“Surgery for Dummies” by F.J. Bergmann


You decide that you have figured out exactly where to assign the responsibility for all your problems. It makes perfect sense. Despite lack of cooperation from the health-care personnel you approach, the solution is obvious. You have some medical training. Knowledge, anyway, in spite of the intrusive thoughts that keep interfering with your optimum functionality. Just because you had to withdraw (the Dean’s office staff was very understanding, but kept giving you pamphlets about the university counseling services) doesn’t mean you didn’t learn anything. You spent a lot of time in the medical college library, reading books that weren’t required, but that met your needs.

Anyway, it’s a simple operation. You’ve collected all the necessary equipment. What you couldn’t purchase yourself—one item at a time, each time from a different pharmacy or big-box store, spread out over several months—came mostly from emergency-room visits. You had actually begun to look forward to those interminable waits in private alcoves—private and stocked with tools and pharmaceuticals.

Before people came to rely so much on the medical profession (mainly in the last fifty years, you think) they were more self-sufficient with regard to their own health. On the frontier, in isolated cabins, there were no doctors—it was either go ahead and do the appendectomy or Caesarian section on your own, or watch a loved one die. In emergencies, individuals have been known to amputate their own limbs, cauterize their own infected wounds. Lots of them. Even prehistoric skulls show evidence of trepanning, to release their personal demons. Who knows you better than yourself? And don’t forget that farmers have always done plenty of successful minor surgeries on their livestock, without a veterinarian or even formal training. As long as care is taken with aseptic procedure, it shouldn’t be a problem at all.

You wait until your roommate is gone for the weekend—camping with friends. You aren’t a friend, but sometimes, if he hasn’t seen you that day, he’ll knock on the door and ask if you’re okay in there. You always say, “Yes, Jeff, I am okay in there.” He thinks this is very funny. He always laughs when you say it, anyway.

You decide to start Saturday morning. This will give you plenty of time to clean up, since Jeff won’t be back until Sunday night. You have shaved and scrubbed and injected Xylocaine, which you got at the dentist’s, where you were also left unattended for long stretches of time, to numb the area. You are about to perform the first incision when you hear the door buzzer. Has someone found out what you’re about to do? Are they spying on you somehow? You say, “Just a minute,” into the intercom, take off the clean hospital gown (fortunately, you have extras), and pull your pants back on.

The UPS man, with a package for Jeff that requires a signature. Jeff didn’t tell you he was expecting a delivery. It could have ruined everything if you had been disturbed at the wrong moment! You are angry and, after the UPS man leaves, hurl the package into the dumpster behind the building. No one can read your handwriting anyway; you will tell Jeff that someone else must have forged your signature. You have to scrub all over again. And then you are sorry about throwing away Jeff’s package because it is not his fault and it might be important to him, so you get dressed again and go out and climb into the dumpster to retrieve it. You have to stand on a discarded, cracked wastebasket to get over the edge; it doesn’t occur to you until you have dropped down inside that you will need to stand on something to get out. If you stand on Jeff’s package, you can heave yourself up, but then you will not have the package. You feel like you are about to burst into tears. You can’t decide what to do. While you are dithering—deciding—someone throws in more garbage: a bag full of used cat litter, coffee grounds, and potato peels. They also throw in the broken wastebasket. You wait until they leave to climb back out.

And then you have to take a shower before you can scrub a third time. Also, you are not sure if more local anesthetic would be a good idea now or if you should wait. You don’t have the accompanying literature, so you look up Xylocaine (lidocaine is the name of the actual drug, it says) in an old Merck Index that you acquired in the course of your preparations, where you learn nothing useful. You decide to wait—you can always inject more if it starts to hurt.

You have set out a filled syringe and extra ampoules, two scalpels, clamps, swabs, Betadine, suture thread, needles, and latex surgical gloves. You are not allergic to latex or to the Betadine, which is a plus. Everything is ready, arranged conveniently on several layers of clean towels from Goodwill, which you will put in a garbage bag and throw in the dumpster. You will put the covers back on the needles first, so they do not stick anyone by accident.

You could still change your mind; it’s not too late. But you are more convinced than ever that this is what you need.

You pick up a scalpel and lift folds of flesh out of the way. At the last minute, you decide that more Xylocaine is a good idea after all. A droplet of the lidocaine solution quivers at the end of the thin, thin needle. You hardly feel the first injection go in. When you delicately slice through the skin and the blood wells up, you don’t feel anything at all.

You could have practiced on animals, but you were too squeamish. The Humane Society probably wouldn’t take back an animal with evidence of recent surgery, without veterinary records and an explanation. When you tried to volunteer at the animal shelter, it turned out they didn’t let “unqualified persons” do things like that there. But you had watched procedural videos—dogs, cats, livestock—online. There are even websites giving advice—medical, psychological, and legal—for people who want to do what you are doing, but for completely different reasons. Their motives seem peculiar to you, and sad.

What is inside your own body looks different from textbook and monitor images. In the flesh. The membrane enclosing each sac is silvery, shimmering, a veil parting beneath the blade. The seed containers slip out like soft eggs; there is so little adhesion you don’t even need the scalpel to free them. As they dangle from each tubule, you feel the lightest of tugs, as if the single string on an ancient musical instrument had been gently plucked, twice, its echoes vibrating soundlessly inside your pubic bone.

You set down the scalpel carefully, even though you are done with it, and pick up the blunt-tipped surgical scissors. You snip midway up each vas deferens; you are confident that the contamination does not appear to have spread outside the seed-pods themselves. You begin painstakingly suturing the incision with neat, minuscule stitches. It’s like embroidery, really. When it is all finished your muscles are cramping from staying bent over so long and you are very tired, but you feel a deep sense of satisfaction. You acted in time. It’s better for everyone this way. If it had gone on for much longer, you would have lost control completely, and who knows what would have happened, with them in charge of your life.

You pick up your discarded testicles and drop them in the kitchen sink. The sink is stainless steel, so they should be safe there for the time being. Even though there was little blood loss, you feel a bit woozy. You need to clean up before Jeff gets back so he does not get upset like when you put Morty, the dead hamster of Louise from next door, in the freezer because you had promised to bury it for her after it died of old age and she was so sad, only the ground was frozen so you were waiting for spring.

You fold the absorbent pads and place them, with the wads of bloody gauze and used cotton swabs, in ziplock baggies, which you put inside a black plastic trash bag. The Betadine can go in the medicine cabinet, but the other leftover drugs and syringes and equipment you regretfully toss into a cardboard box and seal it with duct tape. You will will put it all in the Dumpster—the non-recycling Dumpster, you remind yourself—tomorrow, before Jeff comes home.

You drift in and out of focus as the garbage disposal grinds, snarls, and occasionally hiccups, while the faucet runs. It may take a month or two for your testosterone levels to fall and stabilize, which will probably calm you down. If not, you may have to consider the influence of the adrenal glands. These are inconveniently located inside the abdominal cavity, behind the liver, but not logistically inaccessible. But the important thing is that the things lurking inside your scrotum were—thank goodness!—removed in time.

You had tried to discuss your condition with Jeff, shortly after he moved in. You had long since given up discussing the matter with anyone else, but you felt that he should be aware of the risk in case he was affected too. He had been very nice about agreeing to pay more rent for the larger bedroom. He looked concerned when you described the visions and compulsions their infestation was inflicting upon you, but when you tried to pull down your shorts to show him the parasites visible just under the skin, he had retreated hastily.

“Dude, sorry; I just don’t swing that way. Y’know?” and he left to spend the night at his girlfriend’s apartment while you were still muttering incoherently. You could have used his help today, but you don’t seem to have a knack for explanations. And it’s possible that he would rather be camping in any case. All the same, you are proud to have dealt with the alien spawn before they could hatch inside your body, take over your brain, and set about infecting the rest of the human race.

The disposal quiets to a mumbling purr. You look down into the gleaming sink and sigh with relief, letting your fingers trail in the lukewarm, swirling water. Your hand is trembling a bit, and you feel cold. Time for some hot tea, and perhaps after that you will feel up to heating canned soup and making toast.

Then the disposal noise stops abruptly, before you can turn it off. The sink quivers as you lean on its cool edge; it takes you a moment to realize that the shudder you feel does not originate from your own body. Fine, translucent, twitching filaments, laden with new spores, are rising from the drain, growing and lengthening ever more rapidly. You scream as the questing tips lance into your wrist and forearm, even though you feel no pain.


F. J. Bergmann edits poetry for mobiusmagazine.com and imagines tragedies on or near exoplanets. Work appears irregularly in Abyss & Apex, Analog, Asimov’s, and elsewhere in the alphabet. A Catalogue of the Further Suns won the 2017 Gold Line Press poetry chapbook contest and the 2018 SFPA Elgin Chapbook Award.