The Complete Stories (Page 255)
"We accept it. But do we have to agree?"
"Yes," said the surgeon, crisply. "We agree. Completely and wholeheartedly. The operation is entirely too intricate to approach with mental reservations. This man has proven his worth in a number of ways and his profile is suitable for the Board of Mortality."
"All right," said the med-eng, unmollified.
The surgeon said, "I’ll see him right in here, I think. It is small enough and personal enough to be comforting."
"It won’t help. He’s nervous, and he’s made up his mind."
"Has he indeed?"
"Yes. He wants metal; they always do."
The surgeon’s face did not change expression. He stared at his hands. "Sometimes one can talk them out of it."
"Why bother?" said the med-eng, indifferently. "If he wants metal, let it be metal."
"You don’t care?"
"Why should I?" The med-eng said it almost brutally. "Either way it’s a medical engineering problem and I’m a medical engineer. Either way, I can handle it. Why should I go beyond that?"
The surgeon said stolidly, "To me, it is a matter of the fitness of things."
"Fitness! You can’t use that as an argument. What does the patient care about the fitness of things?"
"You care in a minority. The trend is against you. You have no chance."
"I have to try." The surgeon waved the med-eng into silence with a quick wave of his hand-no impatience to it, merely quickness. He had already informed the nurse and he had already been signaled concerning her approach. He pressed a small button and the double-door pulled swiftly apart. The patient moved inward in his motorchair, the nurse stepping briskly along beside him.
"You may go, nurse," said the surgeon, "but wait outside. I will be calling you." He nodded to the med-eng, who left with the nurse, and the door closed behind them.
The man in the chair looked over his shoulder and watched them go. His neck was scrawny and there were fine wrinkles about his eyes. He was freshly shaven and the fingers of his hands, as they gripped the arms of the chair tightly, showed manicured nails. He was a high-priority patient and he was being taken care of. … But there was a look of settled peevishness on his face.
He said, "Will we be starting today?"
The surgeon nodded. "This afternoon, Senator."
"I understand it will take weeks."
"Not for the operation itself, Senator. But there are a number of subsidiary points to be taken care of. There are some circulatory renovations that must be carried through, and hormonal adjustments. These are tricky things."
"Are they dangerous?" Then, as though feeling the need for establishing a friendly relationship, but patently against his will, he added, ". . . doctor?"
The surgeon paid no attention to the nuances of expression. He said, flatly, "Everything is dangerous. We take our time in order that it be less dangerous. It is the time required, the skill of many individuals united, the equipment, that makes such operations available to so few …"
"I know that," said the patient, restlessly. "I refuse to feel guilty about that. Or are you implying improper pressure?"
"Not at all, Senator. The decisions of the Board have never been questioned. I mention the difficulty and intricacy of the operation merely to explain my desire to have it conducted in the best fashion possible."
"Well, do so, then. That is my desire, also."
"Then I must ask you to make a decision. It is possible to supply you with either of two types of cyber-hearts, metal or . . ."
"Plastic!" said the patient, irritably. "Isn’t that the alternative you were going to offer, doctor? Cheap plastic. I don’t want that. I’ve made my choice. I want the metal."
"But . . ."
"See here. I’ve been told the choice rests with me. Isn’t that so?"
The surgeon nodded. "Where two alternate procedures are of equal value from a medical standpoint, the choice rests with the patient. In actual practice, the choice rests with the patient even when the alternate procedures are not of equal value, as in this case."
The patient’s eyes narrowed. "Are you trying to tell me the plastic heart is superior?"
"It depends on the patient. In my opinion, in your individual case, it is. And we prefer not to use the term, plastic. It is a fibrous cyber-heart."
"It’s plastic as far as I am concerned."
"Senator," said the surgeon, infinitely patient, "the material is not plastic in the ordinary sense of the word. It is a polymeric material true, but one that is far more complex than ordinary plastic. It is a complex protein-like fibre designed to imitate, as closely as possible, the natural structure of the human heart you now have within your chest."
"Exactly, and the human heart I now have within my chest is worn out although I am not yet sixty years old. I don’t want another one like it, thank you. I want something better."
"We all want something better for you, Senator. The fibrous cyber-heart will be better. It has a potential life of centuries. It is absolutely non-aller genie …"
"Isn’t that so for the metallic heart, too?"
"Yes, it is," said the surgeon. "The metallic cyber is of titanium alloy that . . ."
"And it doesn’t wear out? And it is stronger than plastic? Or fibre or whatever you want to call it?"
"The metal is physically stronger, yes, but mechanical strength is not a point at issue. Its mechanical strength does you no particular good since the heart is well protected. Anything capable of reaching the heart will kill you for other reasons even if the heart stands up under manhandling."