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´╗┐Title: Am I Still There?
Author: Hall, James R.
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Am I Still There?" ***

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                         Transcriber's Note:

    This etext was produced from Analog Science Fact & Fiction September
    1963. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S.
    copyright on this publication was renewed.



                          AM I STILL THERE?


                  Which must in essence, of course,
                  simply be the question "What do I
                            mean by 'I'?"


                           by JAMES R. HALL


                      ILLUSTRATED BY LEO SUMMERS

                            [Illustration]

       *       *       *       *       *



Lee slid off the examining table and began buttoning his shirt. He had
had a medical examination every six months of his adult life, and it
always seemed strange to him that, despite the banks of machines the
doctor had which could practically map a man from a single cell
outward, each examination always entailed the cold end of a
stethoscope against his chest.

He tucked his shirt into his pants and turned to the examining doctor
who was writing on a chart.

"Well?" Lee asked him.

"Sound as a dollar," replied the doctor. "Of course Dr. Flotman or Dr.
Roberts might turn up something on their electronic monsters, but I
see no reason why we can't go ahead on schedule."

Lee felt relieved. Even while being examined by technicians, M.D.'s
and biologists, he had been conscious of the hundreds of little dull
pains which had nibbled like mice in every corner of his brain.
Sometimes he felt like a piece of his brain was being completely
smothered, a horrible sensation of having a part of his head severed
from him. This would go away, but would appear again in a different
area, usually in about fifteen to thirty minutes. Well, the doctor
said he was fit for surgery. That would end this nagging pain, just as
it always had in the past.

"... If you're ready now." Lee became aware the doctor was speaking to
him.

"Oh," Lee said. He had no idea what the doctor was talking about. "I'm
sorry, I guess I didn't hear what you said--"

The doctor smiled tolerantly. "I said you can see Dr. Letzmiller this
afternoon to get the final O.K."

"Letzmiller? Who's he? I thought you said I was ready to go." Lee knew
he sounded a little petulant, but he was tired from all these
examinations, and besides, his head hurt.

The doctor, Gorss, Lee thought his name was, was rather young but
seemed used to this kind of thing. He turned on his tolerant smile
again. "Dr. Letzmiller is chief of the Familiarization and
Post-Operative Adjustment Section. He can explain himself better when
you see him."

"Is he the last one?" Lee asked. He was already following Dr. Gorss
out the door and down a corridor.

Dr. Gorss stopped before a door marked "Dr. C. L. Letzmiller," and
opened it. "The last one. You take these," he handed Lee a thick
manila folder, "and tell the girl Dr. Gorss sent you for your
interview." He waited until Lee had entered, then closed the door and
left.

       *       *       *       *       *

Evidently Dr. Letzmiller had been expecting him, for very shortly Lee
found himself sitting at the doctor's desk, comfortably seated in a
brown leather armchair. He was facing a rather pudgy man, who was
leafing through the manila folder Lee had given him. Finally Dr.
Letzmiller looked up.

"Well. Well now, Mr. Lee, suppose you first tell me about yourself,
and then I'll tell you about me."

"Tell you about me?" Lee asked.

Dr. Letzmiller smiled. It was another tolerant smile, but it seemed
more sincere than Gorss'. "I suppose the best way would be for me to
review these facts on your medical history. You are Vincent Bonard
Lee?"

"Yes, sir."

"Date of birth?"

"August 11, 1934."

"That would make you four hundred nine years old."

Lee hesitated. He never really thought of his age. It had long ago
ceased to be of any importance to him. Of course he remembered his
birth date. It was one of those facts that always appears on your
records, like your social security number. He did some calculation in
his head, as rapidly as the constantly shifting blank spots in his
thinking would allow him.

"Yes, sir."

"It shows here that you first underwent replacive surgery in 1991.
Correct?"

"Yes."

"Remember what it was for?"

"Yes, I had heart trouble. They fixed me up with one of those big jobs
requiring my carrying batteries under my armpit."

"One of those early models. And this shows that at various times since
then you have undergone replacive surgery some eighty-seven times,
including three replacements of a pulmonary nature."

Again Lee hesitated. The number of times he had had a worn organ or
tissue repaired or replaced was more than a little hazy. After the
novelty of the first few times when he found himself with a new
stomach, or liver, or muscle, he had started to take these things as a
matter of course. He gave a little nervous laugh. "If that paper says
so, I suppose so, doctor."

"Yes. Well, everything seems to be functioning properly now, doesn't
it? With the exception of your head, of course."

"Yes, yes I feel fine otherwise." Lee was feeling uncomfortable.
"Doctor, could you tell me what this is all about? I must have
answered these questions half a dozen times before to those other
people."

"In just a moment. First I need to know you a little better. Your
medical history lists your occupation as 'cabinet maker'."

"That's right." Lee was becoming more and more uncomfortable. The
extensive examinations had tired him, and repetition of the answers to
all these questions was making him edgy.

"Doctor, can't you at least tell me what type operation I'm going to
have?"

"What do you think it will be?"

"I don't know. Some sort of repair on my head, I guess."

"Mr. Lee, this isn't going to be a matter of repair. We have found it
necessary to replace the entirety of what could roughly be called
your 'brain', as well as part of the spinal cord."

"My whole brain?" Lee sat, stunned, comprehension slowly filtering
into him. He voiced the only coherent thought which materialized. "Why
that will mean there won't be anything left of me at all."

Dr. Letzmiller regarded him. "What do you mean?"

"Doc, you've got my records there. At one time or another, since they
first put a new heart in me, every single inch of me has been replaced
by an artificial part. I mean all of me. There's not one bit of me,
heart, eyes, toenails, _nothing_, that is _me_. That bothered me quite
a bit when this left eye was put in. I mean I thought, 'Well, this
isn't me. This is my brain walking around in a jumble of artificial
flesh.' I tell you it bothered me. But I went to a doctor, you know, a
psychoanalyst, and he convinced me that as long as I had what he
called a 'sense of identity', that I was me." Lee stopped. How could
he explain it?

But Letzmiller seemed to understand. "And you think that your brain is
all that is left of 'you'?"

"Doc, it's a funny feeling. Like this." Lee raised his hands, brought
them together and touched his fingertips. "See that? I can raise those
hands. I can make them touch each other. I can feel them touching each
other. But it is just not quite right. It's just a little bit off key,
like one trumpet player out of twenty being about one-sixteenth of a
note flat. Know what I mean?"

"I think I do," said Letzmiller, nodding slowly. "Now, just what does
that have to do with your operation?"

"Doctor--" Lee had to stop, for the patchwork quilt of blank spaces
was dancing in his head. The helplessness went away, slowly, like
smoke drifting from a fire. As his mind cleared, he realized that he
didn't know why he was being interviewed by this doctor.

"Anything wrong?" Dr. Letzmiller asked.

Lee knew he wasn't being too coherent, jumping about with the
conversation this way, but he asked the question, anyway. "Doc, why am
I seeing you?"

"You haven't guessed?"

"No."

The doctor paused to light a half-gone cigar. "My job here at Merkins
Replacive is to deal with just such fears as you have expressed. I'm
an M.D. and a psychologist, and"--Letzmiller smiled to himself--"a
kind of historian."

"Historian?"

"Well, you see I was supposed to give you the regular formal lecture
on the history of replacive surgery when you first came in. Like to
hear it?"

Lee nodded, so Letzmiller continued. "Replacive surgery is actually
quite old. Old as medicine itself, I suppose. Very early attempts at
dentures were tried, though with little success. And, of course, peg
legs and hooks for persons who had lost their hands might be called
replacive surgery, though they were very crude. Later on came more
refined dentures, artificial limbs, corrective lenses, skull plates,
hearing aids, plastic or cosmetic surgery, blood transfusions, all
types of skin grafts, et cetera.

"The 1950s saw the beginning of bone and corneal transplants, use of
plastics in arteries, those huge heart-lung and kidney machines,
implantation of electrodes in the heart to steady its beat--many
things which were mostly emergency or stop-gap measures. All through
the late 1900s refinements continued to be made, but it wasn't until
1988 that the fathers of replacive surgery, Doctors Mills, Levinson
and McCarty made the breakthrough that revolutionized the whole
concept. In very simplified language they unlocked the key to
producing specialized living tissue through a bombardment of an
extremely complex carbon compound with amino acids and electricity,
then making it selective in function by a fantastically intricate
application of radiation.

"That pulmonary replacement you received in 1991 was undoubtedly one
of the first successes. You were quite lucky, you know. Up until 2017,
only about five per cent of their synthesized hearts lasted more than
thirty days. At any rate, the principle was established, and it was
proven that it could work. Most of our work from then till a few years
ago has been in improving and refining the work those three good
doctors did over three hundred years ago."

Letzmiller's cigar had gone out, and he discarded it in favor of a
cigarette. "That would be the end of my history lecture, if it were
not for the nature of your trouble."

Lee looked at him closely. "Why's that?"

"Well, Mr. Lee, the big thing missing in that summation is the
seemingly impossible task of synthesizing nerve tissue, especially
that of the cerebral cortex. It's been approximated, at any rate
closely enough to give us good enough results to allow an artificial
tissue to respond to brain signals about ninety-eight per cent as well
as the original would. But actual duplication? No. At least not until
about three years ago. To tell you the truth, it is barely out of the
experimental stage."

"Experimental!"

       *       *       *       *       *

"Yes, this will be the first complete replacement of a human brain.
Oh, of course it has been done with animals, and it has been
successful with partial replacements on humans. But you will have the
honor of being the first human with a complete substitution."

Lee could not contain himself. "Doc, that's just it! There won't be a
single atom of me except what you fellows have conjured up--"

Letzmiller broke in mildly. "I think 'conjured' is hardly the proper
word, Mr. Lee."

"Well, of course, I didn't mean that. But don't you see what I'm
driving at? You could just as well start from scratch and duplicate me
without bothering about going about it piecemeal. And what does that
make me?"

The doctor had been looking at Lee intently, studying him through this
outburst. "I think I see what you mean. And I can't answer you. The
question you raise may be philosophical, or metaphysical, but it
certainly isn't medical. And from a doctor's point of view complete
substitution is the only course open, risky as it may seem."

Lee mulled this over. Of course he knew surgery was the only solution
to his decaying mentality, actually the only alternative to his
becoming a virtual idiot, and, shortly after that, dead. And he did
not want to die. He had lived a long time, but thanks to the methods
of Letzmiller, Gorss, and all their predecessors, he was as full of
juice as he had been at thirty-five. But the question that kept
plaguing him Letzmiller seemed determined to avoid. He didn't
understand very much about replacive surgery, really didn't care to.
If Letzmiller said it could work, then he wasn't worried about that.
Well, he guessed he really didn't have much choice. With this
realization, he had only one more question for Letzmiller.

"Doc, if I'm not me when this is over, do you think I'll know it?"

Letzmiller looked at Lee's troubled face. "Do you think that you would
want to?"

Lee answered slowly. "No, no I guess not."

Letzmiller rose from his chair. "I'll talk to you again after the
operation. Do you think you're ready to go to your room now?"

Lee nodded and obediently followed the doctor.

       *       *       *       *       *

Lee was asleep when the nurse came, but with the efficiency of all
good nurses since time immemorial, she woke him to give him the
sedative to prepare him for surgery. She chattered brightly as she
prepared the hypodermic.

"You know, you have all the nurses speculating, Mr. Lee. I mean we're
wondering just what Dr. Lakin, he's the anesthesiologist, is going to
use for you when you won't have any brain for the anesthesia to work
on." She stopped, the needle poised above Lee's arm, realizing the
inaptness of her remark. "Oh. I shouldn't have said that."

"No, that's all right," said Lee. "I've already reconciled myself to
being the headless horseman for a while." He had, too, although it was
wonderfully strange to think of himself lying on the operating table
with a cavity where he right now thought, felt, knew that he was a
person.

       *       *       *       *       *

Lee didn't actually lie on the table in the literal sense. The table
was inclined to about forty-five degrees, with his head exposed and
supported by a clamp on the cheek and jaw bones. This arrangement was
necessary to allow the waiting machinery access to the area where it
would perform.

Physicians, surgeons, biologists and the like were gathered in the
amphitheater to see a bit of medical history. Actually there wasn't
much to see. A team of technicians, radiologists and surgeons were
working around Lee. Some were attaching electrodes to parts of Lee's
body to maintain the electrical impulses necessary to keep his vital
processes in motion while the main switchboard was out of commission.
Others were sensitizing the exposed brain, from which the skull had
already been removed, to guide the delicate fingers of the huge
automatic Operating, Recording and Calculating Complex through its
precisely programmed steps.

Letzmiller was among those in the amphitheater, as a spectator, drawn
both by professional curiosity and a desire to know the answer to
Lee's question, "Doc, what will there be left of me?" Of course he
couldn't find out even part of the answer for some weeks. Even the ORC
complex, now being fitted to Lee's unconscious brain, adjusted and
activated, would not finish with its job for something like thirty-two
hours.

The synthesizer would reconvert the data, translate it into countless
chemical and electrical formulae, and apply it to the raw material of
carbons, amino acids, proteins, and other components. When the basic
organ had been reconstructed, a process requiring another week and a
half in the synthesizer, it would be grafted back. The nerve lead-ins
would then be reconnected, one by one, spaced at intervals to avoid
shock. Lee would be unconscious the whole time, of course. Or rather
Lee would be unconscious part of the time. Most of the time he
wouldn't have the capacity for either consciousness or the lack of it.

Dr. Letzmiller observed the huge ORC complex for a time, but there
wasn't anything to see. It simply sat over Lee, doing its job.
Unwanted, the thought came to Letzmiller that the machine looked like
a frog with a long worm dangling from its mouth. Lee was the worm.

       *       *       *       *       *

"You can talk to him now, doctor." Oldenreid, Surgeon in Charge,
addressed Letzmiller outside Lee's room where he had just finished his
examination. "Personally, I think things went exactly as they should.
All physical and mental responses check out. I guess here's where I'm
finished and you go to work."

Lee was sitting up in bed as Letzmiller entered. He looked just like
he had in Letzmiller's office before the operation, except for the
small white bandages around his head to protect his healing skull.
"Well," the doctor said, "how do you feel? Your head hurt?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Letzmiller checked at Oldenreid's office, and was admitted to give his
report, as had been planned.

"Well?" asked Oldenreid.

Letzmiller lit the end of his cigar before answering. "I wholly agree
with you. Everything seems to have worked out exactly according to
plan. I found him essentially the same as he appeared to me during his
pre-operative interview. Of course he's a little foggy yet, but I
suppose that's just the post-operative shock."

"Yes, that will clear up in a few days."

"He seems alert, responsive, full memory. I don't think there will be
any difficulty with my part of his post-operative treatment. Except--

"Doctor, have you ever listened to a group of violins and sensed, just
sensed, not actually heard, that one of them seemed about a quarter of
a note flat?"

Oldenreid looked at him strangely as Letzmiller left the office and
closed the door.

       *       *       *       *       *





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