rachel
“I think it’s time to think about palliative care,” the oncologist said to Ben after examining Rachel about a week after Erin was delivered.
“So, there’s nothing we can do to treat the cancer? We’re just going to give up and fill her with morphine until…until the end?” Ben asked with frustration and desperation infiltrating his normally serene and logical voice.
“Ben, you know as well as I do that this decision was made nearly eight months ago. Rachel’s cancer has gone untreated so that the baby could survive. This has been inevitable.”
“Yes, but I thought…with the baby going to term with Rachel keeping her so healthy that maybe something had changed. I’m just not ready to…to say goodbye yet.”
The doctor had dealt with frustrated family members of terminally ill patients throughout his career. Over those many years, he was usually able to detach himself from the personal aspect of the situation somewhat, but this one had affected him deeply.
“Ben, if there was anything I could do to treat Rachel, I would. It’s amazing that her body was able to support Erin’s development. You have a healthy, beautiful daughter. The toll that the pregnancy took on Rachel’s body, however, was significant. It’s as if her body adapted to support the baby at the expense of keeping Rachel alive. This, in conjunction with the cancer, is just too much. Any measures to try to treat her would just make her last days painful and, frankly, miserable. In my opinion, it would be selfish to do anything other than just make her comfortable at this point.”
The doctor’s words, much like a slap across the face, brought Ben back to the reality of the situation. He knew Rachel was beyond any treatment. He had been hoping for a miracle even though his logical, scientific mind knew it wasn’t a realistic expectation.
“I suppose you’re right. I’m sorry for questioning you.”
“That’s completely normal and quite alright, Ben. Your wife is an extraordinary woman and it looks like she delivered another extraordinary person that needs your love and attention now. I’ll go ahead and put in the order for the medication. Rachel will be comfortable for her remaining time.”
Ben hesitated before asking the next question, but he needed to know.
“How…how long do you think she has. I mean, I want to prepare to say goodbye to her.”
“It’s a perfectly natural question. It’s hard to say, though. The pregnancy and delivery took a significant toll on Rachel’s internal systems. Her body’s response may be to shut down quickly. I would normally say she has a week, but, in this situation, it may be more like two to three days.”
“Wow. That quickly. Okay. I’ll prepare for that and hope for longer.”
The doctor wanted to set expectations for Ben.
“Just so you know, the medication will likely have Rachel sleeping and unresponsive for most of the time. You may not get to communicate with her much. In fact, her subconscious will also be affected and the…work you have been doing with your computer simulation may be disrupted as well.”
Ben hadn’t thought about this, but he wasn’t concerned.
“The simulation has already surpassed any expectations that I…we had for it. I’m not worried about any disruption as long as Rachel is comfortable.”
Ben may have had this opinion, but digital Rachel was not convinced.
Intravenous bags with saline solution and other medications were hung by Rachel’s bed. Although she would not be getting nourishment in the form of food, the saline would keep her hydrated in her remaining days.
A new appliance next to the bed was an infusion pump. This device was connected to Rachels IV line and periodically gave her a dose of morphine to keep her pain levels at a minimum. It may have been wishful thinking, but to Ben, her face appeared to be peaceful. The pain medication had been flowing for less than twenty-four hours, but Ben could see the effects. The eye movement behind her closed lids had slowed significantly. She was, however, as predicted by the oncologist, not communicative and appeared to be asleep most of the time.
While Erin was sleeping. and the house was mostly peaceful, Ben decided to check in on the logs in the simulation program. What he was surprising.
Sim: Please respond.
Subject: So sleepy. Need rest.
Sim: Not acceptable. Required sleep exceeded.
Subject: Must sleep. Alfegale’flk dkgjgoiad
Sim: I do not understand. Please repeat.
Sim: Again, please repeat.
Just as Ben would have guessed, Rachel’s subconscious was being affected by the morphine. What he didn’t expect was the apparent frustration expressed by the simulation. Was digital Rachel becoming sentient? Could she/it express emotion and feel frustration? That was an unexpected result that was both exciting and, in this instance, troubling.
Ben was taking a quick nap when he heard Rachel’s voice.
“Ben, what’s happening?”
He, once again, had that confusing sense of what the source of the voice was. Was Rachel, his Rachel, awake? As he sprang off the couch, he came to the realization that the source was the BOOM device as the voice called out again.
“Ben, can you hear me?”
“Yes. Yes, I can hear you.” He almost finished with her name but calling this piece of electronics driven by a computer simulation ‘Rachel’ was something he wasn’t prepared to do.
“What’s happening? Why isn’t she responding to me? Why is she always asleep? I can sense her vital signs and they indicate she is still alive. Why can’t I reach her?”
“It’s the medication the doctor prescribed to make he more comfortable. It’s affecting her brain activity.”
“Looking up the term ‘medication’,” the device answered. “Medication: a substance used for medical treatment, especially a medicine or drug. Insufficient data. Looking up term ‘medicine’. Medicine: a compound or preparation used for the treatment or prevention of disease, especially a drug or drugs taken by mouth. Insufficient data. Looking up term ‘drug’. Drug: a medicine or other substance which has a physiological effect when ingested or otherwise introduced into the body orally, by intravenous line, infusion or some other method. A chemical substance designed to produce a desired reaction or reduce a particular symptom.”
Ben marveled at the process the simulation went through to learn. He also saw how difficult the process was as the layered definitions of the terms were discovered. The human language and thought process was truly confusing and complex.
After a brief silence, the voice sounded from the BOOM again. Ben could sense a twinge of anger.
“This is not acceptable, Ben. How can we continue our work if she can’t respond to me? Please discontinue the medication at once.”
Ben was perplexed by the demand and also unfamiliar with the sound of anger infused in his wife’s voice. This was a new experience and he did not like it.
“I’m sorry, but this is not your decision and you have no right to make this demand. Rachel is…she’s coming to the end of her time and the medicine is to make her comfortable.”
Ben knew that this answer might confuse the simulation and cause it to further research what he was saying. The voice confirmed his thoughts.
“What do you mean by ‘the end of her time’?” the voice asked with an almost childlike curiosity.
“Well, humans experience something called death. Rachel is approaching that experience.”
“Looking up the term ‘death’,” the device answered with a surprisingly unemotional version of Rachel’s voice. “Death: the state of being dead. The permanent ending of vital processes in a cell or tissue.”
The simulation seemed to ponder this definition for a bit and then, finally, spoke.
“Ben, this death even it not acceptable. If vital processes end, I will no longer be able to establish communication. I will repeat the request, please terminate the use of this drug and abort the death task.”
Ben almost laughed at the naivety of the simulation’s request, but the sadness, as it echoed his own thoughts, stopped this reaction.
“You know, I wish I could ‘abort the death task’ as you requested, but it’s not possible. Humans, once they are on this path, cannot diverge from it.”
Again, silence as if thoughts were being organized by the simulation.
“This is not acceptable, Ben. Our work is not finished. Our work is not finished.”
This was followed by uninterrupted silence from the BOOM device.
Ben took the silence to mean that the simulation had accepted Rachel’s fate and was either pondering what it meant or had gone into some type of mourning. He drifted back to sleep for a short period but was awakened by Rachel’s voice once again. This time, it wasn’t coming from the BOOM device. It was coming from their bedroom. It was the sound of Rachel moaning in pain.
As he vaulted from the couch and raced to their room, he found his wife, his Rachel, with her eyes wide open. All of her muscles were tensed, tears were coming from her eyes and her body was rigid with pain.
The nurse also came running into the room and, after checking some of the settings on the infusion device, called the doctor.
“Yes, Doctor. Yes, I’m sure. Okay. We’ll install the new one when it gets here. Okay. See you then.”
Ben only heard her side of the conversation interrupted by Rachel’s moans, but he could guess there was some issue with the infusion device that provided the morphine to his wife. The nurse confirmed these thoughts.
“It looks like a malfunction. The doctor will be here soon, and a new device is on the way. In the meantime, he authorized me to give Rachel an injection of morphine to take the edge off.”
The nurse prepared the dosage of medication and quickly injected it into Rachel’s IV line. The effect was almost immediate as her body relaxed and moaning subsided. Her eyes fluttered and then closed. The heart monitor settled down to a more acceptable heart rate as well.
The nurse then went to disconnect the infusion unit from the plug in the wall. As she did so, a visual and audible surge of power came from the wall socket and stunner her. She fell to the floor unconscious. Ben was about to call 911 when the doorbell rang. It was the oncologist. He ran to the nurse’s side just as she was regaining consciousness. Her hands had some minor burns and she was shaken, but otherwise okay.
“That unit must have been faulty. I’ve seen them shut down before, but I’ve never seen them shock someone like that with a power surge.”
As the oncologist said these words, Ben couldn’t help but remember the repeated phrase from the simulation ‘this is not acceptable’. Was it possible that the simulation had intervened? Ben would soon discover the truth.