I met Rob Chilson at a local science fiction group meeting. He is the soft-spoken author of seven novels and numerous short stories and novellas published in science fiction magazines. Visit his website at www.RobChilson.com to learn a little more about this Oklahoma born author. After one meeting, Rob came to me with an idea for a story. He thought I would be the perfect collaborator because I was both writer and nurse. It was an idea that grew into a story.
We each read a short article in a science magazine about how when you are sick your ‘sick cells’ changed electrical polarity from the ‘well’ state. Two science fiction authors should not have been surprised that we’d read the same article, but we were. When we talked about this discovery we wondered if someday there might be a box that could read and correct the polarity of cells making illness and disease a thing of the past. Rob wondered how that change would impact society. He thought that perhaps we wouldn’t need doctors and nurses any longer. I argued that we would always need someone with a healing touch. Then we discussed characters, a basic plot, and the type of ending the story would have. I wrote a draft, he revised it, then we sat down and discussed it in detail.
The story that grew out of those discussions was one neither of us would have envisioned without the other.
The White Box was published in Analog, Science Fiction Science Fact magazine in December 1985. If you’ve seen the magazine you’ll notice my byline changed (divorce and marrying the right guy will do that). Eventually, I will post the full story in e-book format on my website. For now, I hope you enjoy this snippet.
THE WHITE HOPE
Rob Chilson and Lynette M Burrows
Gloria Bartram took a deep breath when her name was called. It didn’t help. Her heart was beating so hard they wouldn’t need a cardiac monitor or even a stethoscope to know it was racing.
She paused just inside the door and looked them over. Dr. Lapi wasn’t there; she had hoped desperately that he would be. Cathy Tompkins, the Director of Nurses, turned a carefully expressionless glance on her. Dr. Nurbaugh was there, of course. He was the picture of righteous indignation. She returned his glare with what she hoped was a level look of confidence.
Then she faced Arthur Wigginton, Research Hospital’s Administrator. The last time she’d seen him was when he had given all ‘his loyal nurses’ a pep talk at the beginning of the strike. He hadn’t even known her name then. His neatly trimmed, sparse white hair and slight palsy had endeared him to his listeners. He had seemed a sweet old man.
At the moment his blue eyes were as chill as ice and Gloria felt almost as if she faced an executioner. The large walnut desk he sat behind was barren except for a file directly in front of him and a tape recorder to one side. The only visible concession to personal comfort or taste was the high-backed leather chair he sat in.
“Be seated, Ms. Bartram.” His neutral tone did nothing to reassure her. “You know Ms. Tompkins and Dr. Nurbaugh; and this,” he indicated a gentleman seated on the other side of the room, “is Mr. Williams, our legal counsel.” He cleared his throat. “You’ve been summoned here to answer to a charge –”
The lawyer, Williams, stirred. “Not charged,” he said, “not formally charged.”
Wigginton heard him out impatiently, then said, “An informal charge then, of mutinous insubordination. We have a written complaint against you. It alleges,” he emphasized the word slightly with a conciliatory nod toward Williams, “that you wrongfully approved treatment without obtaining appropriate medical orders, and did so with full knowledge that there was a standing order specifically against this electro-neural therapy. This is a very serious charge. One that not only puts your license in jeopardy but also threatens Research. As I understand it, the patient has not regained consciousness since the treatment you administered.”
Gloria nodded. She’d checked on the patient, Debra Sandalescu, just prior to this meeting.
“That is unfortunate,” Wigginton continued. “If the patient or her family conclude that injury has been done, we shall be facing a lawsuit. That must be avoided at all costs, especially in light of Research’s present crisis.” He steepled his fingers together and looked over the tips of them at Gloria. “What have you to say?”
Gloria wet her lips and wished she wasn’t so tired. How could she think straight? She avoided looking at Nurbaugh. “Sir, I did what had to be done to preserve the patient’s life in the absence of her personal physician.”
“She was admitted to the Emergency Room, correct?”
Again, all Gloria could do was nod.
Wigginton laced his fingers together. “Ms. Tompkins, what is standard procedure when a patient is admitted to the emergency room?”
Cathy Tompkins gave Gloria a tight but apologetic smile then turned to the Administrator. “When a patient is admitted to the ER the unit clerk calls the patient’s personal physician while the admitting nurse takes vital signs and begins any stabilizing treatment that is necessary. And according to the records, these procedures were carried out.”
“I received no calls from Research last night,” Dr. Nurbaugh said haughtily. “Not from a unit clerk or anyone else.”
Gloria bit her lip to keep from shouting at him. Any outburst from her would only make things worse.
* * * *
Thank you for spending time with me. I know you have a hundred other things to do. Please know I deeply appreciate your time and I love to hear from you. Did you enjoy this tiny bit of the story? Was the background on an idea that grew into a story, interesting?