“Welcome to the Intensive Care Challenge, the game show where patients compete for money to pay for health care. Her are your hosts Fox News personality Deborah ‘Death Panel’ Dawson and Congressman Rob ‘Rollback’ Richards.”
“Well Rob, thanks to your fellow Republicans repealing socialized medicine, we’ve got quite a bumper crop of contestants.”
“We sure do, Deb. Let’s meet some of them now.” Rob walked over to a woman slumped in a wheelchair. “Melanie Taylor, you suffer from MS.”
“That’s right Rob.” The electronic voice came from Melanie’s keypad while her head tilted against the pillow and she stared off into space. “I’m ready to give one hundred ten percent to win.”
Congressman Rob introduced four more contestants. Regular viewers would recognize the illnesses if not the players. Timmy was a bald, twelve-year-old with cancer. Art, having ruined his lungs with smoking, was tethered to a green, oxygen tank. Beth, her eyes and skin yellowed with jaundice, was saving up for a liver transplant. And Susan, the schizophrenic, studied the cracks in the floor as if they were the text of the lost gospels.
“That’s fine, Rob,” Debbie said, “but aren’t we missing someone?”
On cue the sound of rotors filled the air and a Star Flight helicopter landed in front of the obstacle course. Two paramedics wheeled out an unconscious man on a gurney. His head was immobilized in a neck brace and his denim clothes were covered in dried blood. Congressman Rob fished the man’s wallet out of his pants pocket.
“Says here his name is David Mitchell,” Congressman Rob read from the driver’s license. “Since he needs the ER stat, what do you say we let him have the first crack at the Toadstool Challenge?”
The paramedics wheeled David to where a half dozen telephone poles rose from a swimming pool. Each was topped with a large, inflated ball. The contestant’s task was to cross from a raised platform to the other side of the pool by hopping from ball to ball without sliding into the water below.
“One! Two! Three!” The paramedics heaved David, gurney and all, toward the first ball. David bounced off the ball, fell banging his head against the wooden pole, and came to rest floating face down in the pool.
“Oh! That’s got to hurt!”
“Looks like he’s out of the competition, Rob.”
“Don’t count him out yet, Deb. He still has a chance to advance to the second round depending on how the others do.”
“Should we send the paramedics to fish him out?”
“No, Deb. In keeping with our conservative values we’ll let him solve his own problems without government interference.”
Next up was Melanie who gunned the throttle of her electric wheelchair from several feet before the platform’s edge. The motor whirred and the wheelchair accelerated to the speed of an exhausted mailman carrying a fifty-pound sack on a sweltering, August day. When Melanie reached the edge, she fell straight into the drink. The water shorted out her electric wheelchair so it was of no more use than a hunk of scrap metal. Susan, the schizophrenic, followed but spent so long arguing with her imaginary friend that the judges disqualified her.
Art shuffled to the platform. He was so engrossed in planning his traverse that he didn’t notice Timmy turning off the valve on his oxygen tank. Within seconds Art grasped at his neck, passed out, and toppled into the water. Sadly for Art the oxygen tank banged against the concrete and ruptured sending jagged shrapnel through his aorta and effectively eliminating him from competition. Both Timmy and Beth managed to jump and hang on to the first ball but both slipped off the second and ended up dog paddling in the water made pink with Art’s arterial blood.
“With Art and Susan out of the picture only four contestants will advance to face the Low Blow,” Congressman Rob said. “What’s that? It seems Dave still hasn’t made it out of the water so I guess only three contestants will advance.”
“Tough luck for Dave, Rob, but we’ve got to look to the future. In the next challenge the contestants must navigate a narrow walkway while dodging steam-driven pistons tipped with boxing gloves,” Deb said. “Have you ever been hit with one of those punches, Rob?”
“No but I hear the impact can shatter your jaw like grandma’s china. The contestants had better be pretty nimble on this one. Let’s join the action. Shall we?”
The walkway was too narrow for Melanie’s wheelchair so she stumbled forward on her useless legs. After a few tentative steps she slipped off the gangway and fell into the mud pit.
At least the next contestant, Beth, made it into the breach. She watched the first piston extend and retract from the wall on her left and then rushed past it. While she was crossing in front of the second, it thrust out catching her in the shoulder and knocking her off the platform.
Timmy learned from the others’ mistakes. By waiting until just after a piston had retracted, he passed the face-high, shoulder-high, and two groin-level attacks unscathed. The farther he got the more his confidence grew until a grin of victory appeared on his anemic lips. However, he didn’t anticipate the double jab that clocked him in the head and sent him cart-wheeling.
“Boy that just shows you that by harnessing the power of the market America has developed the best healthcare system in the world!”
“It sure does, Deb,” Congressman Rob said. “What’s next?”
“Since none of the contestants completed the Low Blow, all three move on to play Breakthrough.”
“How does that work, Deb?”
“Our contestants will run at one of five doorways painted on a wall. One is paper. The others are brick. The first contestant to break through wins.”
“What keeps them from gaming the system?”
“Former NFL lineman, Mad Dog Ripley will patrol the approach. Anyone he tackles is out.”
Mad Dog waved from the field. He wore his silver and blue team uniform complete with helmet, shoulder pads, and cleats.
“Now that’s what I call compassionate conservatism!”
An air horn blared. Beth and Timmy trotted out of the gate while Melanie sat in her defective wheelchair.
“Booyah!” yelled Congressman Rob as Mad Dog plowed into Beth burying his shoulder into her gut and sending her sprawling.
While she clutched her stomach and whimpered on the grass, Timmy picked up his pace to avoid the lineman, ran straight into the center door, and bounced off with a sickening crunch. He took a few dizzy steps and collapsed. Mad Dog looked around, spotted Melanie by the gate, and tackled her.
“Looks like nobody won this week, Rob.”
“Better luck next time, Deb.”
“This is Debbie Dawson.”
“And Congressman Rob Richards reminding you that no one stays healthy forever.”
“So someday maybe next week, next month, or next year we’ll see you on the Intensive Care Challenge.”
Jon Wesick’s stories have appeared in journals such as Space and Time, Zahir, Tales of the Talisman, Blazing Adventures, Bracelet Charm, Metal Scratches, CC&D, American Drivel Review, The Aphelion Webzine, Everyday Weirdness, Metazen, Oracular Tree, MiniMAG, SamizDADA, Sangam, Sunken Lines, Tabard Inn, Tidepools, Today’s Alternative News, and Words of Wisdom. He’s also published over two hundred poems in small press journals such as Clockwise Cat, The New Orphic Review, Pearl, Pudding, and Slipstream. One of his poems won second place in the 2007 African American Writers and Artists contest.