"Releasing the Parts from False Position"
[Wednesday, September 16, 2015]
It was raining, and Shiv was thinking
about how much he didn't want
to go out in it because it made
his bones ache, when Lorry arrived
and gave him a good excuse not to.
"We really, really need some tools
for a situation that could turn urgent
at any time," Lorry said. "Will you come?"
"I'll have to ask Boss White," said Shiv.
"Already cleared," Lorry said. "You don't
need to bring anything, just grab hold."
Shiv grabbed hold. "Okay, let's go."
When they landed, his ears popped.
Shiv shook his head and looked around.
They were in Dr. Infanta's lair, the one
Shiv recognized from visiting it before.
Someone had already set up a workbench
with a row of tools -- half of which Shiv
didn't know what they did and didn't want
to know -- a box of scalpel blades, and
barstock of surgical stainless steel.
"So here's the deal," said Dr. Infanta.
"You make these sharp, permanently
if you can manage that, and I'll do or
give whatever you want in return."
Shiv blinked, his brain skidding
sideways. He had no freaking clue
what to do with a blank check from
the most powerful person in the world.
"Uh ... huh," he said, and turned
his attention to something that he
actually understood, sharp stuff.
The tools were all top-quality steel,
and even if he couldn't tell what they
were actually for, he had no trouble
figuring out which was the business end
and where to apply his superpowers.
When his stomach growled, Nanette
was right there with a plate that held
a huge hunk of honeycomb melting
over slices of thick brown bread
that tasted of walnuts and banana.
Shiv scarfed it up and licked
his fingers, then turned
back to the workbench.
"How many of these do
you need?" he asked,
shaking the scalpel box.
It was nowhere near full.
"A dozen if you can, but don't
wear yourself out on those,"
said Dr. Infanta. "I have
a custom request too."
"No problem, if you want
disposables," Shiv said.
She nodded, so he went
to work on the scalpels,
honing each blade with
his superpower and then
setting them in gel trays.
When Shiv finished that,
Dr. Infanta showed him
her smartphone and said,
"This is what we need, I think."
Three pictures showed him
slightly different versions
of the same surgical tool,
but the edges were soft,
the idea partly formed.
Shiv's finger hovered
above the screen without
actually touching the image.
"Do you think better than
you draw?" he said. "These
are decent, and yeah, I can make
the shapes I see, but I don't know
how close they are to what you want.
Can you just show me in your head?"
Her eyebrows went up. "Most folks
don't like telepaths that much."
"I ain't most folks," Shiv said.
"I like telepaths, and I like
doing a job right the first time."
"Nanette? Can you show and filter
at the same time?" Dr. Infanta said.
"I don't want to ... spill on him."
"I can," Nanette said, and
offered Shiv her hand.
He took it at once. Shiv
liked the sharp, waspish
flavor of Nanette's mind.
Dr. Infanta's mind was like
tracing paper, layer after layer
that made it hard to sort out
which lines went where.
Then Nanette did something
like a light over Shiv's shoulder
that made the top layer clearer
while everything else faded away.
Shiv got a good feel of what
Dr. Infanta wanted made, and
a dimmer sense of its context.
"Got it," he said, and Nanette
let go him, the images fading
to let him see the room again.
The barstock felt cool and smooth
in his hands as Shiv shaped it.
Lines became curves and edges,
the graceful sweep of handles
and sturdy jaws, the hinge
as strong as he could make it.
"Done," Shiv said, letting himself
lean over the table. "Whoof. Yeah.
That's all I'm good for today."
His left arm ached, worse
at the bump of the old break.
He must have been overusing it.
Grimacing, Shiv rubbed a hand over
the spot, trying to soothe the pain.
He was suddenly fed up with it.
"What's wrong?" Dr. Infanta said.
"Ah, it's nothing," Shiv said. "Just
my arm aches when it rains,
or I do too much with it."
Then a lightbulb went on
in his head, and he had
an idea for what to ask.
"Hey, can you fix this?"
Shiv said, waving his arm.
"Let me see." Dr. Infanta
held out her tiny hand.
Shiv settled his forearm in
her grasp, trying not to twitch.
He had a lot of memories
tied up there, all bad.
"Sure, no problem," she said.
"This isn't even that big of a favor
for me, you can ask for more."
"This'll do for now," Shiv said,
not wanting the extra fuss.
"Okay, whatever you want,"
said Dr. Infanta. "You've got
a decision to make, though."
Shiv narrowed his eyes.
"What kind of decision?"
"Fast or slow," Dr. Infanta said.
"I can sever the bone, put the ends
where they should be, and heal it --
or I can 'walk' them back together
a little bit at a time instead."
"What's the difference?"
Shiv said. "I ain't a doctor."
"Fast I can do today, but it would
hurt a lot for the next few days, and
give you twinges for weeks," she said.
"Slow would take months, without
the same intensity, but a lot more
aches like a really bad growth spurt."
"How much pain are you talking about
for the fast version?" Shiv said warily.
"Less than when you broke it the first time,
more than what it does on a rainy day,"
Dr. Infanta said. "Probably less total."
"Okay, do it fast," Shiv said. "I'm
a rip-it-quick kinda guy on bandaids."
Dr. Infanta giggled. "Me too, not that I
really need them. Can you take off a day
or two? You'll feel like crap tomorrow."
"Yeah, if I have to," Shiv said. "Boss
won't want me working if I'm wrecked.
If gets awful, I can always call Heron."
"About that," Dr. Infanta said, raising
a warning hand. "Don't try to numb
all of the pain, either with pills or
with superpowers. Your body needs
to learn what your arm is supposed
to feel like, so if you turn it off, that
can throw off the recovery process."
"Fuck," Shiv said. "Well, I got through
the first break with no pain relief,
I can get through this too."
"It's okay to take the edge off,
just don't go too far," she said.
"Yeah, Heron says that too,"
Shiv agreed. "If I can't feel
how hurt I am, then I forget it
and overdo things and just feel
worse. Plus I'm a light touch and
most painkillers knock me out."
Dr. Infanta gave him a look
with her old, strange eyes.
"Heron Finn is a very wise man
and you should listen to him."
"Tell him that, I bet he won't
believe you," Shiv snorted.
"He knows I never listen."
"At least listen to me
long enough to make
Dr. Infanta said. "You'll
be out for about an hour."
They let him borrow the bed
that Shiv had used the time
Dr. Infanta fixed his brain.
It was soft and warm,
and her little fingers
were gentle on his arm ...
... and then he was waking up
with a headache and an arm
that felt like he'd just rebroken it.
"Ohh, fuck," Shiv groaned,
trying and failing to sit up.
The room swam around him.
"You're awake," said Dr. Infanta,
pushing him gently back down.
"I was starting to wonder if I was
going to have to wake you up."
"H'long?" Shiv mumbled.
"Two hours," said Dr. Infanta.
"Nanette thinks it's because
we did it right after you were
making the sharp things."
"Prob'ly," Shiv said.
"M'still a light touch."
"Don't worry, I'll figure out
the estimates for you eventually,"
Dr. Infanta said, patting his hand.
It felt like being whacked with a mallet.
"Ow," Shiv complained, pulling away.
"On a scale of 'freshly broken' to --"
"Freshly broken," Shiv interrupted.
"Thought you said it wasn't
s'posed to be this bad."
"It won't be after a bit of
fine tuning," Dr. Infanta said.
She touched his shoulder first,
and then his elbow, and most of
the pain rolled up and went away
like she was winding it onto a spool.
"Better?" Dr. Infanta asked him.
"Arm's better," Shiv said.
"Why's my head hurt?"
"It's rewriting a lot of stuff,"
Dr. Infanta explained.
Shiv muttered, squirming.
Her eyebrows went up.
"Lie down with dogs,
get up with fleas," he said.
Shiv had spent so much time
around the Finns, he was
starting to talk in geek.
"Here, let me see if I can
fix the headache," she said.
Tiny fingers ruffled the hair
at the base of his skull,
combing the ache out
of his brain for him.
"Oh yeah, that's better,"
Shiv said, sighing in relief.
"Good," said Dr. Infanta.
"Remember that tomorrow is
going to suck. If it's more than
you can handle, you call me or
call Heron, whichever you prefer."
"Uh huh," Shiv said, though
he didn't really mean that.
He could handle the pain.
"You'll be better than new
in a few weeks," Dr. Infanta said.
"The repair of an offset bone is about
releasing the parts from false position; they
fly into place by the action of the muscles.
On this art of nature all our arts rely."
Shiv really wanted to believe that.
* * *
Due to current internet issues, I'm just posting the notes I already had, not filling in more like usual. Sorry for the truncated service.
"How often we must remember the art of the surgeon, which, in replacing the broken bone, contents itself with releasing the parts from false position; they fly into place by the action of the muscles. On this art of nature all our arts rely."
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson
There are many ways to eat honeycomb, such as putting a comb on top of banana nut bread.
The sensorimotor functions of the brain create a self-image of the body based on the distribution of its neurons, called a cortical homunculus. This creates some challenges in high-speed healing, and they tend to get worse the older the injury is. Because the homunculus incorporates permanent damage into its self-image, healing creates a dissonance between that and the now-healthy body part. That can cause everything from pain to weird nerve impulses like tingling or itching, similar to phantom limb syndrome. Add in the fact the the surrounding tissues also have to adapt to the change, and you can see why the aftereffects can linger for days or weeks. Even though you fixed the injury itself, and the area immediately around it, the rest of the body takes time to catch up. This is why it's a bad idea to turn off all the sensation: if the body doesn't get accurate feedback through the repaired area, the self-image in the brain either takes longer to adapt, makes wrong conclusions that cause problems later on, or both. So you can safely turn it down, but not off.