Tuesday, April 1, 2008

A Not So Brave New World--Part I

January, 2169

A cold wind howled up and down the East River of New York City, messenger of a fierce winter storm. They came often, these storms, buffeting the City for months on end. Once it had not been so, or at least the rare books still left over from the last century sometimes said so.Then, the books alleged, there had been four seasons. Then New York had had a more temperate climate. Mercifully the men of authority had banned the teaching of spring and fall as causing too much confusion in young children. There were only two seasons now, both punctuated by snarling winds, blowing first hot and then blowing cold.

The wind paused only briefly to pick up stray debris from the East Side Highway bordering the river, and tossed it mercilessly against the windows of the huge towers that stood sentinel over the highway as far as the eye could see. Hospitals. All of them hospitals. The structures were barely discernible one from the other, except for the huge nameplates that haughtily broadcast the hospitals' names and the names of those who had paid to have the buildings built. For this was what the East Side had become; a paean to medicine. To some medicine.

Across town, on the other side of the Great Wall that had been constructed to divide the City's enclaves, on the West Side there also stretched a phalanx of buildings, different in architecture, different in style, different in size, but united in that they, too, were hospitals. For this too was what the West Side had become; a paean to medicine.

As the storm ebbed and flowed, across the four boroughs of New York City, across the vastly populated expanse of Long Island to the East and across the teeming cities of Westchester County, it barely created a ripple of comment from those ensconced in the myriad hospitals it passed over. That's what hospitals did; they keep you safe from the elements outside.

It had not always been this way. The turn of the last century had seen a crisis looming. There had been a severe shortage of doctors then. Medical school had been too expensive to attend except for the wealthy. Even when the desire and means to go were there, admission requirements had been strenuous. The government had at last been brought to see that a solution was needed, and needed immediately. And so were born more medical schools.

At first there were only a few new schools that came into existence. But not everyone was prepared to laud these new schools. Some were excoriated for being too exclusive, for not accepting everyone who wanted to go there. Others were seen as too lax, too unstructured to satisfy all but a few.

And so more schools were built. And then more. And then still more. Anyone and everyone with an MD after their name was suddenly going into the medical school business. At first the schools were centered only around the large cities of the Northeast. But as the movement for more medical schools grew and prospered, the burgeoning wave spread outwards and blanketed the whole country. Soon there was not a city of note, and many a small town as well, that did not have its own medical school, if not more than one. For it was a strange phenomenon that where one medical school took root, another followed close on its heels.

But just because the government had decreed that medical schools should be built did not mean that the schools were well populated. Some had their fair share of students and some struggled to keep their doors open. And so the government acted once again. It created the Compulsory Medicine Education Act of 2049. All men over the age of 17 were compelled to attend medical school and at least one year of residency. Only after one had done so, and with special permission of the medical school dean, could a man leave medicine to practice a profession of a different kind. Even then, all men were required to stay current with medical issues, attending classes after their regular work day was over and on weekends.Yes, men. For the vast majority of medical schools were limited to male students only.

There were a few schools that were coed; the majority of them were far from the teeming center in New York. "Teaching men and women together violates all the principles of good medicine. Those who do so are charlatans at best and subverters of the natural laws."

At first there were no schools only for women students. "Women don't need to study medicine," it was scoffed. But some came to see that if women were to be acclimated to the new social realities they would need to be taught enough to enable them to be proper spouses for doctors and mothers of future doctors. Thus were born the specialized academies that gave women a compressed view of medicine; in one year they were taught enough to convince them that doctors made the best husbands, the only desireable husbands. They were taught that medicine trumps all other things. But there was still unease on the part of the Medical School Deans. Thus, they situated the schools for women far from the centers of male medical education. In a far corner of what had once been Transylvania, when there had been a continent called Europe, the girls' medical schools were established.

And the Deans of the Male Medical schools were finally brought to see that the female medical programs could be used to advantage. Try as they might they had been unable to breed out of the men a desire for spending time with women and in the pursuit of pleasures unrelated to medicine. In the girls' medical schools they had at last found the perfect tool to keep the men focused on medicine. Thus, the students in the male medical schools were inculcated with the idea that only a girl from a female medical school could be a proper wife.

Each year the graduates of the female medical academies were allowed to return to their home towns. And the rush began. Male medical students charged to find the best graduates of the academies. The Deans of the male medical schools chortled with glee. What they had been unable to legislate on their own the female medical school graduates were doing for them. The girls eyed each other with jealousy and with distrust. They jostled each other to constantly put themselves into the best position to be viewed.

And it worked, or at least for the most part. There were some females who did not find partners in the first mad rush. A few would find partners among the leftover male students. And a few would find themselves, at 20, as partnerless. The Deans of the male medical schools merely shrugged their shoulders and talked of "natural selection" and "survival of the fittest." These partnerless women would either spend the rest of their short lives as handmaidens to their married sisters or they would slink out of the central enclaves to the hinterland, where there were still partners possible for them. And they would be bitter when they thought of what they had not gotten for themselves, instead of looking at what they had gotten. Except for a very, very few.

Thus things would have remained except for one thing: Where there were doctors there had to be hospitals, for where else could doctors gather to practice their craft? And there were not enough hospitals to accommodate the doctors that were now graduating in droves.


Anonymous said...

I have a deep gut feeling that this story is not going to end And They Lived Happily Ever After.

Anonymous said...

So they send the girls off to Transylvania? Presumably they teach them the finer points of Hungarian housewifery, which would work out just fine if they come home and marry real doctors. Not sure how that is going to work out with these doctors however.

Anonymous said...

I remember that saying about life mimicking art and art mimicking life. Sure a lot of real life in this for something that is science fiction. Scary enough if it's fiction. Even more scary that it's real life.

Anonymous said...

My son the doctor !

Anonymous said...

So here I am reading and there you are writing and which one of us is cleaning for Pesach? Would much rather be doing this. Keep it coming.