Andrew Mills is very ill and in a lot of pain. No-one has been able to tell him what's wrong with him, despite examinations inside and out, x-rays and all kinds of drugs. His condition seems to be unique, and unique means special.
And special, well, certain people are very interested in special indeed.
The pain didn't stop for three days and even then it only faded, never really going away completely. Instead, it became a background hum, like static playing on a television in the next room. None-the-less it took three days for it to get to that point, when at least I could manage it. Those three days were the worst days of my life.
Imagine, if you will, your intestines being slowly squeezed, like a clown making balloon animals it felt like like my intestines were some obscene plaything, being twisted and turned and bent into all kinds of shapes they were never designed to accommodate. It felt like I'd been eating a strict diet of wasps and broken glass, washing it down daily with cups of rust and vinegar. I'd like to say I was exaggerating, but really words can only barely describe the depths of the agony I felt.
It had all started out of the blue several months ago. What I had assumed was a basic infection, bringing with it panicked rushes to the toilet, turned out to last for over a week. It subsided after a time and I thought nothing of it, after all everyone gets sick now and again, but then without warning it came back, exactly as it had before, two week later. This pattern of on/off, on/off continued for almost two months before I went to see a doctor.
Yes, I know, I'm an idiot, what was I thinking? Here I am with persistent bowel problems and I waited two whole months? I must admit I was surprised myself, but I've never been prone to worrying, I'm far too easy going, even for my own good. I was convinced that each time would be the last, that it would sort itself out. I didn't want to make a fuss.
The doctors dismissed it as nothing and prescribed me some medicine to cope with the symptoms and for a while, I was fine. The illness was still there, I could feel it grinding away in my stomach, like a millstone slowly grinding wheat into flour, but at least the toilet was no longer my favourite room. Then the pain started. The pain was only slight at first, the odd ache in the gut, the occasional shock as the feeling of a red hot wire being pulled through my liver came and went in an instant too fast to properly notice. It used to come and go with my trips to the toilet and I went to the doctor again, knowing that I couldn't afford to keep paying for medicine to avoid the symptoms of a disease I was sure I still had, not to mention these new pains of mine.
Again, I was written off, some were samples taken (and let me a tell you, it is possibly the most embarrassing thing ever to walk down the high street to the doctor's surgery knowing you have several little bottles of your own poop in your bag) and told I might have IBS. Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Well, my bowel were irritable, that was true, so who was I to argue. I took my new meds and for a time, things seemed a little better.
Then, almost a month and a half later, the pain came back with a vengeance. It was almost like the symptoms had retreated only to regroup and get reinforcements. They stormed the chemical walls of my medicinal strongholds and laid waste to my guts with cold and ruthless efficiency. I was in agony, so much so I ended up in hospital. Three days of pure agony, three days of being barely conscious while I was poked and prodded, x-rayed and examined while being pumped full of that wonderful drug morphine. They say some people get high off of morphine, that they reach a state of euphoria. I didn't. I just felt tired, tired and heavy, like I was weighed down with lead weights. Quite frankly, I don't think I had the energy to be happy, let alone euphoric at that point.
When you've been suffering an illness this long, you almost get used to it. You find it hard to really measure the pain, because it's always there. What to some people is unimaginable, you think of as an every day random ache. It changes you, it wears you down. Before long, you stop caring about anything, you can't even remember what it was like not to feel pain. You become tired, defeated. You just want to give up.
If you're lucky, you get the chance to do just that. Give in and let the disease whisk you away to that blissful land of eternal sleep. If you're like me however, you get recruited.
I was laid back in bed at the time. The doctors had sent me home, still clueless as to what was happening. They were pretty sure it wasn't appendicitis, pretty sure it wasn't cancer. In fact, they were fairly sure it wasn't a lot of things but as for what is actually was, well, they still had no ideas. Instead they'd given me some extra strong meds and sent me home, told me to rest up. I was starting to get a little stressed out. I'd been off work now for two whole weeks and while I didn't mind the time off, there was work that needed to be done, that I wanted to do, but I was in no fit state to do it. Computer programming is hard when you're drowsy all the time, even harder when every time you try to concentrate on something you get interrupted by a shudder of pain. Laying there, miserable and wishing it would just end, or that at least time would speed up so I could get my next test - something more invasive and hopefully more informative for the as of yet clueless doctors - when the doorbell rang. I laid there for a moment, half in a daze, hoping someone else would answer it but of course, I was alone. The bell rang again.
"Hold up. I'm coming." I groaned as loudly as my tender diaphragm would allow and hauled myself out of bed.
I stumbled out of the bedroom, grabbing my dressing gown off of the bedroom door hook and wrapping it around myself to conceal my nakedness. Gripping my stomach, I undid the latch and opened the door a sliver.
There were two people on the other side. One, a tall yet stocky man, someone who would not look out of place on world class rugby team, dressed in a smart, black business suit. He had a face like a bulldog's arse, I thought, and a military grade buzz cut that did nothing to soften the look. Accompanying him was a woman, short, red hair and an odd expression on her face, what was it? Anticipation? I looked down and saw the clipboard in her hands and groaned.
"Whatever it is, I don't want it." I said, before they could answer and went to push to door closed when a boot jammed open the door.
"Wait, Mr. Mills? Mr Andrew Mills?"
I looked up angrily at the man the foot belonged to but could see no reaction through his dark glasses. The woman, an eager smile on her face that gave away the fact she was on the younger side of twenty, ducked into view.
"Mr. Mills, this is important, it's about your condition. May we come in?"
My condition? Seemed odd that now of all times I'd get an unexpected home visit, but given I'd been messed around and all for nothing so far, I welcomed it. Still their appearance was strange and the man in black didn't exactly inspire me with confidence.
"Could I see some identification, please?"
"Oh sure." The woman chirped and pulled out an identity card from a lanyard that had hung down between her cleavage. Dr. Alison Paige, Phd. Thistledown Research Institute. Research Associate.
"And err, him?" I could literally feel his eyes rolling behind his glasses as he pulled out a similar card.
Peter Grimwood. Thistledown Research Institute. Security.
I swallowed and handed back the card.
"Could we come in?" The doctor smiled.
I sighed and slid back the chain.