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Volume 2, Issue 2
Summer 2006:

Halley's Comet

Michael LaCombe

Cell 2 Soul. 2006 Summer; 2(2):a4

Hu Chin prepared the fourth moxa. First he finely powdered the leaves of mugwort. After slightly moistening the powder he carefully shaped a cone of the mixture upon the back of the sick child, over the spine and between the shoulders. This cone he ignited with an ember from the fire, allowing it to burn with the precise timing born of long experience. He watched the child's skin closely and at the formation of the blister, quickly crushed the burning cone through the blister into the skin, thus infusing the herb directly into the body's channels. Nineteen more moxas he applied in similar fashion, alternating the sacred numbers of three and seven, and using wormwood and mugwort in succession. The needles properly applied, twelve for the neck stiffness, fourteen for the coma, he directed the parents in the preparation of the cold bath, bowed to them and left the home. But he knew the child would die. He could read the signs: Hu Chin had studied with Wang Shu-ho, had committed to memory the Nei Ching, was China's foremost expert on the pulse. And besides, there was the matter of the Great Fireball in the sky.

Not to follow, yet she crept there, stealing quickly in the star-light. Nimble, deer-like, stepping lightly, soon she came to
where they brought him, where they carried her dear brother, older brother, brave, protecting, lovely brother, strong and gentle; now her fevered, senseless brother. First had come the head and neck pains, awful pains of creeping sickness, then the shaking and the sleeping.

Teepee firelight flickered on her, illuminating doe-like features. Hands upon her hair long-braided, closer still she crept up on them. As an arrow comes so quickly, there she was at some small opening. There she saw forbidden trappings, saw the
wolf-masks of the Sha-man, saw the skins of stag and otter, saw the precious feathered lances, eagle-feathered gourds and rattles. There she smelled the burning chant-fire, smelled the pine and scent of elders, in the center saw the Chief's son, lovely brother lying broken, on the bed of pine and birch boughs.

Slowly Sha-man stood and chanted, raised his arms and eyes
and chanted, singing to the flaming Fire-star. Sang the sacred words of power, called the healing spirits earth-ward, asked for help from Him above them, prayed for strength for her sweet brother.

Excitement brimmed up over the heads of the crowd, rose above them, electrifying the air, rising to the heavens, to the stars, and to the Comet. The crowd pushed and shoved, the better to catch a glimpse, to see with their God-given eyes a real witch! Whispers. Shouts! Boys running wildly, rapping on doors. The crowd grew, spilling over lawn's edge to the cobblestones, down the humped and curving street to the smithy. Nodding, reassuring, blessing and crossing themselves, they filled with the titillation of a witch-find. Only ship-coming could rival this night. Oh, powerful God, oh jealous God, save us from Satan's servants!

The deacon had been found. Tall, somber, righteous, he wended his way through the mob. They surged for a touch of his cloak the more to draw from him a measure of his holiness. Oh brave Deacon, God bless! Save us Sir! The deacon strode to the oaken door and swung it open, sweeping his eyes across the scene before him. An old woman by the dying hearth, trembling, prayed desperately. At the trestle table sat a man and a woman, horror-filled, staring helplessly. The deacon followed their gaze. Yes, of course, God save us — on the floor, the girl, glistening with sweat and covered with grime, arched her back impossibly, with only her head and heels touching the floor. He saw the teeth and fists clenched, could smell the Evil, and blessed himself before this hateful witch.

The young boy lay across the makeshift bed — two chairs adjacent — his wet golden ringlets lay damp on the down pillow. The fire raged in the hearth throwing dancing shadows out into the room. The doctor sat before the boy, left hand on his own chin, and studied his patient. He had tilted the lamp shade to shed more light, and could see the milk-white face, the delicate blue lips, the rivulets of sweat, could see the deep, regular rise and fall of the boy's chest that would abruptly pause, stop,
wait, and then begin again. The boy's mother sat at the table
by the window, head in her arms, sobbing quietly. The father stood, hand on her shoulder, head almost to the beamed ceiling, his face with a distant look of immeasurable loss. Feeling his
own heavy sorrow, still the doctor impassively watched the boy. A slight twitch here, a tremble there, and then, this vigil was suddenly over, irretrievably ended. He turned to the father and slightly nodded, then let himself out.

The doctor entered the rutted lane leading to town. The stars—
jewels — hung startlingly close — cold, unfeeling, yet eternal
and somehow comforting. The doctor stopped and turned to his left, looking up at the comet. He whispered a prayer for his small patient.

She quickly prepped the skin and sent home the LP needle. Switching tubes with one hand, she collected the milky fluid from this very sick little girl. Turning, she handed the tubes to the tech who quickly ran off to the laboratory. She nodded to the ICU nurse, but he had already hung the antibiotics and was adjusting the IVAC. She liked this nurse. He was quick, efficient, bright, no-nonsense, a real Marine. She could count on him. The doctor stood and helped position the girl and together they pulled up the hypothermia blanket. The nurse watched in admiration as the doctor smoothed and parted the girl's hair.

The doctor walked to the waiting room, sat before the frightened parents and told them about the disease. She explained the use of the antibiotics, spoke of her optimism, and promised to stay with her patient until the child awoke. They thanked her, hesitated, glanced past her, then left. She walked the short corridor to the back door for some fresh air.

Out on the packed snow of the parking lot she squinted up at the stars, found Sagittarius, and then the faint streak of the comet. Her thoughts coalesced, crystallized, then soared.

What did they ever do without antibiotics? And what would another swing of this comet find? If the insects don't survive us, if we allow ourselves doctors and patients in another seventy-six years, how will we treat meningitis then? Molecular lattice-specific sonar lysers? DNA
sequenator-directed immunoglobulin synthesis? A trick learned from extraterrestrial CME? Whatever...it will seem a miracle!

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