I went to the phone in the kitchen and with some difficulty managed to get through to the hospital. A plain girl in her twenties formed in the cube. "Nurse Donalson, general services." She had a fixed smile, professional sincerity. But then everybody smiled.Link:
"My mother needs to be looked at by a doctor. She has a --"
"Name and number, please."
"Beth Mandella." I spelled it.
"Medical services number, of course," she smiled.
I called into Mom and asked her what her number was.
"She says she can't remember."
"That's alright, sir, I'm sure I can find her records."
She turned her smile to a keyboard beside her and punched out a code.
"Beth Mandella?" she said, her smile turning quizzical.
"You're her son? She must be in her eighties."
"Please. It's a long story. She really has to see a doctor."
"Is this some kind of joke?"
"What do you mean?" Strangled coughing from the other room, the worse yet. "Really -- this might be very serious, you've got to--"
"But sir, Mrs. Mandella got a zero priority rating way back in 2010. "
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
"S-i-r . . ." The smile was hardening in place.
"Look. Pretend I come from another planet. What is a 'zero priority rating'?"
"Another -- oh I know you!" She looked off to the left.
"Sonya -- come over here a second. You'd never guess who .." Another face crowded the cube, a vapid blonde girl who smile was twin to the other nurse's. "Remember? On the stat this morning?"
"Oh, yeah," she said. "One of the soldiers -- hey, that's really max, really max." The head withdrew.
"Oh, Mr Mandella," she said, effusive. "No wonder you're confused. It's really very simple."
"It's part of the Universal Medical Security System. Everybody gets a rating on their seventieth birthday. It comes in automatically from Geneva."
"What does it rate? What does it mean?" But the ugly truth was obvious.
"Well, it tells how important a person is and what level of treatment he's allowed. Class three is the same as anybody else's; class two is the same except for certain life-extending--"
"And class zero is no treatment at all."
"That's correct, Mr Mandella." And in her smile was not a glimmer of pity or understanding.
"Thank you." I disconnected. Marygay was standing behind me, crying soundlessly with her mouth wide open. ...
Joe Haldeman, The Forever War, Gollancz, SF Masterworks, pp.148-149.