Chapter 30: Doctor?
A few new people had been hired and were starting today; including a doctor, a priest and they had also brought a dog.
The doctor was a welcome addition. A few of the people had complained of physical problems or had suffered minor injuries. The difficulty had been to take them to shore for treatments. Lawson learned early in the field that a medic with first aid is better than none and did not press the issue at the beginning of the project, but as more people were recruited, a doctor was no longer a luxury. As for the priest, he was a former soldier who had repented and became a Catholic Priest. Lawson didn’t like him much, but he was there on a very temporary basis, maybe for only a few days. He was there to test the access system and see if a man of God would have more luck than a lot of atheist scientists. Lawson had been a man of faith and was pretty much ambivalent towards the existence of God. But after the death of his wife, he had renounced all forms of organized religions, especially those that required weekly attendance.
The dog was a female tricolor Beagle named Philie that belonged to one of the employees. She had agreed to bring her to the Facility to help in some tests, as per Steven’s request. The dog did not appreciate the trip in the new and improved water container, but had forgotten all about it when she saw all the people lining up to provide her massages and ear scratching sessions. When people asked why she was named “Philie,” her owner, Sheila Frazer, an engineer, answered that since she bought her, she seemed to be addicted to cheese so the name stuck.
Steven would be busy with the priest all morning. Not even ten minutes into the testing of specific rooms, Father Capelli had already reminded Steven a few times that the proper way to address him was by calling him Father and not Mr. Capelli. But Steven felt that “mister” was already too good and he had a lot of difficulty to remember somehow. As they walked down the many corridors, Steven stopped only to tell the priest to be a good Purple Pusher and press the purple button on all the doors and equipment they came across. Somewhere amidst the testing, he brought the priest to the reactor and was happy to see Dark Fangs in her complete outfit and makeup, all good and proper for a Goth. The priest was totally insulted by the display, but was spared of her usual profanities. Instead, she took a minute to ask him to comment about his opinion on the more than one hundred priests convicted of sex abuse in Australia in 1995 and the eight hundred more in the United States.
Steven ventured to laugh it out with Fangs and gave her a high five after the priest, realizing that Goths were indeed the devil’s minions on Earth, dashed out of the room. Steven found him at the first closed door and, using the shortest route, he led him to Lawson’s office. The Colonel looked at Steven with a so-how-did-it-go look, but Steven only shook his head and said, “It will all be in my report, Sir, at least the technical stuff.” He was grinning and thinking that Tuesday would be a day to remember, and hopefully the night would be as well.
In the meantime, Chrissy worked on the Excel sheet and compiled the data on the access from last night’s equipment: A screen that displayed people’s locations and clothing that seemed to adjust automatically to the wearer.
In order to confirm their hypothesis about the access system, Chrissy added age, gender, race, profession, religion, marital status, and with children or not; absolutely anything she could think of to ask or enter in the personnel database. She even added personal feelings about the people and a sort of unscientific popularity score to it as well. Steven went to see her directly after finishing with the priest and brought her the data from the test and reported their encounter with Dark Fangs. As she entered the priest’s data, she noticed how low he was in levels and that Steven had forgotten to ask a lot of information from him, but she guessed it easily enough. Although she wasn’t sure of the answer about his sexual orientation, she aced the question on marital status.
As Steven sat next to her, she whispered in his ear, pointing discretely two guys who were constantly cruising and making innuendoes in front of her. “They are giving me the creeps,” observed Chrissy, still whispering. “One is old enough to be my father and the other one is chewing tobacco and spitting it in a glass because he can’t smoke in the Facility. They always try to find excuses to ask me for help. I hate it.”
“Yeah, we really need to have families allowed in this place to keep these guys in line,” offered Steven as he remembered his discussion with Dark Fangs in front of the priest regarding the reasons that could push a man deprived of sex for years to turn to young kids to satisfy his basic instincts.
“I left the modeling world the minute I got my first real job. Don’t get me wrong, the money was great, but because of men like them, the job is a rotten one. You have no idea the number of assholes that gravitate around models,” replied Chrissy, swallowing. “I had believed that here of all places, it would be different, especially being a United Nations organization.”
“It can’t be different, since the humans who are exploring it are the same and to make it worse, a lot of them are used to power and having everything they want either through money or fame. A lot, too, are soldiers who couldn’t make it in the outside and became mercenaries. They were cheaper to hire, but as the saying goes, try to save a penny and lose a pound,” explained Steven, no longer refraining from taking her hand in public.
“You have a grim view of humanity,” replied Chrissy, sadness filling her face. “But an accurate one, I fear.”
So engrossed were they in their conversation when they entered the cafeteria that they did not notice it was almost full, and Colonel Lawson was standing on a little stage, which was newly added. Next to him was a tall man with black hair and who looked battle-worn. The man stood with his hands behind his back in military fashion, looking at everyone intently, as if to try and remember each and every one of their faces. He was also accompanied by the Facility’s medic, an American guy clearly displaying gay tendencies and proud to show his colours. The medic had been very good at what he was doing, not that Steven and Chrissy had had the misfortune that required his services, but the way he smiled at the Colonel, everyone could see that he seemed relieved.
The three men were standing on an improvised stage and the Colonel waited until he had the attention of everyone before he started to speak.
“Thank you for your attention,” began Lawson, generating an instant and complete silence, except from the people at Dave’s table. “Mr. Uziel, can I have your attention for a moment please?” Dave nodded, but still threw a few more words in Celina’s direction before sitting back on his chair and looking at the trio.
“We were lucky to have a great medic and now, we are blessed to have one of the best Canadian doctors of all time with us on this project. Please welcome, Doctor Novikov, the former Head of Surgery at the Toronto General Hospital,” Lawson announced, which was met by a round of applause from most of the audience. However, Dave was not among them and was now leaning forward again to talk to the others around him. “Mr. Uziel, if you have something important to contribute to my introduction, why don’t you share it with everyone in the room?”
“That’s fine, Sir, I’m sure you know what is best for us,” replied Dave, as people turned to look at him, but Dave wasn’t shy or embarrassed; his face was that of contentment.
“I’m sure you have already told your neighbours what is on your mind and they will eventually share it with everyone. So why not share it with the rest of the staff now and save us all the trouble?” replied Lawson, looking at Dave with an intensity that made the latter realize the Colonel meant business.
Dave sighed and stood up. “First, Vladimir, it is nothing personal. You know the circumstances and the unfortunate results for my former employer, so no need for me to explain my viewpoint on these regrettable events. What I was telling the people at my table is that Mr. Novikov is not a doctor. He is a veterinarian. He graduated in that field from a university in Russia and never had the right to practice medicine on humans in Canada or anywhere else for that matter. He was posing as a doctor when I was at Farpoint Pharmaceutical and he was also one of our spokesmen in North America. He appeared in many magazines and gave tons of seminars around the world on behalf of Farpoint and Toronto General. ”
“So, in your opinion, he was a famous and great doctor, right?” interrupted Lawson, looking intensely at Dave, sounding more like a defense attorney than a military officer.
“Before the scandal yes, but…” Dave agreed reluctantly.
“People, we are not here to put Doctor Novikov on trial. He already paid enough and so did the population of Toronto by losing one of their top surgeons. My purpose here today is to introduce him as our new chief of medicine here at the Facility, and then let you go to do your business,” said Lawson, returning his eyes to the crowd and continuing his presentation. “But since we are on the subject, let us clear the air and clarify a few points. It is true that Doctor Novikov graduated as a veterinarian in Moscow and practiced there for two years before defecting to Canada in 1976 during the Montreal Olympics. He then moved to Toronto and applied for a job at the Toronto General Hospital and was hired as a doctor, where he fast became Section Chief and the Head of Surgery. It is also true that Doctor Novikov lied on his application and presented a fake diploma. Canadian laws and the College of Medicine of the Province of Ontario had strict rules regarding the competency of foreign doctors, and he was required to pass several exams, both in language skills and medicine, and he passed them all with top marks. Then he proved himself, time and time again, to be a remarkable doctor and in my opinion, he should never have been fired for something he had done more than twenty years earlier. As you know, most people believe that it is what you learn in school that counts. Well, let me tell you that I have seen street mechanics in Iraq that knew more about repairing a Humvee than the US Army engineers in my section and that’s just one example.”
“How were you discovered, Mr. Novikov?” asked Joe, fingering his collapsible baton, as if he would be called upon to expulse the man off the premises.
“This is not a Q&A session, but an introduction,” said Lawson with a sigh and a look at Joe that reminded him of his infantry commander, except this time, the look had not come with a shut your mouth and give me twenty! “For you who are questioning the legality in the hiring of Doctor Novikov, do understand that he had since passed, with ease, his equivalence and his diplomas are recognized in Norway. As I have said, it is a great privilege to have him with us and I’m equally happy to have the chance to give him the opportunity to exercise his profession here with us. For those of you who have not yet realized this, the name United Nations at the top left of your paycheck only indicates where the money is coming from. Most people here have never worked for the United Nations and never will after this project. At the risk of sounding negative, I will add that the majority of you, unless travelling to New York or Geneva and paying for the guided tour, would never have gotten inside the UN compounds, let alone work for it.” With that statement, he was forced to let the people recover and he paused for a long moment. He didn’t like having to go that far, but he had long wanted to say it and today was as good a time as any to redirect his troops to the proper path and lift his proverbial hat, to the benefit of the long recruitment process at the United Nations, which the expediency of the project had robbed him of, to the detriment of the quality of some of the staff recruited. After he said it, the people readjusted themselves on their seats and felt they were ready to pay attention again. “The floor is yours, Doctor Novikov.”
“First, let me say that I’m happy to be among you and for the opportunity to work in that incredible place. I would also like to thank you, Colonel, for your generous introduction, but if you permit me, I would like to answer this comrade’s question,” offered Novikov, rolling his tong around every R’s, as it is common for Russians, especially as he pronounced the word comrade. “Now, to answer your question, two years ago a friend from Russia came to the hospital with a broken wrist. He recognized me and threatened to inform the authorities of my true education unless I paid him a large sum of money. After I refused to give in to blackmail, I went to the administrators and confessed what I had done. I was sure I would be fired that very moment, but instead, I was given a suspension with pay until the disciplinary committee’s decision. However, with all the media circus and letters from former patients, the hospital had no choice but to let me go and my doctor’s license was later revoked as well by the College of Medicine.”
People could tell that he had explained himself a hundred times, but that the sadness was still evident in his voice. He was calm despite all the eyes fixed on him. He was used to the media attention and the people who had been sending him hate letters by mail, although there was a particular one that had especially troubled him. He could remember clearly in his mind the blood-stained yellow paper note, the coldness in the air that morning, the face of his wife and daughter in the window, and especially the feeling when he saw a dead cat on the hood of his silver Mercedes. His thoughts had been for his son and daughter, who were still looking at him from their house window. The dead cat’s paw was stuck under the single wiper of his Mercedes, with the note placed underneath its body. He could see that the poor beast had been killed in a road accident, the bones clearly smashed and protruding from the skin, its body twisted and rigid. He felt relieved as he carried the body to the dumpster on the side of the house, making sure to hide it from his family, who were still looking at him through the window. He had been relieved that the animal had not been killed for the evil purpose of that crazy person’s revenge. But revenge for what, he wasn’t sure.
As he returned to the car and removed the note, he recognized the handwriting right away and, to make sure his guess was right, he returned to the house to compare it to a letter that he had received from a particular patient’s wife the previous year. What a change, he thought. The first letter had been to tell him that he was a gift from God, her personal hero, and that she was forever grateful to him for saving the life of her husband. He had performed a triple bypass on the man and he recovered fully. He took the note rather well, to his amazement, remembering a Muslim friend who had been eating fèvre au lard, a Canadian type of beans cooked in lard at breakfast every working day since he emigrated from Pakistan. At least, until he was told that lard was in fact fat from the abdomen of a pig. After asking two more customers to be sure, he had not been able to retain his breakfast and never ate his favorite side order ever since. The parallel here was unmistakable and Vladimir felt that for some people, ignorance was truly bliss.
“But you won Physician of the Year award three times in a row, right?” asked Celina, looking at Dave who was looking back at her, motioning her with his eyes to shut up.
“Yes, he did, and many other prestigious awards for his brilliant papers on various subjects,” added Lawson. “We are lucky to have him, and for those of you who think that knowledge can only be acquired in school, well, considering your age, you have likely not learned anything for a long time. Now, let’s all continue to eat and return to work.” Lawson shook the hand of Doctor Novikov and stepped down from the little stage.
Many people came and shook hands with the newcomer, Steven leading the way with Celina not far behind.
After lunch, Chrissy and Steven didn’t feel like working much. They had been working for fifteen days in a row and felt that they needed to see some sunlight. Although they had all the right in the world to leave for a few days without the need to justify it to anyone, they still felt it was prudent to ask Colonel Lawson before taking leave and maybe, take the time to ask if the Council would allow him to tell them about what he knew.
Lawson agreed but had still refused to engage them on the subject. He just added that he was happy to see that they were getting along. It would likely make it easier for them to take the necessary actions when the time came, he thought.
“Thanks, Colonel,” was all that Chrissy replied to his approval and she waited outside his office to talk to Steven. “We will leave early in the morning tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow?” said Steven, hoping that he would leave right after dinner tonight.
“What?” asked Chrissy softly. “You want our first time to be on a single-sized bed in a room where the walls are as thin as paper?” Steven didn’t say anything and returned with Chrissy to her room, which was now their room for all intent and purposes, to enjoy some quiet time until dinner.