The Last Doctor

by Quirky Bones

2021

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Number of Reviews: 5
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A too-brief moral dilemma, November 30, 2021
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
Related reviews: IFComp 2021

This quick effort provides a few moral dilemmas a doctor faces but doesn't explore them as much as I had hoped, given the strong good introduction. You're a doctor in some sort of war-zone. You have a choice of how much to treat your current patient. Treat them properly, and you have no resources for the next patient. Don't treat them, and maybe you can treat more. But will it be satisfactory? The patient seems grateful either way.

The next day, the warlord responsible for the huge conflict comes in, with his posse. He's close to critical. You have the choice to treat him or not (he says he understands, since you're helping the rebels, and nobody will harm you even if he dies.) Either choice you make, he comes back later, offering you a position where you have more resources and can treat more people better. The dilemma, of course, is whether healing soldiers aligned with an oppressive system will, in fact, do more damage.

The themes are treated a bit lightly, as I see it. I don't know if I buy that the soldiers you treat aren't wounded quite as badly if you help the big boss. It reminds me of the flip side of Saki's The Storyteller where the kids say "but wouldn't people have helped her even if she weren't bad?" Perhaps the boss orders less flesh-cutting bullets, or even fewer head shots, but even so that doesn't stop the war. It feels a bit like bullies backing off when security guards are watching.

Without more details, it's impossible for the reader to divine the boss's intent fully, but on the other hand, you've been helping for a long while, according to the story. So you should know something about what the boss does, how he does it, and maybe even how much fault people on your side have for the whole mess.

So trying for a fable- or thought-experiment-like effect ("help 5 mean people or 4 nice ones?") really doesn't quite work for me, here. It feels like there should have been more, and I expected it, from the first interactions with the patient. But it felt like maybe the author ran up against a time deadline and wanted to send in something complete. And it is, but it feels a bit workmanlike after the first patient.