“How are you doing?” the doctor asked.
“Not bad for a dying man,” I said.
“This is the strangest thing I’ve ever seen,” said the nurse.
I nodded. “Never seen this before?”
The doctor and nurse looked at each other and didn’t say a word. Neither of them looked at me.
I could decode an answer through their silence.
I looked down. My gown was off, the blankets were lowered, and I stared at my cleanly shaved chest. The mechanism was there: an antique watch, ticking. Folds of skin surrounded it as the second hand twirled round and round, tick-tick-tick. The minute hand moved, and I felt it to my core.
“Instead of a twelve, there’s a zero. I know what that means.”
“How can you be so sure?” the doctor asked. He did not look at me. He looked down at a tablet computer. His finger worked, taking notes. This was going to be a great case for him, the kind of thing that can make a doctor famous. Perhaps he could even give my condition, my illness, his name. He’d live on forever in medical text books and journals, thanks in no small part to my own novelty.
“I can be sure, because I know.”
“There’s a lot to be said for faith,” said the nurse. Her eyes were glassy with tears. She smiled but did not look happy. Her smile was genuine but it was just an empty gesture of kindness, a symbol of compassion. It still meant something to me.
“I feel it. I see it when I look in the mirror. I had a full head of hair this morning.” I patted a large and growing island of bare skin at the top of my skin. “These eyes had no wrinkles. How old do I look? Fifty? Sixty? Hell, I’m just barely thirty.”
“The aging is odd,” said the doctor.
“Is there anything about this that isn’t odd?” I placed my hand on the antique stop watch covering my heart. “Can’t you just get rid of the damn thing?”
The doctor shook his head. He walked over to the wall and turned on a light. “Look at your x-rays, son. See the watchband? It’s completely connected, tied completely in knots all around your aorta. See? If we remove the watch, you die. Simple as that. We‘ve got some great surgeons here, but no one‘s ever seen anything like this. There‘s no procedure. Hell, I bet your case manager‘s having a hell of a time with this one. You might want to contact your insurer to see if embedded watches are a covered diagnosis for hospital stays.”
I fingered the folds of skin surrounding the watch. I felt my ribs beneath it. They were curved around the metal frame. “But I can’t go home. I’m dying.”
“Maybe,” said the doctor. He looked down at his tablet. “I’m still researching. I’ve got some folks down at the medical library now. We will leave no stone unturned. We’re doing everything we can.”
“Which, in the end, is nothing.” I put my head back against my pillow and turned my head to the window. I watched a pair of pigeons fly by. The second hand continued to prance across the face of the watch, tick-tick-tick.
I felt a warm hand take mine. I looked over and saw the nurse was still smiling at me.
Maybe there was nothing they could do, nothing that anyone could do, but, in the end, that human touch was just enough.
“Thank you,” I said to the nurse, returning her smile.