|There are all kinds of different jobs out there. Some people have glamorous jobs, like actors and rock stars; others have normal jobs, like accountants and salespeople. Some people even have undesirable jobs, like janitors and – in my case – what I'll politely refer to as "corporate repossession specialists." I'm the guy they call in when an organization it isn't meeting its financial responsibilities, and either takes its assets, or outright shuts the place down, selling it off, piece by piece, until the debts are paid off to the investors. I make an honest living and I don't ever visit companies that are operating in the black and meeting their financial obligations, but I'm still just as hated as an IRS auditor or a social worker, especially when I have to do what I had to do in New York ... shut down an entire hospital.
It truly wasn't my fault; the State of New York simply couldn't afford to keep an underperforming hospital running. It was painful seeing all the patients transferred to other already overcrowded hospitals, and saying goodbye to countless doctors and support staff, but that was the job, and I did it. It didn't make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside and, despite the choice words used by those who found themselves newly unemployed, I wasn't a heartless hatchet man. This was the job, and it paid the bills. That's all there was to it.
I grabbed the first flight to Chicago, hoping to forget the carnage that I had wreaked on the New York medical community. But I knew it wouldn't be any better. I was bringing more chaos and destruction with me; I was going to Chicago to dismantle another hospital, fire everyone, and liquidate the assets. It was a bad week for health care professionals.
To make matters worse, a doctor sat next to me on the plane. Something about him just didn't sit right with me; every time I looked at him out of the corner of my eye, I could swear he was staring at me. When we first took our seats, he tried to drum up conversation about his practice and his number of years in the business, but I did my best to disengage. The last thing I wanted was to talk with a doctor after just firing fifty of them, and headed to a new city to fire fifty more. I tried to be polite as I waited for an opportunity to don my noise-canceling headphones and lose myself in the files I needed to read in preparation for my arrival.
I ordered a drink from the flight attendant and asked that she keep them coming. Some days, it was the only way I could cope. The creepy doctor, to his credit, would pass the fresh drink over to my window seat whenever the attendant dropped one off.
Maybe it was the turbulence and reading my files so closely; or maybe it was the number of drinks I was knocking back, but I started to feel really woozy halfway through the flight. My vision was getting blurry, sounds were muffled, and I was having a hard time concentrating. I reached up and pressed the "Call Attendant" button, removing my noise-canceling headphones. Even with the headphones off, though, the flight attendant's voice seemed far away and garbled. I tried to speak, but my speech sounded slurred and incomprehensible. My sluggish mind barely registered the creepy doctor next to me, saying:
"Don't worry. He's a patient of mine. I'll take care of him."
I wanted to object, to tell the attendant that he most certainly was not my doctor. A sense of panic raced through me. As my peripheral vision darkened and consciousness slipped away, I saw the creepy doctor lean in close and wink at me.
It was the last thing I remembered before blacking out.
I woke up, groggy and addled. I wasn't sure where I was, or even when it was.
As I regained my senses, I looked around and appeared to be in a darkened hospital room. There was no power and no employees walking around, but the checkered tile floor, neutrally painted green walls, and unused medical equipment lying around were a giveaway. I tried moving, but quickly discovered that my wrists and ankles were fastened with restraints.
I was on an operating table, and a surgical tent had been erected below by chest. When I tried to move, I realized that I didn't have any feeling below my neck.
Just as the terror set back in, a man in surgical garb entered the room and leaned over me. His scrubs are splattered with blood and he's holding a bloody scalpel. He leaned in close and pulled down his surgical mask, revealing the creepy doctor from the plane.
He winked at me again.
"Nice of you to join us, Mr. Smith." He said cheerily.
"What do you want?" I asked, my voice still sluggish and lagging behind my thoughts.
"Why, to return the favor of course!"
The creepy doctor's jovial gaze suddenly became more sinister, a dark cloud flickering across his face. He leaned in close and lowered his voice to a menacing whisper.
"You dismantled that hospital in New York. Took it apart, piece by piece, and sold off those pieces for profit. Do you know how many of my colleagues' lives you destroyed? How many patients will lose their quality of care? And now you're on your way to Chicago to do it all over again!" He spat on the floor, as if trying to get the disgusting taste out of his mouth.
"It's not my fault," I answered feebly. "Just doing my job."
"Well, you did what you do best," he said matter-of-factly. "Now I'm going to show you what I do best. I'm going to take you apart, piece by piece, and sell off those pieces for profit. A kidney here, a liver there. You know, your heart is going to make some needy recipient very happy. I'm sure we can even find a use for your lungs and eyes too."
I screamed, louder and longer than I'd ever screamed before. I thrashed around on the operating table, struggling to get free, but my anesthetized torso and limbs flopped about helplessly, held fast by the restraints.
"Go ahead," the creepy doctor taunted. "Get it out of your system now. The only way you're getting off this table is one organ at a time. Don't worry, though. I'll keep you alive at long as humanly possible."
The next hour of my now limited life was one of the most torturous I'd ever experienced. Although I couldn't feel anything, I saw the creepy doctor working intently behind the surgical tent ... cutting and clamping, slicing and stitching. Blood was everywhere, and every so often, he would pull one of my organs free from its fleshy confines and place it in a medical organ transport cooler, making sure to show me what my own inner workings looked like before securing them away.
I watched as he ripped out my kidneys, liver, pancreas, and intestine. As each organ was removed, he hooked me up to another life support machine, enforcing my immobility, and ensuring my survival for at least a little longer.
"Well, it's time for the grand finale," the creepy doctor said after what seemed like an eternity of operating on me, his live victim.
"I'll be merciful and put you under for the extraction of your heart and lungs. And you know what? I think you may have won me over after all this, Mr. Smith. The parts really are more valuable that the whole. Unless the whole is you, of course."
He chuckled as he cranked up the nitrous and consciousness again slipped from my grasp.
The last thing I heard him say was, "Goodbye, Mr. Smith," followed by another one of those leering, sadistic winks.
And then I felt myself descend into darkness for the last time.
My eyelids fluttered open, and the room slowly came into focus. I was still in the operating room, but the creepy doctor was gone. Instead, police officers were milling around, just at the beginning of what looked like setting up a crime scene.
"Hey!" One of them yelled. "He's awake!"
The detective in charge approached my field of vision.
"Glad you're awake," he said, sounding relieved. "We were waiting on the medical examiner. Weren't sure you were going to come back to us. We've got quite a few questions for you."
He turned to some of the crime scene technicians.
"Get these machines out of here and give us some space, yeah?"
"No!" I screamed as they turned off the life support machines and wheeled them away. "He took my organs! Those machines are keeping me alive!"
A strange look came over the detective's face, and then something that looked like realization. He looked as if he were going to be sick.
"What is it?" I demanded, now hysterical.
"I don't know what kind of demented person would put you through this and make you believe that," he said. "But your organs are fine. No one's operated on you."
"What? No..." I stammered. "I saw him..."
He helped the crime scene technicians remove the surgical tent and reveal my lower body, which was indeed untouched. At least not by a surgeon. No open cavities and no stitched up surgical work. Instead, there was something tattooed in big, bold letters across my chest.
"Sine qua non?" The detective asked.
My head fell back onto the operating table and I started to laugh hysterically.
"Without which, there is nothing," I choked out.
"It's Latin. For something that is an essential part of the whole."
The detective and crime scene technicians looked confused, but it only made me laugh harder, my sanity teetering on the brink. For the rest of my life, every time I looked in the mirror without a shirt, I would be reminded of the creepy doctor's lesson:
Sometimes, the parts are more important than the whole.