Joe is at the hospital to get a new leg.
Joe had been waiting in the appropriately named Waiting Room for more than two hours before his name was called, and he groaned when the orderly told him the doctor would be on the eighth floor. Groaned, because not twenty minutes earlier, a sign had been placed across the elevators to say they were out of order.
He looked down at his one leg and the sawn-off broom handle he balanced on when hopping. He groaned again. Even the one leg he had wasn’t his. Well, actually, it was, it just hadn’t grown up with the rest of him. The veterans hospital had given it to him after granting his original leg early retirement. As far as he could figure it, the body came in six parts. Four limbs, a torso and a head. Retiring a leg ought, he felt sure, have come with at least one sixth of his retirement pension.
It was curious how they termed such things. If they amputated, it was referred to as retirement. His other leg hadn’t retired, it had merely absconded during battle.
If the enemy overran your position, you could reasonably claim it was Missing In Action, since it may have been captured and possibly held for interrogation. For this, you would continue to receive full pay for the limb, right up until someone confirmed it dead. If you managed to hold the enemy off though, the limb was declared Absent Without Leave, and you forfeited all pay for it.
Joe looked at the stairwell with some dismay as he struggled into what passed for a standing position. The man on the seat in front of him sighed. Like Joe, he was missing his lower two limbs, and like Joe, only had the one replacement. With a grunt and a twist, he removed the cybernetic limb and offered it up to Joe.
“Thanks, random stranger, much appreciated.” Sitting back down, he attached the borrowed hardware, checked it was firmly in place, then gave a curt nod of gratitude.
“Just bring it back before I have to go up to the eleventh floor on my elbows,” came the grunted reply.
It took Joe all the way to the bottom of the stairwell to remind himself how to walk on two legs again, something he hadn’t done since a twenty-inch artillery shell had wrecked his chances of ever learning how to tap dance. If the little detectors in the toes saw a step in front of them, software and hardware took care of everything and up Joe went. It was painful going, but the cybernetic limbs knew much more about walking up stairs than Joe ever did, and all he had to do was maintain his balance until they got to his floor.
Eventually, they (Joe and his legs) reached the rat-hole sized cubicle that passed for the doctor’s office.
“What took you so long?” the doctor barked.
Joe looked at the doctor, then down at his legs, then back at the doctor. “Well,” he said in jovial terms. “It all started with me and a few friends in some dung-heap overseas, playing tag with artillery shells...”
“Very droll. Now sit down. What’s the problem?”
“Isn’t it in my notes?” Joe asked.
“Pretend I can’t read.”
“I need a leg.”
The doctor looked pointedly at his legs. “What’s wrong with those?”
“I borrowed one.”
“What, from a leg bank or something?”
“From a guy downstairs.”
“What was he doing with a spare one? There’s a shortage, you know.”
“He didn’t have a spare one,” Joe complained. “He lent me his, so I could come up the stairs. The elevators are out.”
“Bugger. Still, I suppose I could ride the handrail down,” the doctor mused.
“Anyway, I’ve only got one leg, and I need another.”
“Sorry, can’t give you another. You’ve got two already. Lucky, I say. Most vets only have one.”
“You don’t seem to understand, when I get back downstairs, I have to give this one back,” he said tapping the offending leg - well, it was actually being very helpful, but you get the point. “Then I’ll only have one.”
“Come back when you have just the one then. I can’t do anything for you while you have two.”
Joe simmered. “It took me eight weeks to get this appointment. Are you saying it’s for nothing because some dude lent me his leg for an hour?”
“He’s not charging by the hour, is he? That would be illegal.”
“No, Doc. Please, just give me a leg!”
“Don’t trip on the way down,” Doc said with finality.
After a rather scary descent, Joe finally got back to the waiting room, and planted his bum down on a seat opposite the man who had lent him his leg. He took a few moments to get his breath back, while the other man waited patiently. Unscrewing the leg, he handed it back with a heartfelt “Thanks.” He decided not to mention how it had cost him a leg of his own, he didn’t want the man to feel bad about helping him out.
The man had his leg back on just in time for his name to be called out, and with a cheery wave, he hopped off in the direction of the stairwell.
“Well, blow my warped planking!” the one legged man next to Joe cried out, instantly placing him as a Navy man. “Seventh floor!”
“Going for a new leg?” Joe asked.
“No mate. Getting me new eye fitted.”
“Here,” Joe said with a sigh, and passed him his remaining leg.
“Thanks, mate, much appreciated. Should be back in half an hour. Ten minutes up, ten down, and ten eyeing up the nurse in stereoscopic vision!”
Joe looked down at the vacant space where his legs ought to be. Legless, he thought. And not even drunk.
A white coated man placed himself in front of him, and Joe had to look up. The doctor had a clipboard.
“You here about getting a leg?” he asked Joe.
“The elevators are out, so we’ve brought the legs down for those that don’t have any. What do you want, left or right leg?”
“Sign here,” the doctor said, clearly bored. “You’re lucky to get one. Anyone with a leg isn’t getting another for at least six months. Too much of a backlog.”
Joe signed, and an orderly fished a leg out of a cart for him.
Trying not to laugh, Joe fixed it in place and gave the ankle a twirl. When the navy guy came back, he’d have a full set. All from a random act of kindness.