The ideal way to deal with a pest—any menace—is,
of course, to make it useful to you....
by Robert J. Martin
The doctor's pen paused over the
chart on his desk, "This is your third
set of teeth, I believe?"
His patient nodded, "That's right,
Doctor. But they were pretty slow
coming in this time."
The doctor looked up quizzically,
"Is that the only reason you think you
might need a booster shot?"
"Oh, no ... of course not!" The
man leaned forward and placed one
hand, palm up, on the desk. "Last year
I had an accident ... stupid ...
lost a thumb." He shrugged apologetically,
"It took almost six months to
Thoughtfully, the doctor leaned
back in his chair, "Hm-m-m ... I
see." As the man before him made
an involuntary movement toward his
pocket, the doctor smiled, "Go on,
smoke if you want to." Picking up
the chart, he murmured, "Six months
... much too long. Strange we
didn't catch that at the time." He
read silently for a few moments,
then began to fill out a form clipped
to the folder. "Well, I think you
probably are due for another booster
about now. There'll have to be the
usual tests. Not that there's much
doubt ... we like to be certain."
The middle-aged man seemed relieved.
Then, on second thought, he
hesitated uneasily, "Why? Is there
Amusement flickered across the
doctor's face, turned smoothly into
a reassuring half-smile. "Oh, no.
There's absolutely no danger involved.
None at all. We have tissue-regeneration
pretty well under control
now. Still, I'm sure you understand
that accurate records and data
are very necessary to further research
Reassured, the patient thawed and
became confidential, "I see. Well, I
suppose it's kinda silly, but I don't
much like shots. It's not that they
hurt ... it's just that I guess I'm
old-fashioned. I still feel kinda
'creepy' about the whole business."
Slightly embarrassed, he paused and
asked defensively, "Is that unusual?"
The doctor smiled openly now,
"Not at all, not at all. Things have
moved pretty fast in the past few
years. I suppose it takes people's
emotional reactions a while to catch
up with developments that, logically,
we accept as matter of fact."
He pushed his chair back from the
desk, "Maybe it's not too hard to understand.
Take 'fire' for example:
Man lived in fear of fire for a good
many hundred-thousand years—and
rightly so, because he hadn't learned
to control it. The principle's the
same; First you learn to protect
yourself from a thing; then control
it; and, eventually, we learn to 'harness'
it for a useful purpose." He gestured
toward the man's cigarette,
"Even so, man still instinctively fears
fire—even while he uses it. In the
case of tissue-regeneration, where the
change took place so rapidly, in just a
generation or so, that instinctive fear
is even more understandable—although
quite as unjustified, I assure
The doctor stood up, indicating
that the session was ending. While
his patient scrambled to his feet,
hastily putting out his cigarette, the
physician came around the desk. He
put his hand on the man's shoulder,
"Relax, take it easy—nothing to worry
about. This is a wonderful age we
live in. Barring a really major accident,
there's no reason why you
shouldn't live at least another seventy-five
years. After all, that's a very
remarkable viral-complex we have
doing your 'repair' work."
As they walked to the door, the
man shook his head, "Guess you're
right, Doc. It's certainly done a good
job so far, and I guess you specialists
know what you're doing, even if folks
don't understand it."
At the door he paused and half
turned to the doctor, "But say ...
something I meant to ask you. This
'stuff' ... er, this vaccine ...
where did it come from? Seems to
me I heard somewhere that, way back
before you fellows got it 'tamed' it
was something else—dangerous.
There was another name for it. Do
you know what I mean?"
The doctor's hand tightened on
the doorknob. "Yes, I know," he said
grimly, "but not many laymen remember.
Just keep in mind what I
told you. With any of these things,
the pattern is protection, then control,
then useful application." He
turned to face his patient, "Back in
the days before we put it to work for
us—rebuilding tissue, almost ending
aging and disease—the active basis
for our vaccine caused a whole group
of diseases, in itself."
Returning the man's searching
gaze, the doctor opened the door,
"We've come a long way since then.
You see," he said quietly, "in those
days they called it 'cancer'."