Knight & Deigh started life as a retelling of The Orphans, from the point of view of the second lead character, Hannice Knight. It begins in Tanzania as I remember it from the early 1980s, but some of the technologies used are much more recent. To that extent, it is anachronistic. Don’t forget, though; it is fictional, made up, lies. All of it.
Hannice Knight had run the African operation of his father’s global business for many years, when a freak accident at home left him unable to walk. Together with physiotherapist Sophie Deigh, he tries to bring into his life the excitement and adventure he missed in his formative years, due to the need to be tied to the business.
A number of adventures and activities follow including scuba-diving, sky-diving, power-boating and camping, and a half-brother he never knew about; but even these can’t lift Hannice’s spirits.
What, or who can? Will the developing closeness between Hannice and Sophie come to anything, and what of the rumoured advances in medical technology?
Beginning on 12 February 2017, I am publishing Knight & Deigh here as a serial; one scene each Sunday.
The full list of scenes so far published is here
Knight & Deigh. Chapter fourteen, scene two: Dr Harry.
Monday morning, I went alone to see Dr Harry. Sophie wanted to spend the time shopping in Oxford Street.
After the customary opening pleasantries, Dr Harry said, “Okay, Hannice, here’s the official line. Advances in stem cell technology mean that you may be a suitable candidate for a course of treatment that could potentially see your spinal cord repair itself and thus restore your mobility. If the test results show that you are, indeed, a suitable candidate for the procedure, you will undergo an operation to remove cells from another part of your body and insert them into the damaged part of your spinal cord. This is a complex operation, that will take about five hours to perform. You will then need to be observed very closely and examined regularly looking for two things: any sign of rejection; this is very unlikely to be found; and evidence that the injection of the cells is having the desired effect.”
“Are you hopeful?” I asked.
“That’s the official stuff that I have to go through with you,” he said. “Speaking now as your friend as well as your physician, I want to tell you what I know about the hoped-for outcomes and possible risks. Are you okay with what I’ve told you so far?”
“I’d be better if I knew that I could have the procedure,” I replied.
“Well, I can tell you that the samples we submitted for the previous trial; the one you didn’t get on; have been reassessed, and you are definitely classed as a group 2 candidate for this one.”
“Group 1 comprises fifty patients worldwide, who are felt to be the most likely to derive maximum benefit from the procedure. They are fully funded by the company pioneering the procedure. Group 2 is restricted to a further fifty patients who are more marginal. Group 2 patients will need to arrange their own funding. We were specifically asked to resubmit your samples by the sponsor company; apparently, the request came from the highest level. Why are you laughing?”
“Let me guess. The sponsor is Jaxson Pharmaceutical, isn’t it?”
“Well, yes,” he said. “It is, as it happens, but…”
“Paul Jaxson, who owns Jaxson Pharmaceutical, was in my study when I had the accident. We were crossing swords…”
“We were crossing swords on the subject of his company’s AIDS research…”
“This therapy is a spin-off of that research. They found that manipulating a particular gene – no idea which one, I’ll leave that to the boffins, I’m just a humble physician – can render its host cell able to self-repair, and to pass that ability to neighbouring cells. That then has a cascading effect, or so the theory goes, which leads to full repair and regeneration of damaged tissue.”
“How does it know when to stop?”
“That is part of the purpose of these trials. We don’t know much about the long-term effects; whether it will be restricted in scope to existing local damage, or whether it will step in and repair future damage at other sites.”
“I’m not with you.”
“It is not inconceivable that you could end up with a fully self-repairing body.”
“And that means?”
“You tell me, Hannice. This is potentially cutting edge stuff.”
“But worth the risk, I’d say. I should probably declare an interest here, though.”
“We have a tie-up with Jaxson,” I said, “Fifty-one percent of their Tanzanian operation is owned by my company.”
“I see. Does that make a difference?”
“Not to me, it doesn’t.”
“Good. Can I talk about the risks and expectations?”
“Of course, Doctor.”
“There is a theoretical risk of rejection of the injected cells, though it’s highly unlikely in a man with a healthy or normal immune system. I wouldn’t even think about it, but I have to mention it. There’s a small risk, related to the operation itself, that damage could be done by mis-placing the cells. There’s a very real risk that there will be no benefit. In other words, things won’t change. This is an unproven procedure and, as such, results can’t be guaranteed. However, I probably don’t need to list out the hoped-for benefits.”
“No. We both know what I want.”
“Quite. Shall we talk details?”
“We’ll need to admit you to this hospital one week before the operation, to give us time to make sure you’re stable and fit for surgery. After surgery, you’ll need to spend a minimum of four weeks here under intense observation, while the likely effectiveness of the treatment is assessed.”
“And after that?”
“Depends how it goes. Worst case, you carry on as you are now.”
“Best outcome is that you start to improve, to mend. We step up the physio to get your back and leg muscles back up to working strength, and we’d hope to have you walking, with an appliance, within six months.”
“And walking unaided?”
“Too many variables, old chap. Can’t possibly even guess, except to say that we would hope for that outcome long-term.”
“Okay, Doc, where do I sign?”
“Read this contract carefully, then initial each page and sign it at the bottom. That, and your signature on a cheque for fifty thousand pounds, will do nicely.”
“Tell you what, Harry. I’ll give you a cheque for a hundred thousand. The extra you can use to fund someone who is on the list and stands a good chance of a successful outcome but can’t manage or find the funding. If you can’t identify a suitable subject, just make sure it is used for spinal injury research.”
“That’s incredibly generous of you, Hannice,” Doctor Harry said.
“There is a condition,” I said.
“Name it,” he replied.
I wrote the cheque and agreed to report to the hospital the following week.