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Preview of Coming Attractions February 20, 2012

Posted by Sobek in News.

Hey all, I’m working on novel, and I’m going to publish it serially here (until Michael revokes my posting privileges).  It is a dark comedy, partly autobiographical about a few days I spent in an Italian hospital many years ago.  I have one short chapter ready to go.  The thing is, it’s not the first chapter.  This is the teaser-trailer, to see if anyone’s interested in following my wacky misadventures in socialist health care.

* Note: Peter is an American student who was taken to the emergency room in an Italian hospital with severe, stabbing pains in his stomach.  For some reason, they put him in the eye ward.  This is his second night at the hospital, and so far his experience has been marked by one absurd situation after another *

The Unhelper

Peter woke up in pain.  Screaming, searing pain ripping through his gut.  He curled forward in a bit of a sit-up, hoping for relief, but none came.  Stab, stab, stab, from the right side of his liver to his spleen.  His face dripped sweat, and his pillow was soaked through.  

As soon as he came to his senses enough, he pushed the button the doctors gave him for a morphine dose, but nothing came.  No flood of delicious relief, straight into his blood stream.  Just pain, pain, pain, pulsing erratically, like electrical fire twisting his organs into knots.

He reached for his second life-line, a nylon cord attached to a bell that would summon the nurses.  No sound came.  Ah, they must have disabled it after all the ringing last night.  He curled up into a tighter ball, and tugged on the nylon cord a few more times, just in case.  Still nothing.  

The rest of the room was totally silent, except for a faint buzz from another room.  The other patients weren’t even snoring.  Other than the white, cotton patches covering one or both of their eyes, they could have been any group of old people sleeping in a large common room.  Maybe they all had morphine.  None of them could help Peter.  

Well there was nothing for it.  Staying put simply wasn’t possible, so Peter gingerly swung his bare feet to the freezing marble floor.  How the Italians managed to invent the aqueduct and the Renaissance, but not figure out the concept of carpet, he would never know.  But now he was standing, a little bent forward, feet rapidly losing all feeling, and ready to venture out.  He grabbed the IV bag stand and wheeled it toward the door.

Outside of the eye ward was a long hallway that was probably intended to be white, stretching long and empty in either direction.  There were no signs.  There were no lights, no sounds, nothing at all to suggest which direction might lead to help quicker.  Stab!  Okay, standing here wasn’t going to get anything done.  Peter turned left and started shuffling along the icy stone floor.

As it happened, Peter soon came to a reception area, which he vaguely recalled from when he was brought here two days ago.  The area was empty, and there were no nuns behind the reception desk to help, or at least tell him where to find help.  Just a dim, distant buzzing sound, like the hum of mechanical equipment off in the distance.  Nothing for it but to continue down the hall.  But as he was about to start shuffling again, he saw that there was a little alcove tucked behind  and to the right of the reception desk, and a dim light coming from the alcove.  He crossed the reception area, and what looked like a second, smaller reception desk came into view.  And — sweet mercy! — there was a woman sitting at the desk, reading a novel.  Above this second desk, he saw a wooden board, hanging from thin chain, which was etched with the words “The Unhelper.”

“Excuse me, miss …”  The sound of Peter’s cracked voice in his dry throat surprised them both.  “Excuse me, I’m sorry to bother you, but I’m in a lot of pain, and my morphine drip isn’t working anymore…”

The young woman smiled.  It was a smile of pity.  But it was the wrong kind of pity — much more “ah, you seem to be mistaken about something” and much less “you poor dear, let me help you.”  She lowered her book a little, smiled again, and said sweetly, “I’m sorry, this is the Unhelper desk.  You’re going to have to wait for one of the nurses tomorrow morning.”

“But I’m in a lot of pain, and I really ….”

The smile faded a little.  The young woman realized she was dealing with a dimwit.  The book lowered a little more.  It looked like a romance novel, complete with tacky front-cover art featuring a pirate and his soon-to-be-ravaged lover staring desperately into one another’s eyes.  “I’m sorry that you don’t understand, sir.  I’m not a nurse, I’m the Unhelper.  I’m not allowed to deal with your morphine drip; that would get us both in a lot of trouble.  You’re just going to have to wait for one of the nurses.”

“What’s an Unhelper?”

“Not what, who.  Specifically, me.  I’m an Unhelper.”  The smile was still flickering there, but just barely, like a match burned nearly to the end and ready to wink out at any moment.  “Hey, what’s wrong with your eyes?”

“Nothing’s wrong with my eyes.  I’m here for my stomach.”

“But you’re in the eye ward.”

“I know that.  So what do you do, as an Unhelper?”

“They don’t have Unhelpers in America?  That’s strange.”

“Not that I know of.  I’ve never heard of an Unhelper.  But look, I’m an art student, not a med student.  So it’s totally possible that …”  Another electric stab in the liver cut off the rest of Peter’s sentence.

“As you probably know, it has been proven scientifically and mathematically that government workers are highly inefficient at helping people.  So in order to improve hospital efficiency, we dedicate twenty percent of our staff to not helping people.  That’s an automatic twenty percent increase of efficiency, which means we can pass the benefit on the you, the customer.”  Now her smile was back in full force, gleaming white and sweet and coldly logical.

“But I … that doesn’t really …”

Now she put the book face down on the table, next to a thin vase with a dead flower.  One frail leaf barely clung to the desiccated stem.  It was clear that dealing with Peter would require her full attention.  

“Listen, sir, it’s the rule.  You can’t argue with the rules.  More importantly, you can’t argue with math.  One hundred percent inefficiency minus twenty percent inefficiency equals only eighty percent inefficiency.  In concept, that saves the government millions of dollars every year.  Even Americans should be able to understand and appreciate that.”  She looked fixedly at Peter to see whether he understood and would now shuffle away, leaving her in peace.  She wanted to pick up her book, but didn’t want to have to put it down again if he had to ask any more stupid questions.

“Then, uh, I guess I don’t understand why you’re here.  What’s the point of having someone in the hospital who is specifically told not to help people?”

“Not just told.  I’m also trained and certified.”

“Uh, yeah, that too.  I mean, what are you doing here?”

The Unhelper straightened her little white hat, and smoothed down her starched white shirt, both of which looked suspiciously like parts of a nurse’s uniform.  Her fingernails were long, and polished and perfect.  “Look, try to see things from my perspective, okay?  I graduated from nursing school three months before the put in the Unhelper policy.  That wasn’t my fault, was it?  I went to school so I could be a nurse, I got a job, and suddenly the hospital doesn’t need twenty percent of its staff.  That wasn’t my fault, either.  So it wouldn’t be fair to fire me for something that wasn’t my fault at all, now would it?  Of course not.  So I got some training and certification in the hospital’s Unhelper program, and now I’m fully licensed.”

Peter just stared.  The Unhelper didn’t seem to notice the look on his face.  She was now fully in the zone of explaining the impeccable logic behind the Unhelper training and certification program, and Peter was a secondary concern.  “It all makes sense, you see?  We’re improving government efficiency by twenty percent, which means we have twenty percent of our annual operating budget to fund half of the Unhelper training and certification program, with the other half funded by a government grant.  And since no one is laid off or fired, the Unhelper training and certification program doesn’t contribute to unemployment.  If we simply laid off twenty percent of the hospital staff, the employment rate would drop, and that could damage public confidence in the government.”

Now she looked at Peter steadily, trying to gauge whether any of this had sunk in, or whether he was a completely hopeless case.  She had a hard time determining whether his grimace of pain reflected comprehension or incomprehension.

“Please, miss, that all sounds great, but I really need help.”

“I understand, sir, and you’ll get help when one of the nurses gets here.  Besides, you wouldn’t want someone who’s trained in not helping people to help you.  That wouldn’t make any sense at all, and I assure you I take my job very seriously.  You want someone who is trained in helping people, not someone who is trained in not helping people.  It’s much more efficient that way.”

“Didn’t you say you graduated from nursing school?”

“Yes, I did.”

After a short pause, the Unhelper picked up her book.  Peter grabbed his metal IV stand and wheeled it back go his room, where he could suffer quietly in his bed.


1. lauraw - February 20, 2012

When this is over, you have to tell us what really happened to you in the Italian hospital.

2. Sobek - February 20, 2012

Unhelper no. Being stuck in the eye ward with sever stomach pains, yes.

3. Michael - February 20, 2012

Could you maybe give the Unhelper large boobs and a low-cut blouse, exposing an unseemly amount of cleavage every time she lowered her novel?

That would help to move the story along.

4. Michael - February 20, 2012

You could even include pictures of the Unhelper. Just go over to H2 and swipe something from their Big Boob Friday feature.

5. Sobek - February 20, 2012

Hmm, a picture of a large-breasted woman in a nurse’s uniform? Not sure where to find something like that.

6. Michael - February 20, 2012

Maybe some NFL cheerleaders could show up at the eye ward. Dave can help out with some links.

7. xbradtc - February 20, 2012

My sister was born in an Italian hospital.

I knew there was a reason she just ain’t right…

8. lauraw - February 20, 2012

I think you should make the Unhelper a talking cat that speaks to the dead.

You need to rewrite this whole thing, man.

9. LC Aggie Sith - February 20, 2012

Is it sad that I imagine this coming with Obamacare?

Also, in this passage:

which means we can pass the benefit on the to you, the customer.”

Can’t wait to read more 🙂

10. Michael - February 20, 2012

Hmm, a picture of a large-breasted woman in a nurse’s uniform? Not sure where to find something like that.

Sobek, are you kidding? This is the internet. You can find anything in 30 seconds.


Big Breast Nurses

11. Michael - February 20, 2012

Sobek, next time you need a pic, try unclicking the Safe Search box and see what happens.

12. daveintexas - February 20, 2012

The Unhelper seems a bit aloof to me.

13. Michael - February 20, 2012

The Unhelper seems like a lotta loof to me.

14. Cyn - February 20, 2012

We need to hear more about this pirate.

15. LC Aggie Sith - February 20, 2012

The Unhelper is a loofah? Wha…??

16. mare - February 20, 2012

I don’t approve of carpet in a hospital room….too many fluids.

Otherwise I’m with you.

17. Michael - February 20, 2012

OK, guys, we should take Sobek’s literary efforts seriously. Let’s stop acting like a bunch of loofers.

18. Cyn - February 20, 2012

Is this Peter a handsome fellow who will perhaps hook up with the Unhelper? We should have some facts on his handsomeness, just a few though; teasing hints. And on the pirate as well.

19. LC Aggie Sith - February 20, 2012

I did, Michael.

Sobek, is the bell disconnected because the Unhelper is at the desk, and there are no nurses at work? I wonder if the Unhelper would make Peter fill out a form for the morning nurse, and place it in queue.

Michael - February 20, 2012

I think the Unhelper needs some satisfaction, right there on her desk, which Peter gives her to get his morphine.

Peter could talk like a pirate while he does it. AARRGH!

20. LC Aggie Sith - February 20, 2012

So much for taking Sobek’s literary efforts seriously…

21. OBF - February 20, 2012

Obama gets a Nobel peace prize and Sobek gets a Pulitzer. I hope there is intelligent life on some other planet.

22. lauraw - February 20, 2012

What Cyn said about the pirate is very insightful. You’re doing really well with character development there.

Although, there aren’t enough dragons.

23. OBF - February 20, 2012

…or midgets. Can never have enough midgets.

24. Sean M. - February 20, 2012


25. lauraw - February 20, 2012


In Italy. THINK about it.

Oh this is going to be an absolute madcap panic!

Guy, you gotta let us help you write this.

26. daveintexas - February 20, 2012

A flying jetpack would be a nice plot device.

27. osoloco - February 20, 2012

How frequently will you be updating? I like what I’ve read so far. Oooooh…dragons and leprechauns.

28. OBF - February 20, 2012

You can start Chapter one like this…

A communist, an atheist and a idiot walk into an Italian bar. The bartender says, ” President Obama, what will you have?”

(You don’t even have to put me in the credits. I’m just trying to help.)

29. Retired Geezer - February 20, 2012

Mrs. Geezer wants to know if there will be horseys.

30. BrewFan - February 20, 2012

Let me help punch up the beginning a little:

“It was a dark and stormy night and Peter woke up with pain.”

No thanks are necessary.

31. lauraw - February 20, 2012

Jetpacks…leprechauns…OMG. Stay with us, here. Sobek. You are so lucky. To have friends like us.

*imagines little leprechauns jetting around St. Peter’s Basilica*

*tiny teardrops of Pure Awesome form around edges of eyes, lump forms in throat*

‘scuse me…I have to go be alone for a moment

32. Retired Geezer - February 20, 2012

I, myself, would be just as happy if ‘Pony’ showed up and pooped on the non-carpeted floor.

33. Vmaximus - February 20, 2012

Can I get a unhelper job? I am really good at not being helpful and reading the innernets. Do they pay overtime for being extra unhelpful? Is there a unhelp union I would have to join?

34. daveintexas - February 20, 2012

No clowns.


35. lauraw - February 20, 2012

*crumples up Chapter Eighteen and stares dismally at Dave*

36. daveintexas - February 20, 2012

Clowns are creepy.

37. lauraw - February 20, 2012

It was a creepy chapter.


*whispers ‘never mind’ and crawls under desk*

38. daveintexas - February 20, 2012


39. Car in - February 21, 2012

I think this story needs a vampire or two.

Vampires that sparkle.

I’d read that.

40. Car in - February 21, 2012

Or Zombies.

41. Michael - February 21, 2012

Or a truly demonic nurse, like Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest. That would add some dramatic interest.

My mom worked in a locked psych ward as a nurse at a VA hospital in Ann Arbor, so Nurse Ratched is a particularly amusing character.

She also worked as an Army nurse in Europe during WWII. I remember her telling me about the sound of buzz bombs flying overhead, towards the troops that she would have to care for.

42. MJ - February 21, 2012

I read more comments than actually story, but this seems right. Everyone knows that the sex needs to start within the first five paragraphs to hook the reader.

Check out this sample of literature I came across:

Dear Penthouse,

I live next to a sorority house near the University of Miami. The girls belong to the Delta Zeta chapter, but everyone called them the ‘Sleazy Deazies’. One particularly hot day, a recent pledge bounced across the street to borrow some ice…

43. Michael - February 21, 2012

I had a crazy friend, Ed, a veteran, who got locked into the same ward where my Mom used to work (this was after she died). I could get into that locked ward to see Ed, anytime day or night, regardless of official visiting hours, because the staff knew I was Sandy’s kid.

44. Michael - February 21, 2012

Everyone knows that the sex needs to start within the first five paragraphs to hook the reader.

That’s not true. You underestimate the readers.

The sex needs to start within the first eleven paragraphs.

45. lauraw - February 21, 2012

*rewrites/sexes up the part where Peter meets the vampire leprechaun*

46. Michael - February 21, 2012

Peter meets the vampire leprechaun

This novel is starting to shape up. It could become a masterpiece of the English Lit canon.

I’ll bet that Sobek is overwhelmed with gratitude to have friends like us who are willing to help him out.

47. daveintexas - February 21, 2012

with the jet pack

48. lauraw - February 21, 2012

*chews on pencil eraser*


Turns out, vampire leprechauns are not that sexy. The dialogue is a total pain too. I’ve typed and deleted ‘Let go o’ me lucky charms!’ umpteen times and I think I’m stuck here.

I think I’m going to have Peter fuck a clown instead.

49. Michael - February 21, 2012

>>>I think I’m going to have Peter fuck a clown instead.

OK Laura, good idea, but I’m assuming that happens after Peter bends the Unhelper over her desk and does her hard, leaving her whimpering with ecstatic pleasure and giving him the morphine he craves. Then we can bring on a clown.

We need to make sure the plot sequence is believable. Trust me about this. I studied English and German literature.

Unless Sobek can do flashbacks about the clown. Maybe that would work.

50. lauraw - February 21, 2012

No. Because then she’d be helpful.


51. Michael - February 21, 2012

You make a good point.

*scratches head*

I still think the Unhelper should get nailed. This requires further thought.

52. Michael - February 21, 2012

Hey, maybe the Clown could be the Unhelper’s boyfriend, and the Clown does her while Peter watches in horror.

Damn, I’m good. I didn’t study literature for nothing.

53. lauraw - February 21, 2012

Look, there’s going to be other females in this story, ok? Going all haywire octopus on the first broad that shows up is totally uncool.

Hang back. Relax. Don’t act so desperate.

54. Tushar - February 21, 2012

Sobek wandered in here after what, 2 years? And this is how you miserable louts greet him?

55. lauraw - February 21, 2012

He knew the risk.

You’re just jealous because you wish you were this good of a writer’s assistant.

*shows off crayon drawing of a dragon eating a leprechaun*

56. osoloco - February 21, 2012

Just say no to clowns. And midgets. Rejuvenate the Flying Monkeys!

57. daveintexas - February 21, 2012

>> I think I’m going to have Peter fuck a clown instead.

I don’t like this direction.

How about a schnauzer?

Are you smellin what I’m cookin here?


58. Retired Geezer - February 21, 2012

How about a schnauzer?

*realizes that the Unhelper is a member of PETA.*

*nods sadly

59. Russ from Winterset - February 22, 2012

Is there going to be a “Magical Minority” who helps Peter find his morphine? Chief was the Magical Injun’ in “Cuckoo’s Nest”, and Red was the Magical Negro in “Shawshank”. I really think this novel needs a magical minority to help the readers tell when Sobek is trying to make a point.

Maybe Tushar could be the model for the manager of the 7-11 that coincidentally sits next door to the hospital?

60. OBF - February 22, 2012

Does one get writer’s block if you keep an asprin tablet between each of your fingers?

61. Michael - February 22, 2012

Sobek is curiously absent from this thread.

I’m going to assume he is busy taking notes.

62. OBF - February 22, 2012

I think his head expoded from all the great advice he got….or…”the subtle fractures of his scull could not withstand the forces of nature ripping and tearing at its tensile strength. As gaps began to grow he looked one last time at the winsome figure of the unhelper, her pouting lips, her sugically enhanced mammillaries. “Noooooo”, he shrieked as welcome oblivion settled upon him like a soft down blanket…”

63. OBF - February 22, 2012

Maybe he is arresting bad guys?

64. Car in - February 22, 2012

I think I’m going to have Peter fuck a clown instead.

Could the Unhelper be the vampire?

I say you stick with vampires.

That sparkle.

65. Retired Geezer - February 22, 2012

Maybe Tushar could be the model for the manager of the 7-11 that coincidentally sits next door to the hospital?

*smacks forehead*

Magical Dot Indian (*)

Make it so.

66. Tushar - February 22, 2012
67. Retired Geezer - February 22, 2012

I wasn’t allowed to view the first link but the second link got my motor running.

va vooooom

68. Sobek - February 24, 2012

“Sobek is curiously absent from this thread.”

I’ve got more writing to do. I just got the first draft of this Monday’s installment written.

Laura is going to have to read all of these, by the way. That’s because there’s probably going to be a dragon and a leprechaun with a jetpack, but not until the very end.

69. Retired Geezer - February 24, 2012

If I ever meet Laura, face to face, it will take me 5 minutes to stop laughing at all the funny things she’s written in the annals of IB.

Then I’ll give her a proper squishy hug.

70. Car in - February 25, 2012

No vampires?



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