01 Feb I woke up during surgery, they weren’t trying to save me
“Alright, let’s get this started. Incision time, 9:45,” a manly voice said loudly, jolting me awake.
I felt groggy, and my eyes were kept shut by tape covering my eyelids. I tried to call out for help, but quickly realised I couldn’t form any words, nor move a single muscle.
Was I paralysed, had I been in an accident? My mind was too shattered, unable to recall even the simplest information.
“Prepare the device, part 108, we don’t have much time to get it in place,” another voice said.
A sharp pain shot through the back of my head, immediately followed by warm liquid trickling down my neck. I wanted so desperately to cry out in pain, but I could do nothing but listen to what happened as something dug deeper into my skull.
“Apply pressure right there, will you. Don’t you see the bleed?” the first voice said.
“It’s not working.” the second responded after a moment.
“Fine, then cauterise it, the skin flap is already made.”
The smell of burned flesh filled the air, making me feel sick. Luckily I could feel my stomach had already been completely emptied. I knew I hadn’t eaten in quite some time.
Then it dawned on me.
Surgery, I was in surgery! But, I hadn’t fallen asleep, and I couldn’t move.
The surgeon continued to burn my bleeding flesh, and as the pain intensified, I struggled to think back. All I had was a vague memory of a disease, some sort of cancer growing inside my abdomen. If that was the case, what where they doing inside my head?
“How’s he holding up?” One of them asked.
“His BP and heart rate are a bit high, but he’s under for sure. Don’t worry,” another responded.
While could hear and feel everything they did, I had no means of communication.
They started the drill up, shaking my body as they put it against my skull. The vibrations didn’t hurt, but the cracking sound produced as they dug through is one I’ll never forget.
“Shit, did you go too deep?”
“Nah, he’s fine.”
Once the bone was cut through, the pain slowly disappeared. With the brain having no pain receptors itself, I could do nothing but listen to the sickly squishes as they rummaged around inside my head.
“Is the device charged yet?” the surgeon asked.
“Charged and ready, doctor.”
I felt a vague sense of pressure as something was pushed deep inside my head.
Desperate, and terrified, I tried to think about the moments before surgery. I’d gone in for a tumour on my pancreas, and while I’m no anatomy genius, that shouldn’t be anywhere near my head.
“Put the electrodes around the device entry, set it to 650 milliamps.”
A high pitched tone was produced as they powered up the device, followed by a violent jolt, and then…
When I finally regained consciousness, I was lying in a hospital bed. A smiling woman stood in front of me. I recognised her as one of the prep nurses, thought I hadn’t caught her name yet.
“Everything went great, Mr Jones, we got it all!” she said, ecstatic.
“Wha-what?” I responded.
“It’s alright, the drugs might make you a bit woozy, but you’ll be good in another hour or so.”
A doctor I hadn’t seen before entered the room, holding a chart and a syringe containing a crimson, but transparent liquid.
“Good afternoon Mr. Jones, my name is Ethan, I’m just here to check up on you and finish the treatment.”
I peaked down at my abdomen, it stung, and was covered in a large bandaid.
“Does it hurt?” he asked.
“Y-yeah, quite a bit actually.”
“We’ll up the dosage of your pain medication in a moment. But first, let me give you the final part of your treatment. Now, this stuff burns a bit,” he said, waving around the syringe.
“But, even with most of the tumour gone, we’ve still got to kill off the stragglers, don’t want them to fester.”
As he prepared to inject me with the contents of the syringe, my mind started to clear. The memory of my surgery returned with a blast, and I violently retracted in bed, ripping the IV-line out with me.
“You drilled into my head!” I shouted.
“What are you talking about?” Ethan said, visibly confused.
“I woke up during surgery, I heard everything the surgeons said, they put something inside my head.”
Ethan nodded his head in understanding. “Mr. Jones, it’s fairly normal to experience vivid dreams while under, some even feel like they’re floating around in the room watching the surgery, some just have weird dreams. It’s perfectly understandable to mix up fantasy and reality.”
“No, it wasn’t a dream, I even felt it,” I argued as I reached for the back of my head.
There was no wound, hair still intact and no sign of any sutures.
“As I said, perfectly normal.”
I calmed down a bit due to his explanation, and let him reset the IV and finish the injection. It burned as the liquid entered my veins, searing up my arm and neck. I felt lightheaded.
“All done!” Ethan said, smiling, “you should rest now, you’ll be here for observation for a few days. You’ll be allowed visitors by tomorrow.”
It had seemed all too real, yet my supposedly incurable cancer had been eradicated, only weeks after categorically being told I would die within six months.
Even the setup before surgery had been suspicious. Starting from a nothing more than a phone call from a Mr. Burke, representing a newly founded Artifex Pharmaceuticals. They were working on a new treatment for terminal cancer patients, he had said.
He told me I’d fit the criteria for the treatment, free of charge, seeing as it wasn’t FDA approved yet. We set up a quick meet and he explained the procedure, which would combine surgery and their new chemotherapeutic drug.
At the time, my choices were either to die slowly, and painfully from cancer, or to die quickly on the operating table. Naturally, being in the last stages of life, I took the gamble, and that’s how I ended up miraculously cured, against all odds.
The next week came and went. I was discharged with a bottle of pain medication to keep me going while I healed. Yet, I just couldn’t shake that horrific nightmare from the day of the surgery.
Out of curiosity I looked through the papers I had been given by the company, surprised to find that nowhere in the fifty page long document did they ever mention the name ‘Artifex Pharmaceuticals,’ nor the name of any employee.
I tried to call the number they’d given me, but it continuously returned a busy signal. Confused, and haunted by the nightmare, I could do nothing but rest, and hope they’d call me back in for a checkup.
I needed answers…
Time went on, and after a month in recovery, which I spent mostly catching up on my favourite TV-shows, I was ready to return to work.
First order of business was a meeting with my boss, Daniel Harrison. He had always been good to me, and allowed me all the time off I needed while going through with the treatment. While it wasn’t an amazingly well paid job, I was happy to be there.
“Benjamin, great to have you back!” he basically shouted as I entered the office, embracing me in a rough hug.
We then returned to more professional means of greeting each other, and shook hands as went on to talk about my future in the company. I sat myself down in front of the desk, when I started hearing a bizarre sound, feedback-like static. Though, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out it’s origin.
It was just vague, barely audible at first. I tried to ignore it, but Harrison immediately noticed something was off.
“Are you alright? You look a bit pale,” he said.
“Yeah, I’m fine. Do you hear that?” I responded as the sound kept increasing in volume.
“Uh, never mind, my head just hurts a bit,” I said, playing off my increasing anxiety.
He gave an odd look while pondering what to say next, then he sighed.
“Look, Benjamin, I know it’s not easy to recover from such an ordeal. It’s a burden, both mentally and physically. In fact, I once went through a similar situation, many years ago, and it left a scar on my self esteem, like I’m wasn’t strong enough to survive without help.”
“I’m sorry, I never knew,” I said, the sound reaching unbearable levels.
“That’s alright, I never really talk about it, was almost fifteen years ago anyway.”
He paused for a moment, his wide smile turning to a confused look.
“It was odd though, thinking back. I was supposed to a terminal case, told me I’d be a gonner within a year. Then, out of the blue, some guy showed up at my doorstep, proposing a miracle cure.”
His story hit too close to home for comfort.
“I can’t even remember their name, everything following the surgery feels somewhat vague, distant. What was the company called again?” he asked himself.
My boss chuckled, “Heh, it’s all gone, I think something beginning with ‘A,’ hmm ‘art-‘ something.”
“Yes, that’s the one!” He yelled, barely audible over the static sound filling my head. “How’d you know?”
“That’s the same one that fixed me up, they said they were new.”
“That’s odd,” he simply responded.
I excused myself from the office, claiming the headache was worse than I thought, and Harrison said I should take as much time off as needed. No, he ordered me to take time off.
No sooner had I left the office, before the sound stopped. I let out a sigh of relief, and hurried back home to once more go over the documents.
After a fruitless search, I tried the internet, more phone calls and looked through my email filled with thousands of junk messages.
If they had truly cured Harrison fifteen years in the past, their drug had to be well past the experimental stage, and I demanded answers. The sound breaking my eardrums from within my own head, my awakening during surgery, and the fact that no one I knew had ever heard about Artifex Pharmaceuticals outside my treatment, it was all too much to handle.
I decided that in the morning, I’d return to the hospital and find one of the doctors working on my case, but my head was shattered. I needed to rest.
That night, I spent lying awake, unable to find any comfort in the fact that I was cancer free. Around midnight, my phone rang; One of my old coworkers, whom I hadn’t spoken to since my treatment.
“Benjamin?” he said in a somber tone.
“Alex, I didn’t really expect to hear from you, why are you calling this late, is everything alright?”
“It’s Harrison, he- he’s dead.”
“Dead, when, how?”
Apparently Harrison had suffered a brain haemorrhage from an undiagnosed brain aneurysm, not long after I left the day before. Just like that, he was gone.
Morning rolled around, and without a lick of sleep, I headed for the hospital.
I asked the receptionist to speak to any representative of Artifex Pharmaceuticals. She claimed she’d never heard of such a company. When I then asked for one the doctors, I realised I couldn’t exactly remember their full names. So, I asked if anyone in the surgical department was named Ethan. After doing a quick search on the computer, she simply shook her head.
Defeated, I left without answers. I continued the fruitless internet search for a couple of weeks, but work quickly occupied most of my time. It was a dreadful place in the wake of Harrison’s death. New management took over, and I had to start moving on with life.
After half a year, I started to settle down in my life. Free from disease, but with an additional few pounds gained from the recovery. In a futile attempt at combating the weight gain, I returned to the gym, spending most time running aimlessly on the treadmill.
I was just reaching my first mile, a huge achievement for someone like myself, when the god-awful feedback sound returned, almost knocking me clear off the treadmill.
I glanced to my side, noticing a man in his mid forties who’d just started running next to me. Unlike myself, he was in an ungodly well kept shape, wearing an oversized tank top. It revealed a massive surgical scar on the side of his chest, nicely decorated with a tattoo of a tree, reading ‘Arborvitae,’ beneath it.
He noticed my pained expression and stare.
“You alright, mate?” he asked as he walked towards me. The sound intensifying as he got closer, making me clutch my ears in agony.
As suddenly as it had begun, the sound just stopped. The man in front of me fell over to the ground, briefly seizing before lying there, lifeless.
He’d suffered a brain haemorrhage. At least that was as much information as I could get from the gym staff, but I knew it was more than that. The man had died just like Harrison, that horrific sound proceeding his sudden demise.
Following the gym event, I visited three separate doctors, begging them to have a look at my head, CT, MRI, whatever they could offer, I’d take it. I even told them about my cancer treatment, but no record of my hospitalisation even existed.
The first doctor recommended a shrink, the second was clueless, and only the third agreed to give me a scan to check for anything abnormal.
“Well, Mr. Jones. Luckily we settled for the CT, because the MRI would have torn your brain to shreds. You really should have told me you had some kind of implant. Outside of that, the starburst basically made your scan unreadable.”
“Excuse me?” I said, confused, but not entirely surprised that something in there didn’t belong.
“I’m sorry, a starburst is what happens when we put metal in a CT-scanner, but that’s far better than putting you inside a giant magnet, you’d-“
“No, I mean, what implant?” I interrupted.
The doctor showed me a section of the CT, a large flare looking artefact covered most of the picture, but in its center was a diamond shaped metal object.
“I have to ask, have you had any brain surgery at all? I can’t for the life of me figure out what this thing is, but it’s clearly not a physiological formation.” the doctor said, pointing to the thing inside my head.
“I-I don’t know.”
“Well, have you been in any accidents, maybe a car crash or other type. Sometimes debris stuck inside you can travel through your blood vessels, regardless of where the original injury was.”
“I had pancreatic cancer, stage three, they did surgery and gave some experimental treatment, but…”
“What exactly did they give you?” he asked, sounding more curious than concerned.
“It was just an injection, I think, and it was only once following the surgery.”
“Look, Mr. Jones, I’m not an oncologist, but as far as I know, there aren’t any single injections on the market that can cure cancer. What you’d need would be months of chemo spanning over several sessions. Whatever they gave you, it wasn’t for the cancer.”
He looked over my head, and to my surprise, he actually found a scar that I myself hadn’t noticed, though only a minuscule one.
“Well, you have a scar for sure, but it’s amazingly well hidden, never seen anything so small from brain surgery.”
I tried to explain my experience during the surgery to the best of my limited memory, but he couldn’t help. He told me he’d look into some different pharmacological trials to see if anything fit my explanation, but he didn’t seem very hopeful. He couldn’t even remove the damn thing, claiming it sat too close to my brainstem, or something.
So, here I am, living life as good as I can, still waiting for answers. Every now and then the sound will return, and when it does I just stop dead in my steps, and run the other way. I can’t let anyone else die simply by getting to close.
Whatever they did to me, I’m not alone, there are others out there with the same implants, and I fear we’ll just have to wait to see what their purpose are.
If anyone ever gets contacted by Artifex Pharmaceuticals, don’t agree to any of their miracle cures.