Famous in the Lab

My parents had told me it would be a good thing to have a family friend working as a supervisor in the hospital lab. My tests might get some priority, and Mr. Jim would be sure to triple-check them. But after a week in the hospital, the lab had yet to provide us with any answers about what was making me sick. Their tests only led to more questions, which meant yet more tests.

I had never been this sick before. And it was getting worse. Stuff had been coming out of me that wasn’t normal. And way more than there should have been. I couldn’t help but think my insides might be melting. I had never seen my Mom and sister cry so much. Even my dad looked like he was barely keeping it together. The basket of construction paper cards from my classmates were supposed to make me feel better, but they only made my Mom cry some more.

I was fading in an out. I spent a lot of time sleeping, waking up to puke or race-waddle to the bathroom. Two days ago, while shuffling back to my bed, I heard the doctor talking to my parents.

“Jim has suggested a new form of treatment. It’s experimental, but I think there’s a real chance that it will help us. The standard treatment is to use one batch of nanites, but we’re going to try two. One to boost his body’s defenses, and a second to explore and test for the cause or causes of the problem.” When my parents asked questions, I heard the doctor respond, “We’ve had good results with using the nanites, and we think the chances of a negative interaction are minimal.”

My parents agreed and started filling out a lot of paperwork. As I rolled over to go back to sleep, I saw Mr. Jim watching me from the doorway. He looked excited, like he was about to play with a new toy.

The treatment began with an injection into the base of my spine.

“Where your head leads, your body follows, kiddo,” the doctor said. “First the nanites get synced with your brain, then your body can accept the rest of the nanites. Now remember, stay very still until we say so, okay?”

I nodded and rolled onto my side, getting in the fetal position. With one hand I held my legs in place. Be still, be still, be still, I thought, remembering the Doctor’s warnings about paralysis. I looked around for my Dad, reaching out for his hand.

That’s when I saw the needle. It was huge. I didn’t know they made needles that long. Even at this distance, I could see how thick it was. I clamped down on my Dad’s hand and shut my eyes.

It hurt. A lot. When the needle went in, my legs and back threatened to jerk straight. I dug my nails into my leg, and I squeezed my Dad’s hand until I felt the bones grinding. When the doctor hit the plunger, both my Dad and I screamed.

The rest of the nanites were introduced into my body through an IV: first a bag of dark grey sludge, followed by a second, smaller bag containing sludge of a lighter gray.

I slept a lot after that. No dreams, no nightmares, just deep, black unconsciousness. I didn’t have to wake up every hour or so for something to pour out of me. The nurses said I was getting my color back, and that I was looking better. I felt better.

Until I woke up to my sister crying again.

My parents were talking to the doctor. They were trying to stay quiet, but anger turned their whispering into harsh hissing. Mr. Jim was listening from the doorway again.

“You said there wouldn’t be any interference,” my Dad said.

“No, I said the chances of interference was minimal. I’m sorry, but the nanites are…not cooperating,” the Doctor said after a pause.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” my Mom asked.

“The first batch—the treatment nanites—they were too good. They’ve beaten his white blood cells at their own game. The nanites have taken over his immune system. It’s like an invasive microspecies.

“You see, the human body is not one size fits all. Everyone is a little different. But the nanites have only one set of coding. They have reset your son’s body to another standard. Their standard. Your son was operating here,” the doctor said, holding out his hand. “Now the nanites have him up here,” he said holding his other hand above it.

The doctor dropped his hands and sighed. “The first batch defends your son’s body from invaders. They think the second batch is an infection. The second batch recognizes that your son’s body is not operating normally, and they have identified the first batch of nanites as the cause. They are probing, testing, and breaking some of the first batch. And so the two batches are fighting one another.”

“So you’ve started a war between microscopic robots, and my son’s body is the battlefield? Is that what you’re telling us?” my Dad asked.

“Essentially. We’ll try to shut down the nanites or flush them from his system. There may be some resistance, though.”

“At this rate,” my Mom said, “the nanites will form an alliance and fight back,” she said throwing her hands up in frustration. “Who knows what they will do to my boy?”

“Please don’t worry, Lisa,” Mr. Jim said to my Mom. “We all want to help figure out what went wrong and stop it.” When Mr. Jim saw I was awake, he added, “Don’t worry, champ. You’re famous down in the lab. We’ll figure out how to make the best of this situation.”

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