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if you were him you'd be home now

Max Barry wrote the novels Syrup, Jennifer Government, Company, Machine Man, and Lexicon. He also created the game NationStates and once found a sock full of pennies.

Blog

Thu 09
Apr
2009

Memory Bones

Max Finlay with artificial limb augmentationI don’t want to freak you out, but MY DAUGHTER’S STRUCTURAL INTEGRITY HAS BEEN BREACHED. Her bones have bent. One has cracked. She has broken her arm.

It happened at an indoor play center, one of those technicolor places with dizzying heights and terrifying drops, trampolines that launch children through the air like patriot missiles and treacherous plastic balls that sneak out of pits to slip beneath tiny sneakers. Naturally, Fin navigated these with contemptuous ease, then tripped over her own feet on a stretch of flat carpet. Exactly how you break an arm falling two and a half feet onto shag pile, I don’t know. But she wailed like… well, like she’d just broken her arm. When this didn’t abate, and I noticed her arm dangling at her side like a wet noodle, I began to suspect something was wrong. I sprang into action, demanding a refund from the play center. Well, it was five bucks. And we’d only just arrived. I don’t see why I should have to pay five bucks for eight minutes of fun, followed by a broken bone. They gave it to me, too, plus a voucher for a free coffee my next visit, in 4-6 weeks.

As soon as that was taken care of, I carried my screaming three-year-old daughter straight out of there. I didn’t have a car, so I bore her in my arms to the nearest hospital. I don’t want to claim I was a hero, but if anyone wants to make a movie of my life, that would be a really moving scene. I think there could be an operatic sound track at that point. That’s just a thought.

Fin stopped crying the second we stepped into the Emergency Room, which was a shame, because they decided she wasn’t urgent and told us to go to another hospital. I was tempted to pinch her, in the interests of securing prompt medical attention. But that might have been a difficult moment to explain in the movie. So off we went to the Royal Children’s Hospital, where they X-rayed her, pulled her bones straight, and encased her arm in plaster.

Let me tell you about this process. I’ll tell you the same way Dr. Elliot explained it to me, right before he began to inflict excruciating pain on my daughter: “We’ll give her some gas. It’s not for pain relief. What it does is block the formation of short-term memory, so when it’s over, she won’t remember what it was like.”

Now, I don’t want to criticize Dr. Elliot. He is a smarter, better-educated guy than me, and no doubt across the many excellent medical reasons why this is the optimum course of action for children. But if they suggested this idea to an adult patient, that person would PUNCH THE DOCTOR RIGHT IN THE MOUTH. Is this not the most horrible concept you have ever heard? “We won’t block your pain. We’ll just make you forget it afterward. It’s basically the same thing.” NO IT’S NOT. Option A: no pain. Option B: TONS OF PAIN. That’s the difference.

Fin sucked on that gas like she was drinking it. Dr. Elliot pulled her bones straight. “Daddy,” she cried out. “Daddy, I want you.” I squeezed her free hand and told her it was all right, and a few seconds later she had forgotten all about it. When they were finished, she smiled and said, “I like this hospital.”

I hope that creeps you out as much as it did me.

P.S. Sorry to everyone who was mailed an old blog the other day. The gnomes who live in the web server and hand-address all the emails got into the alcohol cupboard and—oh, it was a real mess. I have replaced them with goblins and everything should work fine now.

Comments

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Alexei Diaz-Paz (#1817)

Posted: 3817 days ago

Sorry to hear that. I wish she´ll get better soon.

Jack (#2443)

Location: Australia, Bendigo
Posted: 3817 days ago

Wow Max, that's a bit disturbing. Interesting approach though.. kids would associate hospitals with things other than pain but.. the idea of MiB mind blanking is very worrying.

Djoules (#1553)

Location: Paris, France
Quote: "yes... maybe."
Posted: 3817 days ago

That memory gaz is disturbing, i agree with you.

I had never heard about this kind of chemistry and thought it would forever stay only a sci-fi classic ; but knowing it happens to exist, with all that it implies as horrible usage bad people could do with...

Not only that but how can they be sure that it's the right thing to do ? Sometimes good intentions end in bad results ; if you remove memories from whoever had a nasty incident, they might act dangerously again. Or could keep some fears about something but be unable to know where this fear comes from...

Anyway, i wish Fin a fine and quick recovery :)

Machine Man subscriber Mapuche (#1184)

Location: Darwin, Australia
Quote: "Inconceivable!"
Posted: 3817 days ago

I once had surgery with two tablets - and neither was a pain killer - one was to put me to sleep and the other was a similar memory inhibitor. I don't think the second worked too well, since I remember waking up during the surgery. Fortunately the local anaesthetic was working OK - but is is a wierd concept. Here take two drugs, "Go To Sleep" and "Forget About It".

Hope she gets lots of nice pictures on her plaster, and becomes the envy of her friends!

Keith (#3904)

Location: Japan
Quote: "Don't you hate it when you write something, then find out someone already did it? It's like pre-emptive plagurism."
Posted: 3817 days ago

What kind of gas is this? I suddenly want to look it up.

Peter Weisberg (#1820)

Location: Redmond, WA
Quote: "Women are like domain names. All the good ones are taken, but you can still get one from some crazy foreign country."
Posted: 3817 days ago

That is a little creepy. Creepy and awesome. I wish this gas was commercially available. Does it have to be administered before the incident, or can it be used just after? I know there's a drug for people at risk for PTSD that temporarily impairs the part of the brain that associates memories with negative emotions. So you'll remember what just happened, but the memory won't make you feel the way the experience did at the time. "Oh, I got raped. That kind of sucks." I think it's still in the testing phase, though.

Machine Man subscriber Danni (#357)

Location: England
Quote: "Eagerly awaiting the European Tour."
Posted: 3817 days ago

That was slightly disturbing. I'm glad she doesn't remember it though. I hope she feels better soon, and gets to keep her cast when she has it removed (I'd have loved to have kept one of mine).

Machine Man subscriber Ian Manka (#3916)

Location: Los Angeles, California (school) | Akron, Ohio (home)
Quote: "Though I am not naturally honest, I am so sometimes by chance."
Posted: 3817 days ago

I have never heard of such a weird way to treat injuries. So did the gas make her forget the pain, or the association between pain and the hospital, so that she won't be scared in the future if she has to go to a hospital? It's such a wacky procedure.

[VIRTUAL CAST BEGINS HERE]

Hey Fin! You don't know me, but it doesn't mean I can't wish you a fast recovery!

[END VIRTUAL CAST]

...that was really creepy. Quick, where's the memory gas stuff?!? Dr. Elliot, explain the procedure.

"What it does is block the formation of short-term memory, so when it’s over, she won’t remember what you look like."

"Thanks, Doctor. What the hell--"

"What this does is block the formation of short-term memory, so neither of you will remember what I look like."

"Who are you again?"

shabooty (#637)

Location: D.C./V.A/M.D.
Quote: "I will shake your foundation. I will shake the f**cking rafters. Nobody'll be the same -Danny Bonaduce ....& go visit my blog @: http://www.shabooty.com"
Posted: 3817 days ago

Do they have Chuckie Cheese in Aus?

That was my spot as a kid =p

Mats (#1057)

Location: Turku, Finland, Europe, Earth
Quote: ""The optimist thinks this is the best of all possible worlds, and the pessimist knows it." James Branch Cabell via Robert Oppenheimer"
Posted: 3817 days ago

[VIRTUAL CAST BEGINS HERE]

HEy FiN!! Grrr8 cAsT!
Ps. yur dAd's Aww-soME.

[END VIRTUAL CAST]

Karan (#1376)

Location: Sydney, Australia
Quote: "Quid Quid Latine Dictum Sit, Altum Viditur - Anything said in Latin sounds important"
Posted: 3817 days ago

o_O they have a gas that makes you stop creating memories? and it's legal to use on 3 year olds? "disturbing" doesn't even begin to describe... though I'm with Keith - what is it and where can I ge- err, find out more.

best wishes to Fin!

Machine Man subscriber Guy Wright (#2861)

Location: Toronto, Canada, eh
Quote: "push the button max! (Jack Lemmon as Prof. Fate)"
Posted: 3817 days ago

Maybe you should demand the gas as well Max.
My older son was at the local Fracture Clinic so many times I would joke with my wife that we should ask for frequent flyer miles. He was (is) such a big kid (always in the 90th percentile on the size charts so the family doctor told us)that I think his frame was always playing catch-up. The most ironic visit to the clinic though had to be the time he was injured in Gym class in high school doing one of those "trust exercises". You know, you fall backward and someone (usually you happen to be paired up with your worst enemy) catches you. In this case, the teacher had set up stands with cross beams attached (rather like a limbo stand) and a couple of kids on either side pass a member of the group over the cross beam to be "caught" by the other kids. My son ended up getting dropped and breaking his wrist. Laughably, he was the second student to break something doing this exercise that day. I don't recall getting a refund on the education portion of my municipal tax bill though - so you're one up on me there pal.
I never asked my son if this likewise shattered his ability to trust his fellow students, but now that I think about it, it was soon after this that he started skipping school. I learned later that as I was driving off after dropping him off at the front door of the school, he was going out the back door, later deleting the school admin's message off the home phone. Kids, eh! Jeez, I really missed the litigation boat on that one.

JacksSmirkingRevenge (#1324)

Location: That place where Billy Elliot was comitted, England
Quote: "What can the harvest hope for if not for the care of the reaper man?"
Posted: 3817 days ago

The truly terrifying thing you have to consider is that this treatment is in fact extremely common, and you have undergone it several times. YOU JUST DON'T REMEMBER IT!

Matt (#1683)

Location: Canada
Quote: "Quote?"
Posted: 3817 days ago

Hmm, maybe that's where that unexplained scar came from after I was fired from my job at Walmart... haha

Machine Man subscriber Shola Gordon (#3902)

Location: London, United Kingdom
Quote: "We are all history's middle children."
Posted: 3817 days ago

I love they way her cast has been sign'd "Mommy" and "Daddy". :D

Machine Man subscriber Jeff (#787)

Location: Cleveland, OH
Quote: "Give a man a match and he'll stay warm for the rest of the day; Set a man on fire and he'll stay warm for the rest of his life."
Posted: 3817 days ago

My heart goes out to you! I would be so torn up inside if my daughter broke a bone. As a Daddy, all you want to do is take her pain away! Now my son . . . I could see myself saying, "Just walk it off." Isn't that terrible!

Amber (#3671)

Location: Oregon, U.S.A
Posted: 3817 days ago

That has to be the freakiest thing I have ever heard! THANK YOU MAX! Not the broken bone, but the gas to erase short term memory. I think you may be making this up, have you been reading a bit of Orwell lately?

I do not like the sound of this gas one little bit... though, on second thought... I wonder how difficult it wouldbe to get a hold of, it might be useful thing to have on hand. Think of the possibilities... nevermind.

On second thought, are you sure it wasn't just a bit of reffer?

I don't mean to sound uncompassionate to Fin and her structual integrity, (and she is so cute! by the way)by saying the broken arm is not scary, I just have four of my own, the oldest three being boy's, plus a plethora of neices and nephews... and if I made short a list of possible injuries you should be wary of/look forward to (mutiple fractures, full body poison ivy rash, sprains, chipped teeth, lost wrestling macthes with blackberry brambles, lacerations requiring sutures, road burn that covers half the body, deep tissue bruising, riped off toenails, bug bites,... etc.) you would likely put her in a plastic bubble wraped with bubble wrap and padded with your own hair that you pulled out as you read the list.

And... speaking of your own hair, I'm glad to hear about the gnomes and the alcohol and the giddy e-mailing, I was worried when I recieved the old mustache blog, I thought you were yelling at me for not commenting on it or something, I had to go sit and contemplate my actions quietly for a while, so it is good to know that is all cleared up now, and I hear that goblins take their work much more seriously. Good replacement choice.

the-tine (#472)

Location: Pennsylvania, USA
Quote: "Coming soon to a planet near you."
Posted: 3817 days ago

Don't worry. I'm sure Charlie can get her a new arm...

Get well, Fin!

Valadur (#3780)

Posted: 3816 days ago

I had an incident where I dislocated my shoulder and the doctor asked my mother if she would like to step out of the room because some parents can't handle their childrens pain. She declined and asked how I would be. Apparently I wouldn't feel more than a pinch.

IF THAT DOCTOR EVER PINCHES ME AGAIN I WILL PINCH MY FOOT UP... FOLLOWED BY A PINCH TO HIS NOSE!!!!!

No I did not get the "you forget everything gas" or the "you won't feel this gas". I got the "doesn't this feel like a root canal while getting kicked in the nuts and then someone ripping out your kidneys?"

Doctors are completely out of touch. They should have to try it on themselves first so they can accurately describe and PRESCRIBE for the event at hand.

Machine Man subscriber David (#1456)

Location: Sydney, Australia
Quote: "Why are the pretty ones always insane?"
Posted: 3816 days ago

Oh I hope poor Fin gets better quickly and still has a nice straight arm afterwards. Can't believe you spent time worrying about a five buck refund while your darling little one was crying in pain after breaking her arm due to no fault of the play centre though. I think that might present problems in the movie of your life too actually...

That ST memory inhibitor gas is fascinating all right, I had no idea anything like that was in general use. Lots of reports of experiments on such things, but that they're actually using it in a hospital in Melbourne, that's a surprise. Oh, of course, you live in *Melbourne* - there's just so much pain there that needs to be erased, of course they'd be using experimental drugs on the children and adults who are unlucky enough to live there (pssst, Max, it's in the beer ;-) )

Abgrund (#3357)

Location: Atlantis
Quote: ""Redeem your mind from the hockshops of authority." - Ayn Rand"
Posted: 3816 days ago

It's really no different than regular anesthesia, which also interrupts the formation of short term memory. Well, except that you still feel the pain. It's a strange experience; with no memory formation, you're lying there on the table with the anesthesia nurse asking if you can feel this or that, you blink, and you're waking up even though you never went to sleep.

I would guess the reason they prefer the forget-me gas is safety. Anesthesia is dangerous, partial anesthesia (which is what that is) rather less so. I'm not sure what purpose it serves, though, other than to avoid making us stronger (as pain is supposed to do).

The possibility of such methods being used by police or lawyers bother me a lot more than hospitals using them, though.

Mavenu (#1903)

Location: Somewhere over the rainbow
Quote: "The South Pacific Rocks: z1.invisionfree.com/forums/thespacific"
Posted: 3816 days ago

were these the same gnomes that were running the dating service?

Jennifer M. Dambeck (#3061)

Location: NJ, USA
Quote: "Rock on"
Posted: 3816 days ago

gosh, how SCARY!!!! Glad she got the attention she needed.

I've often thought that real life needs a soundtrack, then we'd know when the scary parts were coming.

Hugo Edwards (#3925)

Location: Philadelphia
Quote: ""Science!""
Posted: 3816 days ago

Are we one step closer to the dystopian future? >.>

Picto (#64)

Location: United Kingdom
Quote: "Who is more foolish, the child afraid of the dark or the man afraid of the light? - Maurice Freehill"
Posted: 3816 days ago

When I was 7 or 8 I broke my arm after I fell over backwards in snow whilst kicking a football down a hill. Consequently I put my hands down to break my fall and then broke my right wrist in two places. When we got to the hospital they fixed me up in a bed and all the usual junk, but just as they were starting to move me to Theatre they had an emergency come in so they had to put me back. There are many innovative methods of doing something in a hospital but what the doctor did next I wasn't expecting... He simply gave me this photo book to look at about elephants in theatre and proceded to use the back of his knuckles to knock on the back of my left hand until it went numb before putting a drip in my hand and then twisting my other arm back in place when my body had numbed. Interesting, none-the-less. Still, it was at Easter time so there were hardly any doctors around, but lots of free chocolate. Good times.

Abgrund (#3357)

Location: Atlantis
Quote: ""Redeem your mind from the hockshops of authority." - Ayn Rand"
Posted: 3816 days ago

The dystopian future is here! You've just forgotten about it.

Machine Man subscriber Adam (#24)

Location: Morristown, Indiana
Quote: "Why do I blog? Simple, because Max Barry blogs."
Posted: 3815 days ago

As I was reading this I kept hoping that the doctor would suggest building her a new arm, better than her original arm. Maybe a throw some sort of reactor and GPS in it.

Then I realized this was real life. I hope your daughter gets better soon. :)

-adam

Elisha (#1577)

Location: Ontario
Quote: "I am on the next page, the next book."
Posted: 3815 days ago

dear god.
that's terrifying.

Andrea (#2583)

Location: New York City
Quote: "I Hate My Job"
Posted: 3815 days ago

omigod
that's frightening!
why didn't they give her pain medication?
does that affect her long-term memory?
how is this even an option!!!?

Andrea (#2583)

Location: New York City
Quote: "I Hate My Job"
Posted: 3815 days ago

I really think though, this is a starting point for another novel, Max.

Michael Ricksand (#2212)

Location: Terra
Quote: "You do not have a right to be stupid."
Posted: 3814 days ago

That gas is like something out of an X-men comic book. And the other day, I read in the news about a girl with some kind of inherited learning disorder which could only come from the father. She's suing the sperm bank for giving her mother flawed sperm. Every day, the world seems to become more and more like a sci-fi novel.

I hope those goblins are the ones from Jim Henson's Labyrinth. I liked them, and I always hoped they had some way of getting by when they weren't getting any more movie jobs.

Machine Man subscriber Skippy (#3937)

Location: Melbourne
Posted: 3813 days ago

Well, of all the things Dr Elliot may be, I doubt he is an anaesthetist.

The usual practice for fracture reduction would be to give the patient oxygen, up to 30% Nitrous Oxide as an analgesic and possibly, but not necessarily, a very small percentage of a volatile anaesthetic agent such as desflurane or servoflurane. None of these will affect short term memory formation.

Propofol is an IV sedative commonly used in adult anaesthesia and it -does- cause retrograde amnesia, but it unlikely she was given this.

BTW, I'm not an anaesthetist either, but I did teach operating room nurses for twelve years.

Mark Tran (#3249)

Location: Canada
Quote: "If you lived here, You'd be home."
Posted: 3813 days ago

That is seriously messed up. It actually sounds like something you'd write about in one of your stories, except you didn't have to make it up. When I read this I was all, "HOLY DOG! THIS IS REAL?!?!?!?!" Like, for serious. That's messed up.

Simon (#3192)

Location: Melbourne
Quote: "I'd rather be arrogant than wrong"
Posted: 3812 days ago

I suppose you could have punched him in the mouth and then forced that gas tube down his throat so he wouldn't remember.

Celeste (#2590)

Location: St.L. MO, USA
Quote: "You can't child-proof the world, so world-proof the child."
Posted: 3810 days ago

I have actually had that drug- on two occasions.

Both times I remember more than the docs were comfortable with. The second time, they combined it with Demerol. I remember wanting to know something and forgetting. I remember being nauseous after the procedure, and not being able to eat the crackers they offered me because I have a gluten allergy (which they didnt quite believe) I remember being at home, curled up (was I on the floor?) and being miserable at my children. I dont remember if I actually ate anything that day at all (I had gone in that morning on a fasting stomach), or if my children had any dinner that night.

The Doctor had suggested that forgetting drug "to so I wouldnt be uncomfortable" -even though the Demerol would have taken care of the pain, and I could have known what they were doing and discussing while cutting into my flesh.

I was awake and fully cognizant during the births of both my children, with only a local for the bit where they had to cut me wider to make room for the ridiculously large heads of my babies (I'm small). Childbirth is, all around, plenty "uncomfortable". I was awake, with only a local at the age of 17, when I got a spinal tap. That wasnt fun. But at least I remember what happened.

There is plenty in life that makes you "uncomfortable". Give me discomfort any day. The Demerol works fine, and if it doesnt, I'll take pain and remembering what happened, over nausea, misery and the 'discomfort" of not remembering, any day.

By the way, In the States, the street name of that med is "date-rape drug"- It is plenty creepy on its own, without that knowledge.

Machine Man subscriber Julie (#3943)

Location: Charlotte, NC
Quote: ""Remember always that you not only have the right to be an individual, you have an obligation to be one." -- Eleanor Roosevelt"
Posted: 3809 days ago

That is truly an awful experience for both of you. Perhaps out of courtesy the doctor should have offered the gas to Dad, too.

I think they use something similar which is referred to as "twilight anesthesia" for things like colonscopies and angioplasties here in the U.S. However, those are procedures that are deemed uncomfortable rather than intensely painful, as is the setting of broken bones.

Personally, I have never cared much for the gas given during dental procedures. "Don't worry, this will relax you." Yeah, right!

I shudder to think about the possible applications of a memory wiping drug that could be so easily administered and so readily available.

Melvin Smiley (#3200)

Location: Germany
Quote: ""Life is nasty and it seemed pointless to say so!""
Posted: 3806 days ago

Oh the dentists in USA are using nice gas too help you. How delightful.

My dentist here in good old germany comes everytime with a huge, gigantic, terribly menacing shot (I really don't know how he manages to carry that "beast" to the dentists chair), drives it merciless in my mouth. After sometime my whole left or right side of the jaw goes numb, so that I'll eventually bite the inner side of my cheek and drool the rest of the day like an idiot.

I'd love some laughing gas (never have anything to laugh when I'm at the dentist). Of course everything is better than going sober. Did that as a child. I kicked, I screamed, I clawed, my mother had to hold me down and I hated this terrible torturer with his polished instruments. *shudder*

But when I remember today this terrible sessions, I don't have any memories about the pain. So maybe the memory gas is needlesly. My brain can erase such terrible things on its own.

Yenzo (#829)

Location: Secret underwater pyramid base in the Pacific
Quote: "In order to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe (Carl Sagan)"
Posted: 3803 days ago

Hey, nice to meet Melvin here ;-)

I've heard about this gas before - actually from a guy who got it explained to him before they used it on him. When he told them that it sounded like something James Bond might use on his enemies, the nurse said something like "You wouldn't believe what else we got here. Makes James Bond look like a sissy."

I don't think you learn how to be reassuring in med school. Anyway, that gas has some nice philosophical implications: If you don't remember that someone has caused you pain, did it really happen?

The bad thing is that we're just learning about how pain might cause changes in your neurons and in your brain so that it might propagate itself regardless of you consciously remembering the cause or the first instant of the pain. Consciousness is overrated anyway.

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