“Why, I [Socrates] said, you join physicians and judges. Now the most skillful physicians are those who, from their youth upwards, have combined with the knowledge of their art the greatest experience of disease; they had better not be robust in health, and should have had all manner of diseases in their own persons. For the body, as I conceive, is not the instrument with which they cure the body; in that case we could not allow them ever to be or have been sickly; but they cure the body with the mind, and the mind which has become and is sick can cure nothing.”
“Now, what exactly are you trying to prove this time, Dmitri?” Oliver asks.
“Oliver you should understand by now that I am not trying to prove anything! I am simply trying to gain a firmer understanding so that I can prove to be of assistance when faced with certain problems.”
The two men sit in the dimly lit, flickering room. The room looks as though the two men were poachers in Africa at some point in their lives, which they were most certainly not. A huge wooden desk with a typewriter sits near the window, bottles of cheap vodka, books, loose papers, and the like clutter it. Various heads of different animals line the forest green walls, five gun racks sit in five different strategic locations holding all sorts of different artillery and ammunition. The fifth gun rack, however, was sat within arm’s reach of the desk, and holds all different kinds of liquor and wine bottles. Oliver is playing “Blonde on Blonde” by Bob Dylan through shoddy speakers.
Oliver Stockton Scrivener, an au courant author of abstract and outrageous editorial writing, concocts two very strong beverages for himself and Dmitri, leans back in his giant leather chair behind the desk and lights a cigarette. He chases the first swig with the slow-moving fumes and begins to speak again.
“Dmitri, you can’t be serious, this one is too extreme! I just don’t understand how you think you will be able to get through it.”
“Easy, I just give myself a little more of the strain than the normal vaccination would be. This way I can experience the drug. I’ll be monitoring myself the entire time, no need to worry. I’m a doctor for crying out loud. I know what I’m doing.’
Dr. Dmitri Maxim Dmitriyevich, a multi-faceted and interesting individual, hastily takes the beverage Oliver had poured for him and takes a big swig. Dmitri then tugs the ear of the hippo cigarette dispenser, thereby opening its jaw and presenting a cigarette. Dmitri lights up the cigarette and the men begin to speak again.
“Just think about the last one, Oliver. You thought it would be crazy to give myself Malaria, you said ‘you’ll kill yourself!’ but I did anyways. I’m still here buddy, fit as ever.”
“But small pox Dmitri? Really? Think about what you are doing here. This is the sickness that has wiped out full societies man! You won’t be able to weather that storm, you won’t have the ability to monitor yourself like you think you will be able to.”
A few years ago, after a long hiatus from the world of medicine, Dmitri decided to get back into his physiological passion with a boom. He set out to immunize himself to every sickness to understand each from the inside out. He felt this was the only true way to be a good doctor, an honest physician and, most importantly, a wise soul. During his hiatus he had composed for the local Denver Philharmonic. His 6th Symphony, titled “Valley Forge,” was hailed as one of the greatest works of modern times.
Dmitri’s 6th Symphony had been written under duress but was flawless for six straight movements. A keen and sophisticated ear would be transported from the Battle of Valley Forge in the late-1700s all the way to the assassinations of John Fitzgerald and Robert Francis Kennedy.
A mellifluous thrill ride canvasing what Dmitri saw as the beginning of the American Way, to what he perceived as its absolute finale. Dmitri never made it to that 7th Symphony though. He always told Oliver that there just is not any inspiration to be had after the magic bullet annihilated whatever bright future was left.
“Listen Oliver, you do the same thing. You push your body and your consciousness as far as you possibly can almost every day. You’ve been doing it for 20 years now. It’s the same kind of self-challenge, I just abuse diseases as opposed to your abuse of substances.”
“Yeah but I can get my stomach pumped, get a shot of adrenaline, whatever I may need can be easily acquired, but what you do, Jesus, you know what? Let’s just not talk about it anymore. I wish you the best of luck, and don’t come here until a week after the symptoms are gone.”
“What a friend! I’ll agree to put this one to rest, I’ll just have to prove to you once again that I know what I’m doing.”
“See? I knew you were just trying to prove something.”
“No, no, no. Let’s not continue on this conversation. What have you been working on lately?”
“Ah, you side-stepper you. And quite the skilled side-stepper you truly are. Well, right now I’m writing a ten-thousand word…”
The two carried on drinking and talking through the night. When the sun rose, Dmitri got back in his car and drove off toward the slowly-ascending bright light. Back down to his home, his lab, and to begin his newest experiment. He thinks about how many people he will be able to help, how flawless his care will be for them, knowing every painful aspect of the disease from experience. During these experiments, Dmitri will lock the doors of his laboratory for two weeks minimum with only a tape-recorder, a pen and journal, and provisions with him.
This will be his seventh experiment. Over the past few years he has suffered through cholera, bacterial pneumonia, botulism, measles, meningitis, and malaria, and has defeated them all. His philosophy in life was to always investigate further than the person next to him. Not to sit back and observe things, but to submerge himself in every quandary. He always felt that the only way to know anything about anything was to fill himself with it, and not blink in the face of a given experiment’s most trying repercussions.
He does not only live the medical side of his life as such – he lives every little aspect of his life in this way. While writing his 6th Symphony, for example, he went to three different countries in the midst of revolutionary wars to truly feel the emotion behind Valley Forge. He even chose a side in each one and fought as if the lives of the coming generations in those foreign countries depended on him. Relentless he truly was preparing for this Symphony of his. He witnessed civil rights activism in Russia, anti-war marches in North Korea, pro-Tibetan riots in China. He connected all of these to the struggles of the American people.
His favorite composer, a Russian man from the Stalin days, and whom he bares a striking resemblance to, lived his life in the same passionate way. Dmitri always admired the nerdy musician for standing up to the evilest human being in maybe the history of the world. Inspired by the Russian composer, Dmitri tried his best to match his triumphs, failures, risks, relentlessness, and fearlessness. Dmitri found such a task hard, being in such a period of leveling in his own country. He felt that nothing worth worrying about was there and realized that the day’s struggle was global.
The global struggle between Democracy and anything opposed to it. The global struggle between various religions and anything opposed to them. The global struggle between inequality and anything opposed to it. These were the struggles in which Dmitri submerged himself in for about a decade. The fruits of his labor were not only found in his symphonies, but more so in his overly-experienced day-to-day life. The way Dmitri sees the world can only be compared to legends from distant histories. The man plays with death like a cat with string. He is tireless in his exploits, outrageous in his adventures, and his modesty surpasses any rational thought.
He takes a needle filled with two times the amount of small-pox that would be administered in a vaccine, locks the door to his laboratory, and plunges the sickness into his steel veins. He sits back on the couch for a moment, takes a sip of water, and proceeds to begin the account on the tape-recorder.
“Hour zero, disease has been administered, doors locked, three-hundred-and-thirty-six hours to go. First assessment: this one comes on stronger and quicker than the others. Already light-headed, palate instantly baron, legs weak and exhausted. Time for the first sleep, I will speak to you in eight hours.”
Dmitri lays back, sets the alarm for eight hours in the future, and dozes off. While asleep he begins to have lucid and horrific dreams. He sees hard-jawed G.I. Joes infiltrating foreign country after foreign country. Faster than he can handle, the world spins around him. Revolution after revolution stopped by either the West or East. The guise of success pumped through the media, new dictator after new dictator installed. The horrors they will surely carry out project from their eyes and toward the foggy horizon. He sees speeches given by leaders, either urging action or attempting to stave it off. He shakes and sweats as machine guns mow down children. He wails as bomb after bomb drops on unsuspecting hospitals, government buildings, steeples of warships, and houses of worship.
He awakens alarmed at the sound of his alarm. He hastily turns it off and grabs ahold of the tape-recorder with his clammy, vacant hands.
“Hour eight. Sleep was horrific, haunting nightmares of my own and other’s recollections. First prognosis: Because of the rapidity of the symptoms strengthening, I’d say this will run its course in just under one-hundred and seventy hours. Blood feels boiling, skin as though sharp shards of metal and plastic are quaking beneath it. Definite inflammation of the brain; just the act of speaking feels like a mallet in the temple. Nourishment entirely necessary, will pick up again in eight hours.”
Dmitri carried on like this for another week. Every time he dozed off he would be in a different hell, all of which bore startling resemblances to different areas of the world. He witnessed a stark universe of mind-control, marketing strategy, real wars and artificial ones. He watched countless assassinations. He felt the pangs of oppressive hues deep within himself.
Every time he awoke he would be in his own personal hell. The sickness moved through him slowly and mercilessly. Since the second day his skin had been so covered in boils that he was forced to sleep standing up, harnessed to the ceiling. Around day six he didn’t think he would make it and called Oliver. Oliver didn’t pick up though, he had left for Alaska earlier that day. The answering machine had said “gone to Alaska for the week, if this is Dmitri and you are calling me to give an account of your death, well it’s been a good ride buddy, and I’ll be sure to give you an epithetic epitaph.”
Day eight, however, proved to be the beginning of the end. His skin began to clear up, his sleep became silent, and his brain began to shrink back to its normal size. He began to purge the sickness within himself as the nations in his dreams had been purged of their very selves by foreign leaders. He gained the wisdom of the treacherous disease, all the while contemplating the plights of the meek and voiceless. He hadn’t remembered composing but found new symphony movements in his journal. On day fourteen, he gave his final analysis to the tape-recorder.
“Hour three-hundred and thirty-five. Sickness appears to be completely assimilated, symptoms on the run. Nightmares have stopped, no dreams for the past four days at all as a matter of fact. Exercised today, felt completely normal. Blood-pressure, lungs, thoughts all appear normal. Going to sleep one more night in the laboratory, just to be safe. Found new composition, must have done it in a far-off state, but appears to be something big indeed. Another sickness down, and this might be the last one. I’m beginning to see the roots of Oliver’s concerns. This last experiment should prove fitting for my finale in the medical world.”
Dmitri had made it, and back in his study a few days later he finished touching up his lucid composition. Still, the memory of having written it was nowhere to be found in his ailing mind. The very next day Dmitri took his composition down to the home of Beatrix Burke, the conductor of the Denver Philharmonic. She took one look at Dmitri, then one look at the stack of papers in his hand, and began to cry with joy.
“You made the Seventh?”
“I did. And this one, we’re going to call this one ‘Epidemic,’ you’ll surely understand upon hearing it in action. I must go for now, let me know if it’s gold or garbage, you know where to find me.”
A few days passed, and Beatrix finally called Dmitri to tell him that the Denver Philharmonic, under her own direction, would be performing his 7th Symphony in just under two weeks at Red Rocks. Dmitri was ecstatic, as Red Rocks had always been his most beloved venue, and none of his work had ever echoed among its jagged boulders, rung over the plains off in the distance. Classical pieces rarely graced the theatre’s open air in these ecstatic days of music. Dmitri finally got in touch with Oliver, who had apparently only stayed in Alaska for less than twenty-four hours, before succumbing to a self-induced madness and retreating back to his Rocky Mountain home.
They caught up on each other’s adventures over the phone. Oliver was happy to hear that Dmitri was not going to take any more diseases and was excited for the 7th Symphony. Dmitri was happy to hear that Oliver made it back safely and without any warrants out for his arrest to boot. The day of the Symphony came up quickly, Dmitri headed to Oliver’s for a quick drink before driving to Red Rocks.
“My oh my, so is this going to be better than your sixth, Dmitri?”
“Well, I know that my mental state during the composition process was far more irrational and diseased, but from the looks of it I think it will make a big splash.”
“Good to hear it. You don’t want to drop a little experiment before the show, do you?”
“If it isn’t going to be diseases anymore, I suppose I have to fill in the void with something new. Drop away.”
They follow the bittersweet liquid with a swish of Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. Bob Dylan’s “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream” was piping through Oliver’s transistor radio. Suddenly the song was cut short by the sounds of the emergency broadcasting system.
“This is not a test. A sudden outbreak of small-pox has hit the greater Denver area and spread as far as Cheyenne, Salt Lake City, Wichita, and Santa Fe. No further explanation has been given, but as of eighteen-hundred Mountain Time the Governor has announced a full quarantine. More than five-hundred thousand infected, and the Surgeon General expects that number to grow exponentially. Authorities urge residents of or around any of these areas to stay in their homes, and not go to any public places.” The transmission ends, kicking “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream” back through the speakers.
“Well, Dmitri, you weren’t kidding when you said it was going to make a splash. Ha!” Oliver said with a sadistic grin on his face.
“What have I done? I must’ve given it to Beatrix with the original composition. And she must’ve passed it on to the entire Philharmonic. Jesus, what have I done?”
“Dmitri, don’t worry. They’ll never suspect it was a retired doctor turned prolific composer that started it! I have enough food and booze and tobacco to last us into the next decade. Let’s just sit back, throw on some old records and talk some philosophy. How does that sound?”
“Oliver! This is serious man! I have to do something!”
“Listen, you aren’t doing anything once that liquid starts working on you. You don’t want to start this voyage thinking about giving the world small pox. Just relax, we’ll figure it out. Take this.” Oliver hands Dmitri a tall glass filled with bourbon and ice. Dmitri takes it down in one fluid motion.
“Ah, I suppose your right Oliver. It’s not like small pox is incurable. They’ll figure it out. I’m not a doctor anymore, at least not of medicine, so it is far outside my area of expertise, right?”
“Right buddy. Now, how does some Shostakovich sound to you? You think his Ninth Symphony could cheer you up right now?”
“You know me well, Oliver. Throw it on, by the second movement I’ll be rolling around in laughter and on the ground without a care in the world.”
Oliver raises his glass, “cheers you crazy bastard you.”
Dmitri raises his own to Oliver’s as the first sounds of the great composer’s Ninth Symphony begins to pipe through the stereo. “Cheers Oliver. Once this newest and most profound quagmire begins to simmer, we shall make haste for Alaska. We’ll go as a team and will not come back to the Rockies until the American Dream is found, assessed, and analyzed.”