I’m working on a short story at the moment which is inspired by the movie ‘Awakenings‘. For those of you who haven’t seen it, it’s the true story of one doctor’s attempts to reach people who’ve become locked in a catatonic state by a disease they caught as a child. Decades later, he found a drug that managed to awaken them (hence the title), but their rest-bite was only brief and soon they slipped away again, but all the time knowing what was happening to them.
What, I wondered, would it be like if someone became a zombie (of the still-living infected kind rather than the traditional risen-from-the-dead kind) and we discovered a drug which could make them human again? How would such people manage to cope once they found out what they’d done while in their zombie state? What if they’d killed strangers? Or friends? Or relatives?
This was a subject which was touched upon in the great TV series ‘In The Flesh‘ which aired last year, but I’ve been thinking about it again because of the short story I’m writing. I guess the question here is whether, if you became infected with a zombie disease, would you want to become human again if that choice was available to you? Yes, you would have your life back, but you’d have to live with the knowledge of what you’d been and what you’d done. It’s also very unlikely that your friends and family would treat you as being the same person they’d always known and loved. Some might shun you, or treat you as a second class citizen. Even those who didn’t would still treat you differently, they wouldn’t be able to help it, and would you be able to live with those changed relationships? The mother who can’t bring herself to hug you, the partner who jumps every time you roll over in the night, the children who run away and hide when you approach.
What about if it wasn’t a cure that brought you back, but simply a way to keep the disease at bay, meaning you’d have to take medication for the rest of your life. Would you want to become human again then? Would you want to live with the responsibility of knowing that if you ever forgot to take your medication, you would once again turn and be a danger to all those around you?
What if it was only temporary? What if you knew the medication would only make you human again for a few weeks, or days, or even just a few hours? Would you want to take it just for a few moments of once again being who you’d once been?
Then again, the decision to start treatment wouldn’t be yours, would it? It would be your doctor’s or your family’s, or it might even be forced on you by the government. If a zombie disease arrived and you wanted to make sure you were never brought back if you caught it, would you need to sign a ‘Do Not Dezombify’ statement like the ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ statements which exist today?
Personally, if something like this happened to me, I’d probably not want to be brought back. I might if there was a straight out cure, although I’d have difficulty living with the knowledge of what I might have done in my zombie state. I certainly wouldn’t want the responsibility if I’d have to keep taking medication on a regular basis (sometimes I’d forget my own head if it wasn’t screwed on, especially when I’m writing, let alone remembering to take a pill three times a day). And I definitely wouldn’t want to come back if it was only temporary because I’d permanently be looking for signs that it was coming back and worrying that every little thing might be the first step on the steep slide back to zombism.
Yet, the temptation for loved ones would be to give you the medication, just so that they could spend more time with you, and get to say good-bye to you properly – to get the closure that would be so rare in any zombie outbreak – even if it wasn’t necessarily what you would want for yourself given the circumstances.
So, where am I going with this? Well, there are some quite serious issues here and they are ones we are increasingly have to think about and deal with in the modern world. Yes, zombies don’t exist (not yet at any rate!), but medicine has now reached the point were we can keep people alive in states that even a few years ago would have meant certain death. People are also living longer and that means more and more people are developing Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Together, this means we now live in an age where we ever more frequently face having to make decisions about the lives and deaths of those we love when they lose the capacity for doing it for themselves, yet we rarely speak to each other about it until it’s too late.
This might be a depressing thing for a Friday afternoon, but these are the types of conversations that we need to have with those around us in the world of modern medicine. We need to know what our friends and relatives would want to do in such situations, and we need to tell them what we would wish to happen to us. It sounds morbid, but it at least means we’re prepared if the worse were ever to happen and we end up in a state trapped between the living and the dead, unable to make decisions for ourselves.
Oh, and if there’s ever a zombie disease outbreak, please remember, it I could do it for myself, I’d tick the ‘Do Not Dezombify’ box.
From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in print and as a Kindle ebook. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more. To download a preview of the first three chapters, click here.
To read the Foreword Clarion Review of For Those In Peril On The Sea (where it scored five stars out of five) click here.