PETER WATTS IS AN ANGRY SENTIENT TUMOR preview: “The Least Unlucky Bastard”
In celebration for the release of the irreverent, self-depreciating, profane, and funny PETER WATTS IS AN ANGRY SENTIENT TUMOR, Tachyon presents glimpses from the essay collection.
The Least Unlucky Bastard
The Daily, May 22 2016
doctors say it lives on your skin, waiting for an opening. They say
once it gets inside, your fate comes down to a dice roll. It doesn’t
always turn your guts to slurry; sometimes you get off with a sore
throat, sometimes it doesn’t do anything at all. They might even
admit that it doesn’t always need an open wound. People have been
known to sicken and die from a bruise, from a bump against the door.
they won’t generally tell you is that you can get it by
following doctor’s orders. Which is how I ended up in ICU, staring
through a morphine haze into a face whose concerned expression must
have been at least 57% fear of litigation. I didn’t get
flesh-eating disease from a door or a zip-line. I got it from a
dual-punch biopsy—which is to say, from being stabbed with a pair
of needles the size of narwhal tusks. There was this lesion on my
leg, you see. They needed a closer look. And there was Mr. Strep,
waiting on my skin for new frontiers to conquer.
comes with disclaimers. You’re never sure in hindsight what
actually happened, what didn’t, what composite remnants your brain
might have stitched together for dramatic purposes. I remember waking
embedded in gelatin, in an OR lined with egg cartons; I’m pretty
sure that was a hallucination. I remember my brother’s voice on a
cell-phone between operations, mocking my position on Global Warming.
(That might sound like a hallucination too, but only if you didn’t
know my brother.) I’m pretty sure the ICU nurse was real, the one
who stood bedside as I lay dying and said “You’re an author? I’m
working on a book myself, you know; maybe if you happen to pull
least one memory is fact beyond doubt. My partner Caitlin confirmed
it; the surgeon repeated it; even now I turn it over daily in my head
like some kind of black-hearted anti-affirmation: “Two more hours
and you’d be dead.”
hours? I was in the waiting room longer than that.
was fourteen hours from Of course it hurts they just punched two
holes in your leg to shakes and vomiting and self-recrimination:
Come on, you’re a big tough field biologist. Back on Snake
Island you cut a sebaceous cyst out of your own scrotum with a rusty
razor blade and a bottle of rubbing alcohol. I remember drifting
away to the thought that this was just some nasty 24-hour thing, that
I was bound to feel better in the morning. Caitlin kept me awake; she
kept me alive. Together we improvised a sling out of old jeans so I
could hop to the cab without screaming.
hours as a succession of whitecoats said cellulitis and
nothing serious and Wait, was it oozing those black bubbles
an hour ago? I crashed somewhere in there: one moment chatting
bravely with friends and caregivers, the next staring into the light
while nurses slapped my face and strapped an Alien facehugger
across my mouth. I don’t know how many instants passed in the black
They strip-mined the rot from my leg just past midnight. They had to
go in twice. All told, it was forty hours from First Contact to
Death’s Door; forty-two and you wouldn’t be reading this. I spent
weeks with an Australia-sized crater in my calf, watched muscles
slide like meaty pistons every time we changed the dressings. To a
biologist and science-fiction writer, though, that was cool. I
blogged; I spelunked my leg with sporks and Q-tips, took pictures,
impressed nurses and inspired half of Reddit to lose its lunch.
Eventually they scraped a strip off my thigh with a cheese-grater,
stapled it across the hole, told me not to worry about the
rotten-fish smell wafting from the wound. I’ve got a huge
vagina-shaped scar on my leg but I still have that leg—and
just six months after some vicious microbe turned its insides into
chunky beef stew, I was back to running nine miles.
wasn’t lucky. None of we flesh-eaten are lucky. But next to
those who’ve lost arms and legs, lives and loved ones to this
ravenous monster—a scar is nothing. It’s a memento. It’s
free beers courtesy of the easily-impressed.
lucky. But I’ve got to be one of the least unlucky bastards
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Cover design by Elizabeth Story
Icon by John Coulthart