Tuesday Dec 06, 2022

Medical Fiction: Gus and the Souvenirs – Physician’s Weekly

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This is one of a collection of stories that are like “Final Destination” meets “The Monkey’s Paw” (W. W. Jacobs, 1902). As such, they are tragedies more than either mysteries or horror, and would appeal most to readers who enjoy the inexorable pull of a story arc that leads to doom. In each story, a protagonist makes a wish that comes true with fatal results for someone, often the person making the wish. Nothing supernatural, but just how things work out. (Or is it?) The technical details surrounding the fatal (or near-fatal) event are drawn from real cases in the US OSHA incident report database or similar sources and are therefore entirely realistic, even if seemingly outlandish. The plots draw lightly from cultural beliefs around actions such as pointing at someone with a stick or knife, wishing in front of a mirror, or stepping on a crack.


Gus worked in administration at a rural hospital built in the hills where, a century before, there had been a gold rush. The small town had emerged in response to a horde of eager prospectors and their need for everything from blue jeans and whiskey to digging equipment and explosives. For a dozen years, the town was a boiling mass of activity. It imploded when the gold ran out, and the miners and their needs migrated further west.

Many of the older buildings incorporated in the hospital had been mining offices or shops, and there were parts of the grounds where signs warned people not to walk on the grass and fences discouraged wandering about. This was not so much to prevent wear and tear on the grass, but to avoid the risk of anyone stepping into an old mining trench, or falling down an old mine shaft. With a lack of record keeping and a free-for-all on digging during the gold rush, hundreds of trenches several feet deep were carved into the earth, and dozens of shafts were excavated. Some shafts were sloped tunnels in the sides of hills, and some were almost vertical and dozens or hundreds of feet deep. Many had filled with water, and some were covered with planks or steel sheets and piles of earth. The fact was that almost anywhere on the hospital grounds, one might be standing on a few inches of soil, a corroded steel plate or rotting timbers, and a drop of a hundred feet or more.

Many years back, the story went, a pair of lovers were having a picnic under the shade of a spruce. The groundskeeper yelled at them to leave the area and retrace their way back to the paved path, but they couldn’t hear him or didn’t listen. He went over to warn them, but just as he got within earshot, he fell through the cover of a shaft and fell to his death right in front of them. The story was that the lovers had just decided to marry when the accident happened, and it so shook them that they soon parted.

Not one to be a slave to the rat race of corporate work, Gus had acquired an obsession. It started with trying to build a bird house while on vacation. He had been given a book of 101 woodworking projects by the rest of the administrative staff to celebrate his 30th anniversary of employment and his 50th birthday. As much as he loved tinkering with wood, he found that cutting the 45-degree angles by eye with a blunt saw …….

Source: https://www.physiciansweekly.com/medical-fiction-gus-and-the-salty-souvenirs/

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