a short story by Peter Sedgwick

The nurses had not reported anything very distinctly unusual about the patient. (I myself, of course, saw him only for the first time in the operating theatre.) One or two of them, however, did notice one singular trait. Throughout the days that preceded my own contact with him, he was seen to ask with particular anxiety for newspapers and reviews of a more serious character than is ordinarily available on the vendor’s trolley. Once these publications were, with some disorganisation of the ward’s routine, obtained for him, he would fall to reading or rather scrutinising them with some intensity. Other patients have commented how absorbed in this he always seemed to be for the first couple of hours after breakfast, so far as to be almost entirely oblivious of his fellows in their surrounding beds. On Fridays and Sundays he appeared quite immune to all normal conversational gambits, for most of the day. His bed would then be piled untidily with a variety of newspapers and periodicals, whose slovenly and profuse extent made it difficult to keep his bed clear for meals, temperatures, sheetchanges, gargles and the like.

Then again, always at certain set hours of each day, he would reach for the radio earphones above his bedpost, and spend some time listening attentively through them. There is nothing odd about this fact, except for the great regularity of his listening, and its concentration. He never smiled or showed any sign of enjoyment while the earphones were on. The rest of the ward concluded that whatever he was tuned in to, it was not a comedy show. Indeed, a careful checking of the hours at which he used to listen suggests that the broadcasts to which he was so warmly addicted were nothing more interesting than the news.

In the patient’s locker we have found sundry manuscripts, some of them letters, indignant in emphasis, addressed to various editors, others more lengthy, whose contents are, quite unanimously, political. (Obviously I have not read these in any great detail.)

Otherwise, the man seemed reasonably average and adjusted. Certainly he displayed no more than the ordinary degree of apprehension concerning his operation.

Electro-encephalography and other observation having revealed the presence of a malignant tumour, surgical extirpation was felt to be necessary. The consent of the patient and his closest relatives was secured for this course. Anesthetisation proceeded smoothly, and a circular section of skull was removed without any apparent complications. I located and excised the tumour—a small growth on the frontal cortical surface—fairly easily; haemorrhage was arrested as it came, all uneventfully. I was about to terminate what had so far been a simple and routine operation, when my attention was drawn to a peculiarity in the patient’s cerebral anatomy. A perfectly spherical surface, jet black in colour, was poking up visibly from an involution of the exposed frontal hemisphere.

So unprecedented a phenomenon could hardly be left unexamined. Probing told us nothing, except that it was uniformly hard—hard enough, indeed, to blunt several of our instruments. At the risk of causing minor damage, the grey matter and blood-supply in the appearance’s immediate neighbourhood were thrust back with clamps, enabling me to ascertain the full size of this remarkable and alien form. It was, from what I could make out, about three inches wide at its maximum diameter; its regular roundness continued with uninterrupted precision down to the level where it disappeared into the embedding mass of white fibres below. There was, what is more, no evident connection, neuronic or arterial, between it and the proximate tissue. Did we not know that this was the first time the patient’s brain had been exposed, one would have said that it had been inserted, or left there negligently, by some lunatic surgeon of the past.