The Minder was alarmed at her lateness again, and this time, Louise was too tired to be having any of it. She sat down at her computer screen, full of annoyance, while it bellowed accusingly, “Louise, you are very late. If this continues, I am going to have to mark your records. If your records are flagged in this way, you will receive extra supervision, per your guardian’s patient care agreement.”
It was as though someone else was moving her fingers over the keyboard and pushing her through the network, over some secure threshold, and into the Minder maintenance dashboard. Before the Minder had begun noting that she was not responding in the approved patterns, the correct Minder (with her own name emblazoned at the top) was brought into view and the voice was shut off. It was a matter of a few more minutes to scrub the memory of the warning protocol being tripped, and to set the Minder at a much lower monitor setting.
Then there was about half an hour that Louise could not entirely account for, and when she came back to herself with a start, the Minder’s adjusted setting had apparently been hidden and some sort of periodic code was run to scrub the Minder’s memory and leave it reporting everything to be hunky-dory. At least, she thought that was what it was all for.
She shuddered and stared at her hands—certainly, absolutely her hands, brown and wrinkled and knobby with arthritis—and tried to stop the panic that was rising in her throat. Where had she gone during that time? Was she sleeping? Just spacing out? Turned off like the Minder was?
She covered her face with her hands, rubbing her fingers over her forehead and temples and jaw. Shivers kept shaking her by the scruff of the neck. Who was in her head? Was she or he there right now?
Louise mastered the creeping dread by switching into what she’d always called her “work mode,” pushing everything but the empirical data to the back of her head. She put her hands back on the keyboard and thought. What if she tried to do something online and thought of something to do beyond her normal means? To this end, she searched for Mick’s nursing home, then thought really hard about looking at Mick’s chart.
It seemed to her that she had just blinked and the chart was on the screen and half an hour gone.
She carefully got up from her chair and went into her tiny bathroom to throw up as neatly as she could manage, given the tears and revulsed shaking she was trying to conquer at the same time. She struggled for work mode again over the next several minutes, and finally rinsed her mouth and went into the kitchen for something to drink. She tried to ignore the oppressive (probably psychosomatic) illusion of someone’s fingers moving through her brain, or closing around her spinal cord at the base of her neck.
After some deep breathing and half-forgotten meditation exercises to slow her heartbeat, she took her ginger ale back to her screen. There was, after all, Mick’s chart to look over.
The leg, Louise found, had gone two years back. It was the side affected by the stroke, so apparently Mick had stubbed her toe or something, and then hadn’t noticed the diabetes-fueled infection that then nearly killed her. When she survived, one of the doctors thought to start her on Neures-Q, then Cognizoid, apparently hoping that better function would help her report problems sooner. And it helped significantly, right up to the point where they noticed the lung cancer on her annual physical earlier this year, soon after which they found the metastases and started medicating her heavily for pain.
And, of course, she was in hospice. She’d been in hospice care a week when she wrote to Louise.
Louise stood up slowly and went through her familiar nightly motions of changing into her pajamas, taking her three Cognizoid, and getting into bed. She turned off the alarm she had been rising to for the last forty years. And she turned out the light, though it was difficult to get to sleep with her tears making the pillow so damp.