He was fine, and then he wasn’t. It started as a cold, or maybe the flu. A sore throat and weakness in his hands and feet, the afternoon after work. He thought he was just tired after a long week but it was only Tuesday. Brian felt well enough to go to his job on Wednesday only because that was the end of his work week. If he’d not been off from Thursday on, there would be no way he could have pulled himself together.
Brian owed it to his patients to be at the top of his game every day, to be alert and attentive. Machines couldn’t do it all, shouldn’t do it all. You needed a person to notice the subtle signs of a person regaining consciousness too soon, of them experiencing pain and unable to do anything about it. That was part of his job as an anesthetist, to safely ferry them across the dark waters of that chemical sleep during their operation.
He’d done his job well for seven years. He’d never lost a patient due to his error. Sure, some had died, but it wasn’t his fault. The surgeon made a mistake, an accident happened, a hidden deficit in the constitution of the patient made itself visible. Things happened that were beyond his control.
Some people were barely held together. Some people were sicker than even they realized. A shell, a façade, a thin veneer was all that stood between them and utter collapse. It wasn’t his fault when they died. He just happened to be there, like a bystander at an accident.
It was a little like that on that Tuesday, that meaningless day, that between day. Nothing happens on a Tuesday. The only problem is that sometimes nothing is something. Without noticing, without thought, he was infected by something worse than a virus, more insidious than a disease. It wasn’t even something that would show up on a blood test or an MRI.
It happened like this:
The patient was infected, possessed if you will, by a spirit. It had caught him and was riding him, like how the fleas rode on mice during the bubonic plague. The mice weren’t infected – the fleas were. The mice were just vehicles, taxis if you will. They shuttled the fleas around faster than they could have on gone on their own. In return, the fleas left the mice pretty much alone. They didn’t even know they were being used.
The same was happening here. The patient was the mouse, the evil spirit was the flea. It hadn’t badly affected the patient – that wouldn’t do. You can’t use them up too soon, they’d wear out. Then you’d have to find another one, sooner than you might want.
This was a spirit of complacency, of smugness, of self-satisfaction. It was a belief in a job well done in spite of evidence to the contrary. It was insidious, spawning vanity and a total lack of hubris. It said “all I have accomplished has been by my own hand, and mine alone”. It invited no disagreement and produced no diligence. There was no need to double check your results if you were convinced they were perfect. There was no need to try harder if you knew you were better than everyone else.
It produced vision problems, but the vision was of the heart, not the eye. It made the “mouse” see everyone and everything as lesser than. Instead of being better, it made everyone else appear worse. It made its victim feel higher by making others appear lower. Average was suddenly an accomplishment.
It caused alienation, of course. Nobody wanted to be around a goody-goody and “I Told You So”. And that led to stress, to dis-ease. The problem wasn’t a virus but a victimhood, a sense of lesser than, of isolation. People separated from others became sicker more often, and for longer. Humans were made to live in community, after all.
The patient suffered from stomach problems – losing weight, loose stools, frequent vomiting. It was part of the stress of the dis-ease, the particular form of illness his spirit assumed. The same spirit could cause cancers, or heart disease, or anemia for instance. It didn’t matter. Genetic tendencies were just indications of possible failure, weak spots in the wall of immunity. The disease was just a manifestation of an excess or lack, an imbalance of nutrition, movement, or something more nebulous. “Failure to thrive” isn’t just about infants. A soul lack, an empty yearning, a hole, these wore away at any possible wall a person might have. Aimless, loveless – a life without meaning was a death sentence.
None of this mattered when the last transfer happened. Brian was strong in body and soul, regularly walking on the track and with the Lord. He took care of himself and of his spirit. This is why it was such a surprise when he got sick.
The spirit hadn’t been listening when plans were made for exploratory surgery of its “mouse”. That was part of the specific character of that spirit – an unwillingness to listen to anyone or anything. So it came as a huge surprise to it when the patient began to go unconscious as the anesthesia took over, paralyzing his body so the surgeon could work. It bolted, like a startled colt, unsure, unaware, suddenly stronger than it already was because of fear.
It was afraid, not of dying, because that was impossible. It wasn’t corporeal, so there was no body to die, to decay. No, its fear was of a deeper sort. It was of ceasing to be, of existence itself. The spirit had to be in a body – any body, to exist. This is why spirits resisted being cast out. So when the fog of anesthesia began to cloud its victim’s eyes, it panicked.
Spirits need skin to skin contact for transference. That is how sexual disease spirits infect new people. That is why lepers are segregated. So when the panic gripped it, choking, struggling, it jumped to the one person who was touching its previous vehicle.
This was Brian, the anesthetist, who was holding the gas mask to the patient. The transfer was sudden and sure. Normally Brian would have been immune to such a spirit, but this was not a normal situation. The fear of having its existence snuffed out as instantly as a candle flame, spurred it on, made it more violent. Brian had no chance against this force.
In the same way that mothers gain incredible powers when their children are in danger, the spirit became unstoppable, irresistible. It barreled into Brian the same way a linebacker runs into his opponent.
Brian was very spiritually strong, so the force of the unexpected attack was not enough to knock him down. He felt something shift, slide sideways, and lock. The feeling was a lot like what Obi-Wan Kenobi felt when Alderaan was destroyed – a great disturbance in the force. This was what Brian first thought it was – some outside event, some terrible, horrible occurrence, a victory of dark over light.
It was a month before he admitted he was the one who had been defeated. By then he was unable to work. His gait was slower, his reaction time tripled. He couldn’t respond to sudden changes quickly enough to prevent disaster. A missed a step lead to a fall instead of a minor correction. While inconvenient for everyday life, this inattention could be deadly at work, where patient’s lives were in his hands.
His speech was slower too. He used to be garrulous and outgoing, but now he was unsure if he could remember how to say what he wanted to say. Words were slippery or sluggish or not there at all.
It took him six months of struggle to admit he needed help, even though the doctor still couldn’t tell him what his disease was. He felt a little like the woman in the Bible who had bled for over a dozen years and doctors hadn’t be able to heal her. If only he could be like her and touch Jesus’ robe! In the meantime he’d have to settle for the leash of his therapy dog.