A GIVING HEART • by David J. Rank

Swathed in bandages, his patient waited for the next surgery.

“What have I done?”

From the other side of the bed, “Did you say something, doctor?” the nurse asked.

“What? No.” Dr. Peter Hyde forced a smile.

His patient stirred.

“Three milligrams morphine. To keep her comfortable.”

The nurse adjusted the drug pump.

His patient was a remarkable woman — a unique human — a freak of nature, really: An immune system that overwhelmed any infection, recuperative powers that defy explanation. No wound remained unhealed. Removed a kidney, another grew to replace it. Took most of her liver, a lung, they regenerated. Peeled off skin and she survived — growing new, blemish free. Her parts were perfect transplants, a universal donor, never rejected, immuno-response suppressants not needed. Her spine let others walk again.

Her fame had made him famous. Dr. Hyde discovered her, brought her remarkable curative powers to the attention of the world. She was called Hyde’s Patient so often now he had to remind himself she had a name, Mia Lanier. There was a time he forgot entirely, which shamed him to think he could do that.

Institutions studied her for cancer cures, to comprehend perfect immunity, cell growth that regenerated hands, limbs, brain tissue. Bits and pieces of his patient had saved hundreds, her tissues restored body function to multiples more. Organ transplants alone covered the entire cost of this research hospital. There was great demand.

Three years ago, Hyde’s Patient had been just another traffic accident victim, without insurance, without a home. Her out-of-work parents killed, their car pulverized by a skidding semi, all the family she had in the world. Only sixteen, her condition had looked hopeless, body shattered, organs crushed, flesh seared.

With no family to consult, Hyde decided that night how hard they would fight to keep her alive. “Just keep her comfortable.”

Over the next few days Hyde watched dead flesh slough off her body, replaced by russet muscle, skin fresh as a newborn’s. Bones, once granulized, knitted and reformed. Her lungs, blackened by flame, regenerated. Within a week Hyde’s Patient was taken off the respirator. And that heart, that powerful heart, never ceased beating.

Hyde wondered if his patient still knew what good she gave humanity. Brain cells regrow, but do memories return, personality survive? Kept now in a constant state of recovery, his patient’s mind rarely rose above stupor so he did not know.

Three weeks after the accident, Mia Lanier had regained consciousness, her body nearly healed, a medical miracle. She was groggy and perhaps not yet fully capable of understanding. Still, Hyde told his patient about the accident, the death of her parents, of her incredible recovery. His patient said she did not remember any of it.

Nor could she recall ever being ill more than a day or two. She remembered falling off a swing once, hearing her wrist crack. It swelled, but with ice and a couple of days rest it was fine. That was all Hyde’s Patient knew about her body’s unmatched recuperative ability.

In the following days, a cotillion of doctors, administrators, and lawyers for the research hospital clotted her recovery room, told Hyde’s Patient how important she was, what was in the best interest, how much she could give the world if she would sign this, that, here, and here, and here. “Let us take care of you, study your gift; you can save so many lives.”

She was only sixteen and alone.

It was not difficult, given the circumstances, to convince state, nation, and the world that the best course would be for the research hospital to become Mia Lanier’s legal guardian.

For his discovery, his reward really, Hyde was reassigned as Lanier’s primary physician, the gatekeeper for her well-being and the research. Then came the book deals, media appearances. He was consulted by the best minds in the world about what medical wonders she could next provide. He never said no.

“What have I done?” There were nights now when he dreamed Mia Lanier asked him why.

A surgical nurse entered the room. “They’re ready for the heart.” Hyde nodded.

His staff prepped his patient for another trip to another surgical suite. Hyde wondered if his patient could even care any more. “Mia. Her name is Mia.”

They would remove her heart this time, that remarkable, powerful heart, a first. Mia would die, technically speaking, machines pumping blood for her, filling lungs with oxygen, until her heart regenerated; a month at most, they thought. Then the world-famous Hyde’s Patient would be ready for another transplant, more experiments. That was the expected routine.

So much good… so much healing…

Perhaps, though, not this time. Hyde touched the pocket of his white jacket, within it a syringe full of a neurotoxin, capped, and ready for him to decide it was time to end this, trash his career, and probably spent the rest of his life in prison.

How long can a body give until it finally gives out? How many tissue samples did the world’s research facilities need from this one-of-a-kind woman? How long can someone remain a sum of parts until the whole says no more?

Hyde wondered. Do no harm…

And then there was pain. Was there constant pain, too?

He could end this. Plunge the syringe into that remarkable heart and the toxin would ensure it never beat again. The thought wormed deeper into his mind with each passing day, ever since his patient regained her name in his soul. Mia Lanier.

Not today, Hyde thought. This surgery was too important. That heart, it offered the world so much…

“I’m sorry.” Hyde squeezed Mia’s hand as the surgical team rolled her out of the recovery room, her permanent home.

The door closed. Alone, Hyde felt a tear slide down his cheek. Her name is Mia… Mia Lanier… I am her doctor… Hyde kept telling himself that as he fingered the syringe.

David J. Rank is a working journalist in eastern Wisconsin esconced in the glacial hills between the Green Bay Packers and the Milwaukee Brewers. He often finds himself peering into shadows and reports what he sees. His flash fiction and micro fiction stories have been published in AlienSkin, MicroHorror and Apollo’s Lyre ezines.

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Every Day Fiction

  • The obvious thing is to chop off a leg and keep it alive on a drip until another of her grows back, just like a starfish. That way you get two. Repeat and get four, and so on. If you lobotomise the new ones before consciousness arises, there is much less of an ethical problem, and you can afford to release the original as well. This doctor just hasn’t thought through the possibilities.

  • This is a remarkable story, but something is missing; maybe it needed to be alonger piece.

  • J.C. Towler

    Outstanding, David. A layered dilemma that has you thinking far past the end of the story.

    My only quibbles were these: A) I had the sense that this woman was perhaps in a coma or a persistant vegetative state and the hospital/Hyde was using her, but then you show she comes to after her initial near-death experience and interacts with the doctor. It might be more ethically interesting if her mind is the only thing that doesn’t recoup because B) The only thing lacking is a sense of what her life is like. Is she constantly in bed recovering from one surgery or another? Is she really suffering? Through Hyde, the reader has no doubts there are huge moral issues, but why doesn’t he reflect on something she’s told him that solidifies her state of mind? “Doctor, I’m tired of hurting.” Anyway, if she’s in a vegetative state, then the whole ethical issue rests on his shoulders.

    Quibbles aside, this was well written and a compelling read. I hope that she’s strong enough to withstand the toxins and they find a more sympathetic resolution.


  • A well-written and thought provoking story. John makes some good points that could strengthen the moral dilemma that the doctor faces. Great job!

  • Wow. What a remarkable story. So much at stake for all concerned, such an ethical question. Really well done.

  • Jen

    Poor Mia. Good story though.

  • Margie

    A good read.

  • Bob

    This was a well-executed rumination on some interesting ethical and moral decisions that our technology may soon force upon us. It’s unfortunate that my mind was screaming “Claire Bennet! Heroes!” the entire time I was reading the piece.

    One note – the single tear sliding down the doctor’s face was over-the-top melodrama that didn’t ring true – a small misstep, but one that jumps out in a short piece.

  • Absolutely brilliant and original. I was also reminded of claire bennet in heroes but this story brought her condition to life. Beautifully written and thought provoking.

  • Sharon

    Agree with Bob about the tear.

  • Rob

    First I should say that this is a very well written piece and I enjoyed it. I look forward for more from David in the future. I do feel that– the excellent writing skill aside– the story missed the mark. Because there was no final resolution, the depth delved into her condition became excessive. If it was going somewhere, it would’ve been useful. But see, the author has spent most of the story introducing us to the golden goose and her talents when it’s her keeper that it’s about. It’s his quandry that begins and ends the story. He’s gleening golden eggs, why is he going to chance killing the goose who’s laying them???? If the story was about her, we’d be reading about why she continues to live in habitual pain. Does she feel she’s fated to be some sort of sacraficial lamb? Does she Jones on the knife? Does she live in guilt so that she feels obligated to give herself to others? I think the author kind of missed which story line to follow here. Good idea/ fair execution.

  • jennifer walmsley

    A good story. Raw emotions of the doctor well written, but I want to know more about his patient and where this story ends.

    THis could be longer story. Novel even.

  • A few comments here demonstrate the frustrating potential of flash; stories often feel incomplete. In theory, how could a complete arc be reached in so few words? We always want more from the writer.

    However, when there’s always more to tell, each flash is a seed for a novel, or could be.

  • Oops, about this story…
    Disturbing! How does the Oath fit in with this doctor’s ethics? I was troubled, too, by the fact that she regained consciousness at some point, but now is constantly doped up so he can farm her for organs.

    What makes him think the toxin will work?

  • Dave,

    Good story. The ethical debate seemed to be a little overshadowed by the history of this girl, but I liked the story as a whole. The type of social implications that this alludes to is the core of the type of speculative fiction that I enjoy.

    James Boone Dryden

  • Good job, Dave. Hard to make a story come alive in a short scene, but you made it vivid. The point of such shorts is to pose questions and make the reader think.

  • dawn k

    Great story, Dave. I’m surprised so many are worried about the ethics…it’s fiction and quite imaginative. Also, I’m sure there are employees of many sorts that would take fame/fortune over ethics; just watch the news.
    So, are you going to tell us which way the doctor went?!