“Questioning the Tree” from Small Doses of the Future by Brad Aiken


[Edit: Originally published September 23, 2016]

I meant to review two stories for today, but school happened so there’s only one. I will likely review another story from this collection at a later date, however. 

So, Questioning the Tree, or the medical science fiction story that I could totally see Leonard McCoy writing if he were so inclined to write 21st century science fiction. 

Questioning the Tree is a short story about the medical world, particularly how doctors are allowed to relate to patients. No longer do doctors make the diagnoses, they rely on a scanner of sorts to make the diagnosis and then the doctors must follow through on what that diagnosis is. They don’t really have much interaction with the patients anymore. And when the machines get things wrong, there’s nothing they can do to help the patient, because of the Tree. The Tree basically determines what the doctors can and cannot do and how they’re supposed to answer and work with their patients. The big thing is that the doctors cannot physically touch their patients. 

That’s what got me thinking about Leonard McCoy, who is a very hands on kind of doctor and would definitely not be pleased if he wasn’t allowed to touch his patients. 

The story opens with our protagonist, Dr. Jenkins, arriving to work at the hospital to find that one of his colleagues has been arrested for deviating from the aforementioned Tree and treating a patient in ways that weren’t allowed. The story follows Dr. Jenkins and how torn he feels about being part of this. He doesn’t feel like he’s being true to what doctors are supposed to be, what he went to medical school to do, but at the same time he doesn’t want to lose his job and be arrested. Yet things keep happening.

It starts with his nurse, who asks him questions like she thinks he might not fully believe in the Tree.

Then he runs into an old friend from med school, Doug, who as it turns out is running an illegal clinic where they treat patients with traditional methods. Jenkins almost shows up, but before he gets the chance the clinic is raided and everyone arrested. 

After this Jenkins lays low, doesn’t do anything, until finally he’s had enough. The story ends with Dr. Jenkins opening up his own secret illegal clinic, and helping a patient he hadn’t been able to properly help at the hospital he worked at. 

I very much enjoyed the hopeful note it gave and that it didn’t end on a dark note like it could have. As well as being a fun and enjoyable read it’s also a very insightful piece.

You can find the whole book of stories here.

Related Reviews: Freudian Slipstream, Murder on the Einstein Express

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