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The old radio about slid from the bedside table into the wastebasket. A thousand viral plagues on losing a third smart phone, muttered his colon; that old snooze alarm was the pits.
Crawling into a sitting position, he stared vaguely toward the bathroom door. One lone sparrow, out on the deck, chirping the hour. Slowly, what day it was and what should happen first unfolded in his aging consciousness. He picked up a caramel from the dish by the bed, unwrapped it, and put it on his tongue. The saliva came into his mouth, and his eyes opened from the sugar. This was his morning ritual. Meditation, recommended by Tom’s secretary, was out of the question; fourteen years working the x-ray light table had blown out his focus factor, anyway, and letting the mind go that deep was dangerous.
Dangerous to go back as far as that “C” in Inorganic. Maddening how one freaking grade could mark a future. No medical school for him, with that blot on his record. Diagnostic Radiology had been the closest second on the list, and taking it meant a solid salary and a whole, longer list of imports and home brews to come home to after a shift. Given the limits, he’d chosen well.
Peeling off the ale-smelling T-shirt and briefs, he tried to ignore the email, chiming away. Damn the quotas. He felt the acidic stomach creeping. That God forsaken Cancer Center had been messaging all week; where were the referrals? There were two protocols to complete by budget, and at least three empty spots to fill. Well, damn the protocols. He’d have himself a freshly rolled cigarette.
Tom was an asshole, anyway. Big man. Big son of Tom, Senior. Free ride to Jefferson, choice for residency, first nod for the Center’s directorship. His pick of girls out front, the works. But, perfect for the job, as usual. Big benefactor to all the non-profits, big beer brewing bastard. Perfect.
He stared, this time seeing clearly, at the pile of films. Too bad if the haters didn’t like that he preferred the old fashioned way. Digital may be hip, but he’d always had the eye. A gift, that eye; couldn’t be taught, couldn’t even be bought. And, he had it. He knew an anomaly at three feet.
Statistics were also his forte. Rifling through, he knew what he’d likely find. There’d be one in every forty with in situ, several calcifications. Probably none with any marked lesions this week; there were only nine in the pile, total.
Images, opacities, vascularities. Funny how it had all looked to him, the first time. Like those shots of the moon from NASA. Each crater exactly like the next, to the naked eye. But, just invite one experienced pilot who could read terrain, and suddenly the moon itself was a secret civilization, complete with mining operations, tunnels, and landing strips.
He allowed himself his usual, half-glance across the names.
The acid state in his belly morphed into all-too-familiar contraction. Hating it whenever he saw one. Even moving here from Indiana, he’d come to know many families in this region at the breweries. He felt the familiar creak inside his head, as his brain began its revolving rotations. Cognitive dissonance was a bitch.
“Protocol”. Whatever crazed son of a pharmaceutical rep had come up with that one? Some ex-commissioned officer in the man’s navy? The label for a treatment plan, passed trial, in “residency” for two years to gather more observable data. Like the two hundred, candy-striped short sleeved button downs that appeared at the Mall, a “special purchase” bargain shipment up from the Carolinas where, either they didn’t sell, or the whole candy-striped short sleeved thing had run its course. No matter. They’d sell in small town America, particularly for eleven ninety five a crack.
Funny how one submission from him would set the whole ball rolling. One call back, for magnification, was all it usually took. One more positive, one more confirmation by oncology, and one protocol: complete. Just in time for budget review.
He hated that he could tell. He hated that he knew the difference between a calcification and a lesion. Hated that he had the power to call it. Better that some numbskull just make a read error. Idiots would oil the whole machine nicely. He hated that he knew. Knew exactly what he was doing.
With only that damned sparrow on the deck ledge heralding any of it, he quietly sorted the films. Seven for neg; two for pos. Damn the natural sunlight, streaming in the window. Damn the quotas. Damn the kickbacks, never any for him, either.
He sat back, looking at the old radio clock, watching the next minute flip over. He’d finished early, rare enough. Time for a little online indulgence. He flipped through the videos. Where was she…..perfect C cups, large areola…..he had the eye, after all. Ah, there. He half-glanced at her name. Candy.
© Ruth Ann Scanzillo
8/7/15 All rights solely those of the author, whose name appears above this line. No sharing; no transcribing. None. Thank you.