Araw

Australia

Writers block is a plague and I'm infected. Hi, I'm Araw. I'm seventeen and I call myself I writer.

Message to Readers

I love writing long works like this even though no one really has time to read them. Don't check my med facts on this one lol. I did some research but not that much.

The Apparatus

April 30, 2019

FREE WRITING

6
The field of medicine is one of unlimited and rapid expansion, especially in our age. Over in Germany, they’ve made something that allows someone to see straight through anyone’s clothes and skin. In fact, you could probably see down to the bones. In France, they’ve started looking into a new theory of disease, one they have named “Germ Theory.” The idea that disease and malady is caused by one’s sin is slowly being dismantled, academic dissertation by academic dissertation. The biggest and most important of these advancements, however, is not one that people speak about in the open. The mere utterance of anything pertaining to this discovery is met with innocent ignorance or vehement cursing and crucifixes. Despite this, it is undeniable that the works of Doctor Victor Birdwhistle are large leaps and bounds into the future of medicine. This is why I have chosen him as the subject of my investigation into the medical world.
 
               Doctor Birdwhistle was very accommodating of this investigation and allowed me to enter his place of work and document his work. Upon arriving, however, I have found that my visit was no ordinary one, even for such an innovative field of study. Full education on his work cannot be achieved unless one had seen it themselves and experienced it fully. Therefore I see it fit to recount it in full detail rather than summarise my findings. Up until arriving at his laboratory, I had never met Doctor Birdwhistle. We had maintained a five month-long correspondence which started when I had requested an interview for my dissertation, but other than that, we had not met in real life. With this in mind, one can understand my nerves, excitement, and the way they had both grown as the horse-drawn brougham pulled to a stop in front of the address Doctor Birdwhistle provided. At this point, I had no idea what to expect. His letters were handwritten in neat, loopy cursive and with a skilful control of formal language, so I had surmised that he was an extremely well educated and amiable man. The towering, soot-darkened form of his laboratory, however, told me otherwise. Judging from the grime that rendered the windows completely opaque, Doctor Birdwhistle did not particularly value cleanliness. In fact, the splintering mahogany door and its loose rusting hinges demonstrated a general lack of care for his place of work. No matter, I decided. These science types always have their quirks. Who are we common folk to judge? After finding a spot on the door that would not get fragments of wood stuck in my knuckles, I firmly knocked three times. At first, there was no response. The other side of the door remained silent enough to hear a pin drop, even through the thick wood. This quiet was followed by a booming crash with undertones of shattering glass and harsh, guttural swearing. Weighted footsteps on the creaking wooden floor slowly increased in volume and concluded with the turning of various tumblers, each with a different timbre from the last. The process of opening the locks was a slow, dragging one, allowing me to visualise innumerable speculative appearances that the Doctor could possibly have taken. Perhaps Doctor Birdwhistle would be the tall, substantial type, the paradigm of a good English man. Maybe he would be a little slimmer, a bit boyish. Whatever hypothetical version of him I had in my mind when the final lock clicked open was dashed by building anticipation. Slowly, the door inched open.
 
               In the musty, moulding doorway stood a creature reminiscent of a crumpled paper crane, folded up and creased. His short stature, hunched back, and bowed head made him look as if he was trying to retreat into himself. The wild mop of stringy black hair sat on his head as still as a dead animal. He would have looked smart in his dress shirt and waistcoat if not for the cracked leather apron covered in round droplets of a thick red substance. It took a second for this man to catch his breath. Opening the door had taken very much out of him apparently. When he had recovered, he eyed me suspiciously through the thick round lenses of his glasses. After a few moments of this silent examination, I decided to engage.
               “Good afternoon,” I said, tipping my hat to him. “I’m looking for a Doctor Victor Birdwhistle. He gave me this address.”
               “I am he,” the man mumbled with a snivel. “What of it?”
               “I’m Mr Abner Winston. I wrote to you about an interview for a paper I’m writing.”
He whipped his glasses off and looked me up and down, then did it again after putting his glasses back on.
               “You’re awfully young for this kind of work,” he concluded from his investigation.
               “Is there a problem with that?”
               “Sorry, sorry. Your name made me think you were a little older. Abner is a man’s name, innit? Not a young cub’s. Now, what’re you standing out in the cold for? Come in, come in.”
He practically dragged me inside by the cuff of my coat and shut the door behind me, sealing in the mildewy scent of the building. However thick the coating of grime was on the outside of the building, it was worse on the inside. The yellow wallpaper of the tunnel-like hallway had a warped and distorted colour, only made worse by the thin skin of dust, spider webs, and lint that had accumulated over the years. It was hard for me to imagine a man of science working in such an environment.
               “Apologise for the mess, Abner,” Doctor Birdwhistle said, as if he could read my mind. “You’ll forget about this when we get upstairs. That’s where my work’s done.”
               “Of course.” I followed him through a right turn, then a left, then another right.
The corridor was maze-like with hardly any doors along the way. The sight of a staircase at the end of one of these hallways was a welcome one, the light at the end of it even more so. Doctor Birdwhistle hobbled up at a snail’s pace, prompting me to wait until I climbed it myself. Eventually, his shivering knobbly joints had carried him to the top. It was my turn to step into the light.
 
               Stepping into his workshop was like stepping into a completely different dimension to our own. Gone was the cloud of soot and ash that prevented the sunlight from reaching our tired eyes. No, we were high above it all and now light could boundlessly spill into every dark crevice through the glass dome roof of this atrium. The hissing pipes of factories and calls for help from hopelessly stuck chimney sweeps were replaced with the rhythmic sighs of a pump somewhere in the busy laboratory. Medicinal scents of formaldehyde and ethanol were breaths of fresh air compared to the cocktail of smoke and sewer rot that settled just above the cobbles of the street. It was incredibly easy to get overwhelmed amongst the jars of preserved organs sitting on the shelves and the wax anatomical models lying as if asleep on long wooden tables, but I was able to steady myself. It was marvellous, all that any doctor could ever dream of, but this was not the end of it. The entire wall opposite to the staircase as well as the few feet of floor before it was concealed behind a heavy canvas tarp hanging from the edge of the glass dome.       
               “You mentioned an invention of yours,” I said. “An apparatus, of sorts.”
               “Oh, of course, of course!” Doctor Birdwhistle turned to the hidden wall, whipping some of the liquid on his apron in my direction.
                A few of the droplets had gotten onto my cuffs and since my visit have dried up brown, though at the time, I didn’t attempt to wipe them off. I was simply interested in what was behind the tarp. What could possibly have elicited such pride in Doctor Birdwhistle that his weak knees had gotten strong enough to send him practically flying towards his invention? I was soon to find out. He had reached the back wall and was now grasping at one of the long ropes used to fasten it to the roof.
               “Now, I can’t stress this enough, Abner,” he warned, eyes shifting side to side. “What you’re about to see ain’t for the faint of heart. Not a whole lot have seen it before you, but from those who have, I’ve seen fainting, cursing my name, and all the like. You can’t be afraid. You’ve got to be sure you’re ready for this.”
               “Surely after writing me so long, you would have no doubt that I am ready to see what you have created,” I replied. “Go on then. Let me see it.”
Doctor Birdwhistle pulled on the rope, undoing its knot. The added weight of the fallen tarp corner was enough to loosen all the other knots. One by one, in ceremonious succession, they came undone. Slowly, the curtain fell away.
 
               On the floor, from end to end of that wall, sat the pump that I had heard earlier. It was a mammoth of a thing, a wooden framed glass box showcasing several cylindrical accordion-like bellows, compressing and expanding at the same pace as peaceful breathing. From the metal grate roof of the box, an empty thin glass pipe extended upwards, making a perpendicular turn and proceeding until it met the wall. From there, it would continue its course inches away from and parallel to the black bricks. Along the length of that box were other pipes, made of glass as well, but not empty like the first. They were filled with a viscous red liquid, pulsing in exact time with the mighty bellows in the box. Some tubes’ contents were bright red in colour, like a blade fresh out of the forge that had started to cool down. Other tubes carried a burgundy, almost blackish substance. I attempted to follow the paths of these tubes, but they branched out almost straight off into two or three separate prongs. They covered the wall in a maze-like pattern that would have reached the roof if not for another similar sized box to the first, hanging from above. This other box seemed to actually be three separate ones, a slightly bigger cube in the middle, with two more rectangular ones on either side of it, a bit like arms. From those arms, more narrow glass tubes filled with the red substance extended downwards, but they were different in that for regular split second intervals, they were empty. Then, there would be two quick thumps each accompanied by hissing, like the release of steam on a paddleboat. With each thump, some tubes would deliver liquid into the box and others would deliver it out. While these two contraptions and the complex network between them were all a work of skilful engineering, the thing that my eyes finally landed on was in the very core of it all, pinned like a preserved butterfly in the centre that black brick wall.
 
               She didn’t used to have a name, the creature that hung on the wall by brass bands around her arms. Her parents never bothered to give her that right. Doctor Birdwhistle, however, was different. He cared for her and said as much to me. “Gracie” was the name given to the girl, boxes and pipes included, for these machines and vessels were an undeniable part of her. Half of the glass tubes from the bottom box ended inside her chest, entering through a large incision in her naked torso, the alabaster skin parted by some kind of brass rib spreader attached from behind. Exactly eleven tubes from the top box had done the same, taking a creeping path along the wall towards the girl then finally plunging deep into her chest cavity. From there, each glass tube was lost from view, but one thing that I could see was that Gracie was missing her ribs, lungs, and heart. One would think that the lack of these organs would kill her, but the absence of rot and the brightness of her blood showed that life still clung to her little body, though barely. It was strange to me, to see a body meant to be brimming with youth too weak to hold her head up. Her blonde hair fell onto her pale shoulders pathetically, like the drooping petals of a wilted sunflower. Occasionally, dull, icy irises would be exposed by her eyelids momentarily fluttering, weak butterfly wings struggling to spread themselves apart. Her eyelashes were long, doll-like. She was beautiful.
 
               “Isn’t it marvellous?’ Doctor Birdwhistle leaned on the bottom box, the one with the pumping bellows. “I made all the parts myself. Except for… her, of course. No, Gracie was from an orphanage, down over in St. George. For the love of God himself, I can’t remember what it’s called, but you know the one. It’s the one run by them nuns, innit? Yeah, they sent for me, not to treat her, but to take her away, scrap her for parts and specimens to study. She was already dying.”
               “What happened to her there?” I asked. “Was there an accident?”
               “No, no. She was always a sickly kid, they told me. Pale as the moon and always down with something. Whether it was the cough or flu, who bothered to keep track anymore? They knew that her time was soon, so soon they didn’t even bother to call her anything. When the coughing got particularly bad and the chest pains started, they knew this was it.”
               “What exactly was happening to her?” I realised that I hadn’t been writing any of this down and fumbled for my notepad.
               “Organ failure. Her heart and lungs were gone, Abner,” he sighed, as if he were talking about the passing of a loved one. “I was going to jar them up in formaldehyde, keep them here with the other specimens, but then I wondered if I could possibly substitute them. After all, the lungs and the heart are fairly mechanical organs, right?”
               “So, you created this?”
               “Yep. This bottom machine here plays the role of her lungs. The bellows draw air into the machine while the pipes, these darker ones here, take blood into a chamber within the machine. There, the blood pulls oxygen from the air. When it’s been oxygenated, it travels through these tubes up to the ceiling, the brighter ones. Now, the rest of the air comes out of this empty tube, so the whole thing doesn’t blow to bits.”
               “And the machine up there… I assume it’s the heart?”
               “Smart man, Abner!” He slammed a heavy hand onto my back. “In the left side, pistons pull back and create a vacuum to draw the blood up. It goes into the ventricles and atriums, the middle bit of the apparatus, then into the right side where pistons push to create pressure and send the blood down to the body.”
The machine began to make sense to me. Blood would travel up from the “lungs” to the “heart”, down to the body to be used, then further down into the lungs again to replenish its supply of oxygen. It could not have been nearly fast enough for Gracie. In a normal body, everything was so much closer. Blood could leave the heart and reach it again in… well, a heartbeat. No amount of piston-generated pressure could ever replicate that speed, but she was alive nonetheless. I surmised that the lack of speed was remedied with the sheer amount of blood used within the apparatus. Donors, Doctor Birdwhistle explained to me, donors who received no information as to where their blood would go. In return, Doctor Birdwhistle did not probe into their history or judge the suitability of their blood on their outward appearance. A combination of this indiscriminate acceptance and desperation meant that the bits of the blood coursing through Gracie’s veins and tubes belonged to chimney sweeps, beggars, and other sorts of riff-raff. Dirty blood. This, as expected, did not help her health in the least. Before building the machine around her, Doctor Birdwhistle would often test new samples by manually injecting a small amount into her natural veins, then documenting what followed. A bad sample would cause a yellow tint in Gracie’s skin. Jaundice. She would get a fever and eventually begin to grow cold. All that could be done after that was to wait for her body to naturally take care of it. When continuous suppliers of good blood were found, the girl was built into the machine and the rest is history. She has been hanging there ever since.
 
               Eventually, the time came where there was nothing else in the laboratory to see. I had mentally mapped out the path of every visible pipe. I had taken note of the speed and rhythm of the bellows in Gracie’s “lungs” as well as that of the “heart” hanging above her. The only thing left to dissect was the unsolvable mystery of Gracie’s human component. It was fascinating in a way that you could only know if you saw her for yourself.  With every push of the piston, there was an almost unnoticeable twitch in her knees, a sign that the long period of stillness on that wall had not dulled her motion and sensation to nonexistence. She could still feel everything. The push of blood into her body could still fire off electric signals in her brain. Inescapable sunlight from the glass dome roof could still bless her with its bright warmth. The incision in her chest, the cut through her skin, muscle, and bone, would still ache. Despite being cauterised at the edges to stop the bleeding, the stretching of the rib-spreaders and the exposure of her internal organs would have felt like being burned by a raging blue flame all over. And no doubt, her installation into the machine would have caused immeasurable amounts of pain. One could hardly imagine the feeling of a scalpel first drawing a straight line across the epidermis, then repeating this process through countless layers of skin and muscle until she was opened completely. Not to mention having to endure the thick fingers of a stranger tightly grasping your insides then pulling them out without apology or empathy. Surely memories of that suffering still lingered in her skin and in the cavity where her lungs and heart once sat. She would have felt echoes of the pain constantly, yet she hung still. She did not writhe. She did not struggle. All the burning, piercing, emptying, and sewing in the world was apparently not enough to shake her. No, she was much too used to it now. Or maybe she was too broken, too dulled down to bother responding to sensory input. It almost made her seem dead. I could endlessly deliberate on this sort of thing, Gracie’s invisible pain and her disregard of it. Hence, I will not write another word about it. However, I will say that it is only something that one can only begin to comprehend if they have seen the apparatus with their own eyes.
 
                Here, I shall conclude my descriptions of Dr Birdwhistle’s work and allow you, the reader, your own deliberation of his actions. Perhaps you, like the masses of London, would see them as an abomination, a curse to the poor girl at the centre of it all. Maybe you’ll view it as a miracle, the priceless gift of life. I myself do not know what to make of it. Whatever conclusion you come to, however, it is certain that his work will surface into the view of people all over the world. It will hit the science of medicine like a locomotive engine. When it does, ponder this: What are the new definitions of life and death?

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