Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: SMEAR (03/10/16)
TITLE: Full Circle
By Holly Westefeld
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This particular morning, there is yet another doctor yammering about some supposed benefit of a pacemaker for my diaphragm. Were I but a year older, I could tell them to take all the machines away and set me free, but my parents are grasping at every straw, and sign the form, over my objections.
Apparently it worked, because I hear no ventilator when consciousness returns. But who cares if that will make it easier to put my useless, diapered shell in a wheelchair? What is the point of being home, where they will still need a nurse to care for me? Vicki and Vanessa certainly won't be bringing their friends around to flirt with me anymore...
After a few weeks for all the swelling in my face and neck to go down, the doctors determine that the damage to my vocal cords and eyelid muscles is irreversible. Betraying tears streak down my cheeks, as I can't even try to blink them away. Mom wipes at them, but only succeeds at smearing them. My last hope had been that I could talk, even use voice activated apps, but now I won't even be able to use eye blinks to control electronics. Anyone who even cares enough to communicate with me will need to read lips, or play twenty questions with eye movement, left for "no," right for "yes."
What are they doing now? The electrodes on my scalp don't seem to be connected to the usual EEG equipment.
"Will, we want you to look at the keyboard and think about a specific message you would like to type, one letter at a time."
"Please, Will, just try," Mom wheedles.
To my amazement, a few letters appear on the screen, not my whole message, but several of the letters. I focus more intently. "Iit wworkks!" I even got the exclamation point to appear!
"Excellent!" The doctor looks at my parents, who nod. "Will, we would like you to participate in a medical trial. It is completely your decision, because without your active participation, there is no point."
He explains how wireless electrodes implanted strategically in my brain could improve my speed and accuracy with the computer, and how monkeys have even been able to maneuver robotic arms and wheelchairs. It is the first glimmer of hope that I might be able to do something other than wish I had died. "Yess!!"
Waiting to try my wireless controls until after recovery from the surgery is awful, but finally they are activated, and the typing is much faster and more accurate. I progress to moving the mouse, even trying some graphic design work, which is fine, since I can just delete mistakes.
Next, I am introduced to the robotic arm. It is much trickier than the computer, but I persevere through the tedious exercises the research team insists on, then ask for crayons and paper. My first attempt at a line produces a pathetic squiggle. But I persist.
Then I ask for watercolors. My first stroke resembles my first crayon squiggle, and before I realize what I'm doing, the brush flies across the room, leaving a blue smear down the wall.
After much hard work, exceeding the expectations of the team, I make the case to the psychologist to arrange a trip to the overlook at the park, with the robotic arm, easel, canvas, and paint in tow. It is no easy feat getting my wheelchair up the steep path, (probably not in the researchers' job descriptions), but finally I sit, perusing the exquisite beauty I had been trying to get the best angle on when the guardrail gave way. I pick up the brush, dip it in the radiant gold paint, and painstakingly apply a circle to the upper right corner of the canvas. It couldn't have been any better if I had used a compass!
I realize upon waking the next morning, that for the first time since the accident, there had been no nightmare of falling.
Author's note: Science fiction continues becoming science fact.
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