Chapter One – Doctor Porter
Dateline: January 12, 2017
Eight Days until Inauguration Day –
At this time of the morning the drive from my home in Virginia to my suite of labs and offices near Langley is never congested. The turn off for the massive CIA headquarters is miles before my own exit off the small highway that winds its way past horse farms and turn-of-the-century Victorian homes surrounded by ancient oak trees and pastoral orchards. I crack the car window open a few inches and inhale the woodsy scents of the fields still frosty in early January. The chilly breeze lifts the dark curls off my left shoulder and before I reach for the radio – to hear the first news of the day – I stop myself and curl my fingers tighter around the steering wheel instead.
The news I fear has been irrevocably changed by the election of Donald Trump, and in defense of my sanity I just cannot listen to another one of Trump’s tweets read aloud. On my drive to work I used to enjoy morning radio programs, but they’ve devolved into an implausible search for coherent message and meaning inside the circus tent of Trumpworld. Where political commentators mimic shamans, who look for mystical signs in the entrails of dead baboons, and American journalists search for policy in Donald Trump’s Twitter account. It’s been an astonishing twelve months to live through and once again, it’s January.
Nevertheless, as infuriating as it has been, each day I give our national dilemma some thought and I have my own impossibly complicated work to pay attention to. How to remedy the unimaginable brain damage of my patients? That’s what waiting for me at my office. Do I try a complicated system of electrical micro-pulses I’ve designed for the combat vet lying in a vegetative state? How do I treat the woman whose car crash has left her unable to speak or move her legs? These are but two, on my long list of responsibilities, and that’s before I even delve into the neuroscience research technology I’ve committed to R & D.
My Audi speeds by the icy brown leaves of winter, so stuck and frozen together on the roadside they barely stir an inch as I drive past. So, I ask my silent radio, “Who has the more impossible task? You as political pundits trying to divine the truth in a tweet, or me as a brain surgeon!?”
I roll the car window all the way down and let the freezing air blow hard and fast against my face. “It’s time to go clinical or go home!” I scream out the window. “Just say it for God’s sake! Just say it! We’ve elected a madman as president!”
Well that accomplished the sum total of nothing, except startling a murder of crows from their roost. Their inky black bodies lift off the limbs of the pecan trees and take flight, as my thoughts drift and soon land on the pretty face of the blonde, sometimes redhead, wisecracking TV pundit I’ve got an impossible crush on.
I like it that she surprises me with her different hairstyles and chic bracelets and how she gets that Trump’s insane. I can see her dying to say it out loud on MSNBC, but always stopping herself just short. I’d love to give her chance to confess it to me if she’d like. Over a bottle of wine I’d earnestly praise her political comic genius and then take her home to bed.
But it will never happen.
I sigh out a long foggy breath and wish her journo-beat was neuroscience instead of politics. Doesn’t she want a Pulitzer? Because I know what’s terribly wrong inside the President-elect’s brain. Wouldn’t she like to see deeply into my world of neuroscience and its wonders?
I checked her Twitter feed last night, when I didn’t see her on Lawrence O’Donnell’s show. She’s usually on screen with David Corne, from Mother Jones, and the extremely serious former CIA guy, Jason-somebody, who never cracks a smile, even at her best crafted ironies and jabs at the President-elect’s dim wittedness, but I always laugh. It was then I noticed my TV crush had changed her pinned tweet to, “Every morning I wake up thinking, “OMG! We’re all going to die!””
In sidewalk speak, she’d fucking unnerved me. In science speak, she’d hijacked my amygdala creating a neurological brainstorm that had kept me up for hours. I should never read Twitter before bed. It matters little to the human brain, hard wired ten thousand years ago to avoid man eating tigers, that we presently live in a modern world of luxuries and comforts. Our flight or fight traits may be an atavism of little use in our tiger-free cities, but for millions of people on Twitter I suspect Trump is the tiger.
Madison Neuroscience Research Lab –
Cassie Davenport is my oldest friend’s daughter, my Godchild and my extraordinary surgery assistant. If she vanished tomorrow, I’d have to disappear to. She’s that critical to everything.
I’m examining the combat vet’s latest brain scans when she breezes into my office.
“How’s your mood this morning, because I’ve got two things to tell you.” She stands a few feet away, green eyes, long brown hair she twists on top of her head with pencils and knitting needles while at work. She squints at me to discern my feelings. She started this squinting business when she was nine.
This morning her scrutiny causes me to frown and wonder again about my eroding temperament of late. “What?” is about all I can muster.
“First, the good news. Your horse is fine.”
I spin around and knock a stack of patient medical files on the floor. “What?”
Cassie straightens her crisp white lab coat and stares straight into my eyes. “You’re cleaning that up.” She points to the mess of paper on the floor.
“Agreed.” I bend down and shuffle reports back into their folders. “What’s this about Nightingale?” I make a dash for the phone to call the stable.
“Put the phone down. As I said, he’s fine, but this morning a new barn hire let too many horses out in the ring for exercise and Nightingale jumped the fence.”
“Back in his stall, safe and sound, with a bucket of oats, but Mrs. Prescott wants you to come by or call her.”
Unable to stop her need for order, Cassie leans over and straightens the pile of folders I’d haphazardly dropped on my desk. She continues my briefing/scolding. “Mrs. Prescott says to tell you that he misses you and to remind you that he’s a young horse who, I believe this is how she put it, needs your ass in the saddle, or needs his mother. I forget which.”
This she follows with her laugh. A pleasant kind of cackling that amuses me, but I don’t show that yet.
Caught being lazy I revert to an old habit that drives some people up the wall. I crack a few knuckles before shoving my hands deep into my pockets. “Mrs Prescott would’ve said his mother, because she’s old fashioned that way, but you’ve explained the situation. I get it. I should’ve gone there yesterday to see my boy.”
“It has been cold lately.” Cassie sympathizes.
“I have a coat.”
“And nice riding gloves, if I remember.”
“Lots of gear and tack.” I turn back to the charts. “Should we operate on this man? I think we should.”
“That’s the second thing I was going to tell you.”
“Hit me,” I say as I rearrange the brain scans, suddenly stopping at one in particular.
“Exactly! A noticeable increase…”
I press a series of commands and the scan becomes 3D. “In the pre-frontal cortex, right behind both of his eyes! Will you look at that!”
Cassie joins me at the imaging table and lifts her fingers up to tap an inch inside her scalp line, “A little hole drilled right about here?”
“Hm, make that two. I’m building an electrical bridge between these two areas of his brain nuclei. I’ll put the implants twenty microns behind this part of the optic nerve.”
“Doing that on both sides?”
“To create a neural web-like effect, stimulating from cortex to cortex and then…maybe deeper. I’ll have to see once I get in there.” I turn back to the wall mounted display of my patient’s brain scans. “He’s ready. Look at the difference between this morning and three days ago.”
“Remarkable to see how the brain revives during coma.”
“Rare for sure. Anything else before we scrub in?”
“Just that…because nobody else could possibly do this he’s very lucky.”
“Well, possible Tony.” Now I’m back at my desk and syncing my iPhone with my computer. “Have you heard from him?”
“Did you fall in well? Or did I forget to tell you?” Cassie hyperventilates. “He’s recovering from a shark attack!”
“You’re kidding? No! You’re serious.” I focus on her guilty face. “Where? When?”
“Surfing off the coast of some unpronounceable Pacific island, but lucky for him it wasn’t his hands. A shark took a chomp from his calf though.”
“Oh God! Well, he can still operate. We should send a card.”
“Sitting down. At least for awhile. Card. Already done, along with one to the ex-wife.”
“He has three.”
“The one you like.” She winks at me.
“After that…” I blush and fidget with objects on my desk. “I quit drinking at office parties.”
“My mother wonders if that’s still true?”
“Mostly. Why is everyone I know so nosy? Call the OR, will you? And quit worrying about me and my horse or anything else that’s bothering you.” I twist the axis control on the imaging console and the combat vet’s brain pivots 90 degrees.
“Zen mind, of course.” Cassie nods an affirmative and together we stare into the scan that captured lightning strikes of neural activity and has frozen them in time.
I flip off the display. “I’m impressed with our combat veteran. He came a bit more alive overnight.”
“I wonder if he dreams now?” Her voice drifting in awe, as we leave the room.
Operating suite 5A
Four hours later –
People say surgeons, like fighter pilots, are born not made. It’s an interesting theory. There’s something to having top notch skills and performing perfectly under pressure. Parts of it can be learned. I certainty didn’t pick up a micro laser in med school and begin neurosurgery, but I do have the hands, the coordination and the patience for it. I also have something else. An innate, perhaps empathic sense that guides me more than my surgical skill does to heal a damaged human brain.
Along the edges of crossword puzzles I finish I unconsciously doodle intricate multi-dimensional shapes I’ve never seen before I create them. They look like super cones or tubes with interlocking prisms, and for the life of me, I don’t know their meaning – yet.
What I do know is that I’ve had great success with simple geometric shapes and implanting these as functioning electrical web arrays. They sync with the patient’s brain wave patterns and they heal.
My surgery plan today is to go behind the eye and enliven the optic nerve clusters by connecting them with different synaptic groupings deeper into the brain.
Now that the patient’s brain has been opened I slide a micro thin probe by his left optic nerve and nod for Cassie to send through a pulse. “Let’s start low at 15 ef hertz and move up from there.”
Cassie waits by the pulse stimulator as we both watch the tiny wire I’m guiding slide past the optic nerve shown on the screen next to my left shoulder. “It’s live at 15 for you Dr Porter.”
“Send the pulse please.”
A second monitor registers the patient’s brain activity in reaction to the tiny jolt of electricity I gave him. “Okay. That’s a good position for the right side. Now going in to the patient’s left side. Across the operating table nearer to Cassie is the screen that shows the second micro fiber I’m pushing slowly into his brain behind his eye. “Fifteen for each in sync this time.”
“Fifteen is ready on both sides now doctor.”
“Send the pulse please, Cassie.”
“Not enough, in fact nothing.” I stare at the screens left and right. “These are the outer most points for the neural web array. I’ll do one more at 30 microns posterior creating a triangular shape of connectivity. That should penetrate deeper given where we’re beginning in the cortex.”
I set my third and final implant and ask for another synchronized pulse at fifteen.
The brain begins to respond with increased neural activity between the three micron width vibrating probes.
“Okay, slow but sure. I like what I’m seeing at 15.”
Cassie puts on a pair of goggles with extreme magnification and peers into what looks like an empty test tube, but to her the tube contains hundreds of micro-sized nanorobots, so small that she’ll slide them down the micron width of each fiber probe, and I’ll never seen them until I direct their web knitting program from a computer.
“Please place twelve down the probe on the left.” And again, invisibly she performs her task counting off the tiny nanobots as they releases down the fiber.
“Eleven, twelve are now in. Bring them up screen?”
“Sure, I’d love to see my babies go to work.”
Nanobots used this way is very new to brain surgery. Thanks to their micron size they have the ability to maneuver through the complex passageways in the brain and go right where I want them to. These I designed to do additional surgery if I need them to repair a tiny brain bleed, or change their position and send out pulses up to 55 ef hertz, but their first task is to configure into a three dimensional triangular web array behind the combat vet’s eyes and slightly deeper. This is my genius at work. Nobody outside of this operating room tries design and guidance technology to cure comatose victims.
Finishing up the second and third implantations with Cassie applying the nanorobot army to each micron fiber I finally lean over for the scrub nurse to wipe around my brow and eyes.
“Cassie, all your bots in place?”
She checks the test tube and her hyper magnified eyes look freakish. She shakes the test tube gently. “All thirty-six deployed. Did you name them this time?”
I send her a sly smile she cannot possibly see through my surgical mask, but she teases me anyway. “Fairy tale names this time or child movie stars I’ve never heard of.”
“Comedians. A carefully curated list you’ll like. Amy Schumer’s down in there somewhere. Turn the programming software on and let’s get them moving into place.”
With a pen like tool on a screen that has is synced to their specific signal pulse I move the nanorobots into position and when finished I like what I see.
“Moment of truth here coming up, Cassie.”
Her weird magnifying goggles removed she’s back to normal. “Ready on this end. At your mark.”
“They’re in place and on frequency Q-33.”
“I’ve got them,” she says leaning over an array that beams back a perfect three dimensional spherical shape with extending electro sweeps of a triangle. From optic nerve to optic nerve and deeper inside the brain nuclei the geometry of my specific brain design is active and looking different that what I’d imagined. Almost God like it’s so beautiful.
“Removing the probes now, Cassie, because you have control of them on your end.”
“I have them on my end.”
“Send a burst of 22 efh and let’s see what they do.”
“22 going in now, doctor.”
The nanorobot web begins to connect itself, nanobot by nanobot, and in seconds the operation is complete.
Quickly I attach two external pulse monitors to our patient’s temporal lobe and flip on a screen. The reading before me is the patient’s real time brain activity supported by the web array deep inside his brain.
A few flashes of electro-cortical activity shoot back and forth and then, his neo-cortex and the front lobes of his brain begin to send back signals of functioning wave patterns.
I sigh with relief.
“Do you want me to close for you doctor?”
“No, I’m going to stay with him awhile and stitch him up. Nice little silk stitches, he won’t even have a scar.”
I lean over him as I work. “Sergeant, I’d love for you to do me a favor when you wake up and get back on your feet. I have a problem with this foolish President we’ve elected. You military guys probably all voted for him, but here’s the problem since you’ve been in a coma. He’s not right mentally, mister, and he’s going to fuck your world up just as much as he’s going to fuck up mine. So, I need to tell someone important about what I know, but mostly – and this is the important part if you’re listening – the President-elect is going to much, much worse and never, ever better.” I finish my last stitch and the nurse wipes his incisions with betadine.
I lean against his ear and whisper, “Remember what I told you.”
Three days later-
A fleet of fast moving black SUVs pulls to a rapid halt in front of the lab and suddenly my office is filled with men and women dressed in black suits with very serious looks on their faces. A black helicopter circles outside my building.
I’m dressed in my riding gear, having just returned from the stable. I don’t speak, but wait to see who’s in command. A few seconds, the slowest moving seconds ever to tick past in my life time, and finally a woman speaks, but not before she locks eyes with me.
“You have information about the health of the President-elect?”
“Really? What’s the helicopter for?”
“It might be your ride.”
“That’s not important at this moment.”
“Are you detaining me? Arresting me?”
A beefy man in the back chuckles. “We don’t arrest people ma’am, we’re transport.”
“Sure,” I say half heartedly to his lie.
The woman in black starts again, “Dr Porter, do you have information you’d like to share with us about the President-elect’s health, or not?”
“Are you throwing a bag over my head?”
“No you’re riding in the car with me. I’ll be beside you the whole time. You’ll be safe, we just have a few questions we’d rather not go into here.”
“So, the Sergeant remembered?”
“His brother is with military intelligence…a special branch.”
“No name I suppose.”
“None that we’ll offer. You can help us, or not?”
I scribble a note to her: “Do you believe he’s
crazy (which I strike through and add something more like what the neurologist they came for would write) mentally unsound? Perhaps dangerous?”
I pass the note to her.
She nods an affirmative.
Two minutes later I’m in the back of a black SUV speeding through Virginia.
Hope you enjoyed Chapter One of this science thriller featuring Dr Bette Porter. More to come soon.