The worst possible outcome. His doctor had briefly mentioned it as the worst-case scenario. Both of them shrugged it off as the faintest of chances that would never come to pass. An expected reaction, but here it was quickly killing him from the inside. Johnathon sat across from his doctor while his wife Jen held his hand. Dr. Peterson’s words lapped against him, but he hardly noticed because he was slowly sinking into an ocean of chaotic thought.
“John, did you hear that?” It was Jen. She was squeezing his hand harder than he’d have liked. She was no longer attempting to comfort him but trying to hold onto him to comfort herself.
“What? I’m…sorry, I lost myself there for a moment.”
“There might be cure,” she held onto him eagerly.
“Not a cure,” Dr. Patterson corrected, “A new treatment that has yielded high results in combating this type of aggressive growth. It has proven to halt the spread and even clear early areas of infection. Some patients have even gone back to their lives as normal. Not completely cured, but a remission of sorts.”
“But you will live.” She sounded relieved, as if the problem was already solved.
“There are side-effects though,” the doctor continued, “Some of them are quite severe. I can’t recommend this without full disclosure.”
Johnathon waited for him to continue.
“In one, peculiar case, a young woman in Canada had significant biological changes to her body that…well…complicated her life to a point where she sought exile. No one knows where she is, but her doctor claimed that her last visit showed progressive healing that would have removed the infection completely.”
“So it’s possible to actually cure me?”
“What kind of changes?” His wife quickly added.
Dr. Patterson looked from one to the other then settled on Johnathon. “Possibly. Like I said, it’s simply theory at this point since the woman cannot be found. As far as the changes, her skin slowly…altered…into a pale, thick hide that would be more common in a larger mammal living in extreme environments. Almost like the skin of a whale.”
“She turned into a fish?” Jen didn’t attempt to hide her disgust. “I don’t know…”
“That would be the absolute worst-case scenario I assure you. The chances are nearly non-existent. Many of the early trials were successful with almost no side-effects. The only other severe side-effect was paralysis, most commonly in the legs, but the patients survive. This treatment currently has a ninety percent success rate whereas the traditional route only has thirty percent. The severe side-effects I’ve mentioned account for less than one percent and the Canadian patient was a single anomaly.”
“What do you think John?” She gripped his hand harder.
“If this treatment is successful as you say, why isn’t it more common?”
“It is still in the trial period. They plan to make a few more adjustments to reduce the side-effects mentioned before making it a standard treatment. The Canadian woman caused quite a stir.”
“I can imagine.”
“Take your time to think about this,” Dr. Patterson said, “but I suggest you make a decision within the next few days. We need to start some form of treatment soon at the rate your infection is spreading.”
“I think you should do it,” Jen said.
They were barely out of the hospital. Johnathon didn’t answer but knew what she was thinking. Ninety percent is incredible. He definitely preferred that over the thirty percent, but something about the woman from Canada made him hesitant. His luck wasn’t really running with him on this, obviously, since the infection had spread into three of his vital organs. If he didn’t do anything, he would be dead before the end of this year. He didn’t want to die. He also didn’t want to go through hell if he wasn’t going to survive either. There is the third option, he thought, but I couldn’t…
“Are you even listening to me?”
“Yeah,” he lied.
“I don’t know. This isn’t a simple decision.”
“Yes, it is. You have to do something, and soon.”
“I don’t have to do anything.”
“Okay. Okay, I’ll do it.” He knew it was the best option and he would have gotten there eventually. She was right though. He had to do something soon.
“I’ll call Dr. Peterson now.”
She was on the phone before he even started the car.
He began the next day. Six hours of intravenous treatments every day the first week. They kept him in the hospital for observation the first month. Jen was with him for the first week and a half then visited every other day. He started looking forward to the time without her. He loved her, more than anything, but she seemed to be taking it harder than he was. She had lost weight and looked as if she wasn’t sleeping. He asked Dr. Patterson if he could do anything for her and he prescribed her a sedative to take before bed.
After the first month was over, he was allowed to leave the hospital. The first few results showed impressive progress. The infection had left his lungs and kidneys. He was feeling a little stronger despite having spent most of the past few weeks in a bed. He’d lost nearly forty pounds. The worst was over. He only had to return every two weeks for treatments and check-ups. Jen started sleeping better and stopped using the sedatives. She worried less with each result that came in.
During the third month, he was able to return to work and could exercise. He put twenty-five pounds back on and no longer looked ill. He felt luck was finally running with him. The fourth and fifth months went by without any issues.
Johnathon was confident he was cured when he went in for his last round of treatments. Dr. Patterson stopped by to take the final blood samples.
“How are you feeling?”
“I feel great.”
“Have you experienced any side-effects? Anything out of the ordinary?”
“Nothing. I’ve had some headaches the past few weeks, but I’ve been catching up on work.”
“I see. I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about.” Dr. Patterson filled the last vial and removed the needle, swabbed the area, and bandaged it. “You’re all set to go. Just a few final check-ups before all is said and done. Then we only need to see you every six months to make sure nothing changes. If you notice anything unusual, don’t be afraid to call me. You have my number.”
“Thanks Dr. Patterson. I appreciate everything you’ve done. I feel good.” He pulled his sleeve down over the bandage. “Just out of curiosity. Did they ever find the Canadian woman?”
“No. A few reports about two months back stated a humanoid ‘alien’ was seen in Greenland by a few locals. It could have been her, but it also could have been someone claiming to have seen Bigfoot.”
Johnathon walked inside after his Thursday run. Jen was cooking. He walked up behind her and kissed her on the neck. She laughed and shrugged him off. “You stink. Go shower.”
He kissed her again before heading to the bathroom. He stripped off his clothes and stepped in the shower. He ran his hands through his hair and held his head beneath the water. When he opened his eyes and reached for the soap he saw skin dangling from a finger on his right hand. He looked at it closer. Beneath the flap of skin was a white, rubbery layer. He reached to fold the flap back into place, but it detached and fell. He ran a finger over the missing skin and placed a nail under the edge. His skin peeled back slightly, ripped, and the remaining skin, including the nail, on his finger fell off and onto the shower floor. His right forefinger was now a bone-white…thing.
When he reached to turn the water off, the water pressure shredded the skin on his left hand like paper revealing the new layer of skin. He panicked. Every move he made caused more skin to abandon him until his forearms were pure white and the shower floor was layered with pieces of his skin.
Jen was crying as they sat in Dr. Peterson’s office. Johnathon wore long sleeves and gloves. His pants hid the skin peeling off his right leg. He wore a hoodie even though no skin had yet to peel from his face.
“What are my options?”
“There aren’t any currently able to help with this side-effect. I’m sorry,” Dr. Peterson said, “but I’d like to run some tests to see if there might be something we can find.”
“Anything,” he said. He reached over to grab Jen’s hand but she flinched away. He let his hand fall back to his side as she tried to stop her tears with the soaked tissue in her hand.
Dr. Patterson put down the x-rays he was reviewing. “The good news is the infection is completely gone. Your organs have improved significantly. I predict you’ll soon be healthier than someone half your age. You’re on track for a long, healthy life.”
“That is good news,” Johnathon said absently. He tried to smile, but he couldn’t take his eyes away from Jen. She hadn’t looked at him in two days.