Monday, September 28, 2009

85. Astatine


Bad Brains

"I'm feeling awfully nervous, doctor."

"Well, that's perfectly understandable. A brand-new medical procedure like this can be daunting. But you mustn't get hung up on the fact that it's quote-experimental-unquote. The operation itself is so simple and painless that we're performing it without anesthesia. You don't feel any discomfort, do you?"

"No, but still. Filling my brain with radioactive chemicals! Ugh."

"It's not as drastic as it sounds. Astatine-211 is an alpha-emitter. That means its radiation could be stopped by a sheet of paper. We link the astatine isotope to carrier molecules that seek out the disseminated microscopic cancers in your brain. Because it's both intense and local, the radiation burns away the cancer without causing significant damage to nearby healthy tissues."

"If you say so, Doc."

"Here. Look at this screen. That's your brain."

"Wow. Spooky. How do you do that?"

"Medical imaging. The radioimmunoconjugate is mildly magnetic, so it's easy to track. You see those small, bright spots?"

"Like little stars, yeah."

"That's the astatine-211 at work. Each of those spots is a small metastasis that's being burned away, even as we speak."

"How do I get those radioimmunowhatevers out of my head when the job is done?"

"That's not necessary. Astatine-211 has a half-life of 8.3 hours. So it damps down fast. It'll be essentially inert by morning."

"Huh. Funny thing."

"What's that?"

"I just got the urge to go back to church again."

"Having a serious medical condition can do that."

"I haven't been there in years, and now … Hey! I've got to file an amended tax return."

"I beg your pardon?"

"I cut a few corners last April. Wow, but I'm feeling awfully clear-headed. I think maybe I'll go back to college, pick up a few advanced degrees."

"Let me take your pulse."

"There's nothing wrong with me physiologically, Doc. Or mentally, for that matter. Say, look—if I tweak the settings on your device, we can see which of the cancers have been neutralized. There goes another one!"

"You really shouldn't touch the equipment. You're not qualified to—"

"I understand it now! The radioimmunoconjugates are burning away all my microtumors, including those with subclinical effects. It's the organic equivalent of defragging a computer. That's why everything's so lucid. I'm not subject to intellectual or moral error now. In fact, I think it's time I left. "

"Wait. Where are you—?"

"I'm going home to give away all my possessions to the poor. Then … I don't know yet. Maybe I'll volunteer in an AIDS hospice. Or maybe I'll write poetry. There's a lot more good to be done in this world than I can possibly do in my lifetime. But I can make a start."

"I don't understand."

"That's quite a technique you've got there, Doc. I hope you spread it as far as you can."

"Wait! Don't!— Damn."

"Excuse me, doctor. Are you available now?"


"The venture capitalist who was interested in your new procedure? His flight came in early, and he's here now."

"Send him away. I don't think there's any market for it."

© 2003 by Michael Swanwick and SCIFI.COM.

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