by Cristian-Mihail Teodorescu
– Can someone call the wife of the deceased?, said the Doctor, sweating. Then he pulled back up his surgical mask and closed behind him the door to the operating room. Nurse Number Three clicked her heels on the floor of the waiting room.
– Mrs. Teodorescu! Mrs. Teodorescuuu! yelled the Nurse with a strident voice. The dusk was falling over the University Hospital XI, mingling with the fog and smog of Bucharest. Lately the car exhaust fumes had a pungent and organic smell, difficult to identify.
– Mrs. Teodorescuu!…
Mrs. Teodorescu was a small old lady, somewhat coquettish and with a glass eye. She was just walking out with a confused look from the men’s bathroom.
– Would you come over?
– He… (and the old lady could not articulate the second word “died”)
But her tone of voice articulated the question.
– Yes. Let’s go because we have to get it over with. Others are waiting too.
Mrs. Teodorescu was easily convinced to take off her old mauve Chanel jacket, worn at the elbows, and drop off the pink pocketbook. She did not put up any resistance and probably never will again.
– Please sign here.
– Please put on this coat and these slippers over your shoes.
The Doctor was muttering under the mask.
– Have you informed her?
– About the death yes. About the rest, not yet.
The Doctor swore profusely. He wiped off the sweat with the back of his sleeve, and took off the surgical mask. He looked at the old lady, straight into her glass eye.
– Mrs … ?
– Teodorescu, whispered Nurse Two after she glanced briefly at a piece of paper.
– Mrs. Teodorescu, our team has done everything possible to save your husband. We used advanced technology, at the level of the year 2040. But acute appendicitis is, sadly, still an incurable disease and this surgery has only a very small chance of success, even for young patients. Mr. Teodorescu’s heart has failed.
Mr. Teodorescu was lying down on his back, and the Doctor was busy with some scissors and pliers, poking around his lumbar area.
– Hospital’s self-financing, grunted the Doctor. We are obliged to harvest all the organs which can be salvaged. I am convinced that Mr. Teodorescu would not have objected. The organs we are harvesting can save lives.
– This is true, said Mrs. Teodorescu. He would not have objected.
– We start with the kidneys and the liver. These are mandatory. For the others, we need your approval.
The Doctor continued his work.
– So little blood, said Mrs. Teodorescu.
Indeed. The body was open in a few places, but there was very little blood visible.
– Do you know about these things? asked Nurse Number One.
– Yes. I was an accountant.
– The first thing we harvested was the blood, said the Doctor speaking through the mask. When it was clear that we could not save him, we pumped his blood out and sent it to the municipal transfusion center. I am convinced that he would not have objected.
– Or that he “did not” object …, dared Nurse Number Three.
The Doctor pretended not to hear, with some hostility.
– Mr. Teodorescu was a blood donor, he continued. I am convinced that he would not have objected.
– That is true, said Mrs. Teodorescu.
– Look, the first kidney.
Nurse Number Two grabs a black register and a red pen.
– Right kidney, stated the Doctor.
– Quality? asked Nurse Number Two.
– Size 9.5, grade B.
The kidney was placed into a metal box, which was inserted into another – bigger – metal box.
Mrs. Teodorescu was watching with the empty eye. Yes, he will save a few lives this time, she thought. He always wanted that.
– Left kidney, size 9.75, grade FB, said the Doctor after some time. Next we move on to the liver, he added, after the kidney was placed into another small metal box.
The Nurse Number Two, in charge of the paperwork, prepared a few forms, which she presented to Mrs. Teodorescu.
– You will have to sign here, and here, and here, for each organ harvested.
– This is the only document which proves that we did our work, explained the Doctor, suddenly more friendly. Otherwise we will not be paid. Let’s turn him over.
They turned the dead with the face down. Mr. Teodorescu was not too heavy. Mrs. Teodorescu helped too. She was conscious that everything must be finished as soon as possible. Others are waiting too.
The Doctor continued to cut with precise movements.
– What a big liver! exclaimed Nurse Number One.
– I am not at all surprised, said Mrs. Teodorescu.
The Doctor took out the liver and touched it carefully, examining it closely and from several angles.
– But it is perfectly healthy. Extremely healthy. No nodules or cavities. Grade – let’s say B, size 10XXL.
– I have to find a bigger box, said Nurse Number Three.
The normal hepatic boxes were too small. The liver was placed into a small tray, until a bigger box could be found.
– Next is the pancreas, said Nurse Number Two. Sign here please. Only if you do not have any objections.
Mrs. Teodorescu agreed and signed in three places. Illegible.
– It is a good pancreas, declared the Doctor. Grade B, size 9.
– The heart will be more tricky, said the Doctor, and picked up the electrical saw. I don’t know why they insist on harvesting hearts. No one has done a heart transplant in our country in the last twenty years.
– I heard that they send them to Hungary, said Nurse Number One.
Nurse Number Three joined them again, after having found a box for Mr. Teodorescu’s liver.
Mr. Teodorescu’s ribs cracked, one after the other. From time to time, the Doctor stopped cutting and Nurse Number One extracted carefully a piece of bone.
The Doctor felt the need to talk.
– Mrs. Teodorescu, it is my understanding that you have no objection that we use everything that can be used from your deceased husband.
– Yes, this is so, admitted the old lady. He would not have objected at all either.
– You don’t happen to have any of his belongings at home? Clothes, personal effects? Or do you perhaps intend to give them away? The nurses shuddered at this suggestion.
– No, replied Mrs. Teodorescu quickly. We talked about this subject many times. We were both atheists, ever since we met. There will be no religious service, and I will not give any alms for him either. How can anyone imagine that the dead will have it better in the afterlife if one gives food or clothes as alms in his memory! …
– Two millennia of superstitions are enough, declared the Doctor.
– Besides, where can you bury him in this agglomeration? said Nurse Number One. The cemeteries have been closed, at least in the city. Even at Bellu they are planning to extend the Mall over the cemetery. And normal crematories use fuel and pollute the air.
– The dead is dead and that is it, said Nurse Number Two, and then asked about the size of Mr. Teodorescu’s heart.
– Grade FB, size 9.25.
Mrs. Teodorescu wanted to ask how could that heart be grade FB if it failed, but she always disliked being looked down upon by the so-called experts. She may have been an accountant, but she had her pride. For example. She glanced at the forms she just signed, and noticed three mistakes in the way they were filled out by Nurse Number Two.
The Doctor was still working to extract the heart.
– If you have no objection, then, we would ask you to bring us here, to the hospital, also the personal effects of the dead. Let us see what can be salvaged from them. You know, I told you about the self-financing problem.
– I knew that you will ask me about this, said Mrs. Teodorescu on an official tone. The personal effects and the belongings of my husband are sorted and packed, ready to be taken out of my apartment.
– It is better this way.
– He would not have objected.
– Too much emphasis on personal memories about dead people generates superstition.
– Sign here, here, and here. For the heart.
– What follows now? asked Mrs. Teodorescu.
– The eyes, said the Doctor. Was he wearing glasses? he asked.
– Never. His eye sight was very good.
– Then we have to harvest them. Do you know that in our hospital was performed the first eye transplant in all Sector 5?
– Then … Then, dared the old lady, maybe you can help me with one of his eyes. You know … I have a glass eye. The right one.
Four pairs of eyes of the medical staff rested first on the glass eye, then on the healthy one.
– Can’t be done, said the Doctor.
– You don’t have the same eye color, said Nurse Number One.
– Nor do you have the same point of view, stated Nurse Number Two, after she glanced at the medical sheet.
– The dead’s eyes will be sent to our eye bank, decided the Doctor. He prepared the boxes.
He cut with dexterity, and shortly two black orbits were where Mr. Teodorescu’s eyes had been. Two thin blood rivulets were trickling out from them.
– Please sign. What follows now? he asked Nurse Number Two over Mrs. Teodorescu’s head.
– ??? .. the testicles
– So. The Doctor grabbed a big pair of scissors and clipped the scrotum. The Nurse Number Three prepared the boxes.
– Do you have children? Asked the Doctor while cutting.
– One can tell. Size 4, grade S. They fit into one box.
– It is not only about children, said Nurse Number Two looking in the files. It seems that he was a nobody. Everybody was mocking him. Sign here.
– Is there more? asked Mrs. Teodorescu.
– This will take longer, said the Doctor. We have to extract the brain, the spinal cord and the bone marrow.
– The brain? But what do you do with? …
– Mrs. Teodorescu, you know as well as I do that brain transplants are not possible. On the other hand, we are interested in retrieving the neurons, even dead ones. The neuronal cytoskeleton is made up of microtubules, which are extracted and are used in the computer industry. Obviously, not in our country. But we export them.
– It says right here, said Nurse Number Two, pointing out on the form. Look, the article: prime quantum material.
– In fact it is for quantum computers, says Nurse Number Three, proud of her knowledge.
This time, the preparation of the procedure took somewhat longer. The Doctor took a drill and used it to drill a hole between the orbits. Then he grabbed another device, and started to twist it in the hole, with precision and patience.
– He is threading. Makes a thread, said Nurse Number One. A technology perfected in our hospital, a first for our city.
After he made the thread, the Doctor grabbed another drill, smaller than the first, and drilled for a short time. The cephalorachidian fluid seeped through the hole.
– Aren’t you interested to find out what kind of brain he had? asked Mrs. Teodorescu.
– Not at all. We recover only the microtubules. These are the same for all individuals. They differ only among species.
– Look, even here on the form there is no entry for size and grade …
– Yes, but for the unit of measure it says kilograms, observed Mrs. Teodorescu.
– We weigh it at the end.
– In fact, we will extract the spinal cord and marrow through the same method, said the Doctor. Pumping. He inserted and screwed in a tube as those used for compressed air, which had a big blue valve attached. That tube continued with a thicker, semitransparent hose, which led to a jar (also large), to which it was attached by Nurse Number One. The Nurse Number Three connected the jar to a vacuum pump.
– Ready, said the Doctor. Start the pump.
The pump was rattling loudly. Through the transparent tube one could see first as thin threads, and then in big gobs the brain and spinal marrow of Mr. Teodorescu.
– We have to exchange this pump, yelled the Doctor. Make a request and take it to the procurement division.
The pump noise went up one octave, which was a sign that the pumping was approaching the end. The Doctor flipped the button with his foot and silence was reestablished in the operating room.
– Mrs. Teodorescu, said the Doctor, to be more efficient, and since you are already prepared, it would be good if you would go home and bring us the personal effects and the items of the deceased. Maybe in two-three hours we can finish him off completely.
– We have to do another procedure which can take a bit longer, continued the Doctor. We have to collect the skin and the bone marrow. By the time we are done, you will be back. You can take a taxi, the cost is covered.
Mrs. Teodorescu left. She took off the white coat, put on her old Chanel jacket, and walked out in that pungent smell. She was already missing, not her husband, but the operating room, with its filtered air, pure and clean.
She reached the building where she lived, stepped into the elevator, pressed the button for the 7th floor, got off on the 6th floor and climbed the stairs to the next floor. In the apartment everything was gleaming clean. After she had taken her husband to the hospital she had cleaned the entire apartment and put everything in order, even better than at the Central Accounting Office of the Health Insurance. Mr. Teodorescu’s clothes were wrapped in small bags, which she could easily carry. She took a few trips downstairs, where the taxi was waiting, carrying with small steps the bags and then the cardboard boxes where she had crammed (without trying to order them) the papers on the desk, from under the desk and from around the desk of Mr. Teodorescu.
As the trunk of the taxi was full, she had to put some of the boxes on the back seat.
– Let’s hurry, lady, move it, yawned the bored taxi driver, and he picked his teeth, after which he blew his nose loudly out of the window. He was listening to Manele music on the car stereo.
– I am almost ready, she sighed. Just a little more and it will be all over with. We go back to the hospital, she said after she collapsed on the front right seat.
– You have a dead? asked the taxi driver with interest, after realizing that a little politeness may not be out of order.
– My husband.
– God rest him.
Mrs. Teodorescu was horrified hearing these words, but she remembered that she was living in a free country and the right to religious beliefs was guaranteed by the Constitution, although officially discouraged by the Presidency and mass media. But then she thought that the taxi driver did not say the words with too much conviction. He was probably angling for a tip. With this view in mind, he engaged her into a discussion about how bad is this organic gasoline which “these” are selling at the pump, and how he “puts” only the other one, “the good one”. He thought that he saw a gleam of approval in Mrs. Teodorescu’s eye on his side (the glass one). But she did not reply in any way.
He did not get any tip. Moreover, Mrs. Teodorescu asked for a receipt. The taxi driver did not bother to get out and ostensibly turned the music louder at maximum level. Mrs. Teodorescu unloaded alone the 5 bags and 6 boxes and left them at the curb while she walked up to the postoperating room.
In her absence two more jars materialized in the postoperating room, marked “bone marrow”, and the skin was rolled up carefully and placed over the sink to dry. All that remained from Mr.Teodorescu was a pile of cut bones and bleeding flesh, without a form, piled up in a tub on a small cart.
– Sign here.
– What will happen with the rest? She asked.
The Doctor straightened up. He was visibly tired. He took off his mask and gloves.
– This is not within my responsibility. But you should know that we have in our hospital German technology on the cutting edge. It would be instructive – if you have the time – to see what will happen next. You can go with this young lady.
The young lady was the Nurse Number Two, who gained somewhat Mrs. Teodorescu’s sympathy because of the thick file she was filling out. She started pushing the cart, and Mrs. Teodorescu followed her docile. She was talking to her over the shoulder.
– The installation arrived two years ago, but they turned it on only last month. The tissues are subjected to high voltage discharges, in ultrashort pulses, which break up the cell membranes. The result is a total dehydration, and we extract all the fluid, together with salts, oils and minerals from these cells. The end product is a kind of oil, which after distilling, becomes prime material for the oil industry.
– Yes, this is one example. Or engine oil. Or detergents.
They walked past several metal doors marked with the sign Danger of Death written in Romanian and German.
– Help me, asked Nurse Number Two.
Both of them strained to push the contents of the plastic tub into a metallic trough, then the Nurse grabbed a sort of paddle and pushed the flesh and bones towards the entrance to the device.
– Look here.
The remains of Mr. Teodorescu were now in a transparent cylinder of thick glass. Everything was connected by thick cables to the high voltage installation whose buzzing could be felt from a distance.
– You can press the button, if you want.
The button was big and of course red.
– Not much will happen.
Mrs. Teodorescu did not expect that much would happen anyway. Her experience as an accountant taught her many times that the technological wonders hyped by doctors and engineers were usually big disappointments. She pressed the button.
A discharge started to take place in the glass cylinder, which opacified the glass walls almost completely. Mrs. Teodorescu could not tell what the body was transformed into or what was left of it. Then she saw a big piston, which compressed all that could still exist in that cylinder, after which through a hose she saw a few liters of a yellowish fluid flow out.
– It is good this way. Everything is recovered, she thought out loud. She chased away a stray thought about that penetrating smell the car exhaust fumes in Bucharest started to have over the last few months.
– Let’s go back now. Next we should deal with the personal effects.
The bags and boxes brought by Mrs. Teodorescu were carried into the post-operatoring room. The Doctor opened one of the bags with clothes and inspected the contents together with the Nurse Number Three. He had put on again latex gloves.
– You are positive that they are well sorted, Mrs. Teodorescu?
– Yes. We had another dead in our apartment building, just last month. I saw how it was done.
– Well, then, said the Doctor. Fabrics – with fabrics. Shoes – which shoes. Leather? he asked. Perfect, he continued after Mrs. Teodorescu’s affirmative answer. Everything is being recovered. German technology. This will contribute significantly to this week’s self-financing. Such an organized death we do not see every day. You know, one can tell that you were an accountant, Mrs. Teodorescu.
– What do we do with these papers? asked Nurse Number Two pointing at the cardboard boxes. She started to have a certain respect for papers.
– You can take them to the recycling center. The Doctor turned towards Mrs. Teodorescu.
– We have the recycling center with the highest conversion efficiency in the sector. Swiss technology.
Nurse Number Two came closer to the Doctor, whispered something, then she turned towards Mrs. Teodorescu.
– I weighed the papers. 32 kilograms. Sign here.
Nurse Number One entered, carrying under her arm a sort of cardboard disk.
– Mrs. Teodorescu, do you want to take home … what is left of him? …
She offered her the disk-like object. It was a sort of compressed cardboard, soft at touch, but with a hard consistency, dark brown with shades of scarlet.
– This is what remains after the process of electrical discharge, dehydration, and compression. I just took it out. It is still a bit warm, you see?
– If you don’t need it, I will take it, said Mrs. Teodorescu. Can you do something with it here?
– Not here, said the Doctor. But it can be used as construction material. From such panels are made for example pedestals for statues. They are sufficiently elastic and earthquake resistant.
– If you don’t take it, said Nurse Number Two, we will donate it to the City Hall. They are just building a statue of Caragiale on Eminescu Street.
– Send it to the City Hall, said indifferently Mrs. Teodorescu.
– Sign here. Now we can go with the papers to the recycling station.
Mrs. Teodorescu took two boxes and the Nurse Number Two the other three boxes. They staggered under their weight and let them slam down on a cart.
– The recycling station does not run continuously, but only when we have a delivery of prime material. They put the papers into the shredder, and then Nurse Number Two closed the door, made of thermo-resistant glass.
– That was it, she said. Start the shredder, then the mill. Press here and then here.
Mrs. Teodorescu pressed, and the shredder started to work. The papers were turned quickly into thin strips, which were then transformed into a soft paste – and Mrs. Teodorescu thought that these inventors and engineers sometimes do also something useful. Look how they recovered everything they could recover from him. ”It is good that he was useful for something after all.”
The gray paste was twirling faster and faster, absorbing the last remaining shreds of paper. Mrs. Teodorescu saw one last piece of paper fluttering, almost clinging to the glass door, trembling as if it wanted to escape. She could still barely distinguish on it “The Death of Mr. Teodor”,
Cristian-Mihail Teodorescu was born in Bucharest in 1966. He graduated in 1990 at the University of Bucharest, Department of Physics. In 1990 he earned a PhD in Chemical Physics at the University of Paris Sud, Orsay. Several research positions in France, Germany, and UK. He is currently Research Scientist 1 (eq. of a full Professor) in the National Institute of Materials Physics, Bucharest-Magurele. About 100 scientific papers published, about 700 citations, Hirsch index 16. He started writing science fiction short stories in the early 1980’s, achieved several publications before 1990 and earned the National Prize for Short Story in 1987. He published two short stories collections SF one in 2008 and SF two in 2010, while SF three is currently compiled. Several unpublished novels. Two major Romanian prizes earned in 2010 and 2011. Apart from thar he is President of the Romanian Science Fiction and Fantasy Society, the main non-profit organization centred on science fiction culture in Romania.