Dr. Elena Murphy took a deep breath and stepped into the operating room, just as she had done hundreds of times before in her illustrious career. She was glad to get away from the inexplicably quiet hospital, the dark night that seemed to seep in through every window, the wind that howled outside like a raging monster, a sure indication of a brewing storm. She couldn’t quite explain the feeling that weighed upon her heart, as if the pitch blackness of the night had somehow wormed its way into her body as well, but she confidently told herself to ignore it. After all, she was Dr. Elena Murphy, a leading cardiothoracic surgeon who was about to change the face of medicine forever. Elena tucked her long brown hair under a scrub cap and stretched out her slender pale arms, awaiting the orderly who would put on her sterile gloves, and carefully scrutinized the patient who lay still, almost as if asleep, on the operating table. Elena knew better. The patient wasn’t asleep...she was dead. She had been dead for the past one hundred years. Today was the day she would be brought back to life. And Elena was the one who would do it. Suddenly a feeling of trepidation washed over her, and her heart felt as if it had been plunged in a bucket of ice water, but the feeling was gone as quickly as it had come. “Nurse, would you read the patient’s file once more to me before we begin?” Elena asked, commanding her voice to remain steady but unable to keep it from rising slightly at the end. The nurse looked mildly surprised, but obliged to read the file. “Patient name: Sofia Carlson. Age: twenty-five years. Date of Birth: the sixth of April, 1979. Sofia was diagnosed with end-stage cancer in 2014, and doctors were unable to find a suitable course of treatment. She was given six months to live. However, she asked that her body be preserved until such a time came that doctors could cure her cancer and bring her back to life. Over the past few months, the oncologists at this hospital have administered new treatments to Sofia’s body, eradicating any remains of the cancer. Her heart is now healthy enough to be restarted. Yesterday, the patient was given a blood transfusion, so now the blood vessels are full of blood ready to be pumped. This will be the first time that this procedure – the restarting of a heart that hasn’t beaten in one hundred years – is performed.” Elena nodded her head, closed her eyes for a fleeting second, and walked to the side of the operating table. She was fairly petite, so a stool was ready for her to step up on so she could see the patient properly. Standing next to her was Dr. Gregory Carlyle, the general surgeon who would oversee the bodily functions of the patient. Greg’s floppy blonde hair was covered by a scrub cap decorated with – Elena noted the irony with a wry smile – extremely cruel-looking sharks. Greg gave Elena a smile and squeezed her hand reassuringly, and walked around to the other side of the table. They were now ready to begin. Elena made the first cut, a perfectly straight line down the side of the sternum. She was nervous, of course, but she was also a surgeon, and her hands never shook. The blood coagulated strangely at the site of the incision, the effect foreign to Elena’s eyes because she had never operated on a patient without a beating heart before. She proceeded with the motions of a normal cardiac surgery, and after a few more careful incisions, she succeeded in exposing the eerily still heart. For the first time since starting the surgery, Elena looked up, and was mildly shocked to see an operating room full of people waiting with bated breath to see what she would do next. Ignore them, she thought to herself. This next part is critical. Her brown eyes caught Greg’s blue ones briefly before she looked back down at the unalive heart which rested before her. It’s time, she thought. Elena reached for the defibrillator paddles which were placed conveniently next to the table and gave the command “charge to one hundred” in a carefully calm tone. She positioned the paddles on either side of the heart and spoke the perfunctory word “clear”, even though she knew none of the medical personnel in the room would be touching the patient in this crucial moment. She squeezed the paddles around the dead heart, and almost felt the pulse travel through the wires. She was the first to feel the heart give a weak, shuddering beat under the tight grip of the paddles. Then, out of nowhere, Elena screamed, a heartrending, excruciatingly distressful sound that sent chills down the spines of everyone in the operating room. The paddles dropped inconsequentially to the floor. A scaly, slimy hand of ice reached deep into Elena’s chest and yanked at something deep beyond even her heart, ripping out a piece of her essence, her soul itself. Elena’s knees gave beneath her immeasurable pain and she collapsed to the floor as the lights dimmed under her eyelids. A few hours later, Elena awoke in patient room 2334, ironically the same room where she had treated an innumerable amount of heart patients. Greg was sitting anxiously in the chair at the foot of the bed, waiting for Elena to stir. The moment she opened her eyes, a searing pain shot through her chest, but she ignored it and with a great effort sat up. “What happened?” Elena croaked, her voice hoarse and her throat dry. Greg’s eyes flickered to the side momentarily and then lifted to match Elena’s weary yet piercing gaze. For a moment he struggled to find words that would not be hurtful to Elena, and then spoke in a deliberately slow voice. “After you collapsed in the operating room, I took over the surgery and closed the chest. The patient’s heart was beating: you had already completed the majority of the surgery. They took you out and ran every possible test on you to find out why you screamed in such agony, but the tests were completely clear. I looked at them myself, Elena, there was nothing there. We had to assume it was some sort of psychological shock that was caused by the stress of the surgery.” Elena laid back her head and closed her eyes for a few moments, trying to fathom the idea that she, Dr. Elena Murphy, had collapsed in the operating room. She had never done anything of the sort before. She conducted surgeries with a calm mind and cool head – she always had. And now to be told that there wasn’t even anything wrong with her; that was the last straw. She knew the pain she had felt, the worst pain she had ever felt. The second the patient’s heart had started, it was as if something had been sucked out from her, stolen from her, and that is why she had screamed. Not due to psychological shock – no, that wasn’t possible. Elena shifted forward in her bed, wincing as a shadow of the pain seared through her chest again. She raised her eyes and stared directly into Greg’ soulful steady ones, and spoke in as commanding a voice as she could muster in her fragile state. “I want to see my test results. Now. And I want continuous updates on how Sofia is doing. I can’t have all of this be for nothing.” Greg nodded his head, almost as if he had expected her to ask this of him, and beckoned to the orderly waiting inconspicuously outside the door of the room. The orderly walked in, holding a thick sheaf of papers, which he handed to Greg. Greg passed the papers to Elena. “Here are your test results. Negative, as I said.” Elena took the disarray of papers in her hands and rapidly flicked through them. In front of her was a myriad of pictures and words– chest x-rays, CT scans, blood test figures – a seemingly nonsensical arrangement of letters and symbols that made perfect sense to her well- trained eye. In fact they made too perfect sense: there was not a single incongruity, not a single number that was not exactly what it should be. Elena, on paper at least, was wholly healthy. Elena lifted a slim hand to her heart, as if she could somehow wish away the periodic pangs of pain she felt, but to no avail. Greg watched Elena scrutinize the papers, concerned. “See? There’s nothing wrong.” he said defensively. His tone hid his inner doubt – he had known Elena for most of her career and he had never seen her show pain outwardly the way she had done in that operating room. He was worried for her, worried at what kind of pain could cause an experienced surgeon to collapse in the middle of an operation and not leave any indicators on the multitude of tests that had been conducted. “Try to get some rest. I’m sure you’ll feel better in a few days,” Greg said, his tone falsely upbeat. Elena managed a weak smile and lay back down. The pain was getting worse, and she drifted off into a troubled sleep even as Greg’s footsteps receded down the hallway. Greg made his way downstairs to Sofia Carlson’s room, room 1138 on the ground floor. He was surprised at how quickly her heart had been started and how well she had thrived in the few hours since the surgery. Her tests had come back as clear as Elena’s and she had been sleeping peacefully, a good sign that portended her successful survival one hundred years after dying. Greg entered Sofia’s room. The blinds had been shut, but a few warming rays of sunshine slipped in through the cracks. The storm had passed; the sky was clear blue, the day was bright, and Sofia’s room had a certain joyful air about it that Elena’s room lacked. Greg’s lips curled up into a smile as he examined Sofia’s blood pressure and heart rate on the monitor, both within normal range. Just as he was noting the figures, Sofia’s eyes fluttered open and she drew in a sharp breath. Greg wheeled around to face the bed, full of eager anticipation to see what this girl, coming back to life after a hundred years, would have to say about the world. The second his eyes rested on Sofia’s face, however, he felt dizzy and confused. For an ephemeral moment, Sofia’s face was Elena’s: Sofia was Elena. But the moment flitted away soon enough, and Greg was inclined to believe it had just been a trick of the mind. Greg, mildly disconcerted, quickly recuperated from the strange moment and inquired into Sofia’s state of mind. He started with the basics – a straightforward “how are you feeling” – to check if her abilities of speech and comprehension were intact – which they appeared to be – and then transitioned into questions of a more delicate nature. “What can you remember? Do you have any memories? Perhaps of your childhood?” Sofia looked momentarily perplexed, as if the word “memory” was unfamiliar to her, and then shook her head. “I don’t know.” A shadow of disquietude moved over Greg’s face, but he attributed her lack of memories to her weary state and advised her to rest in the hope that she would remember her identity when she awoke. Greg was tired himself: it had been a marathon of a night and having two important patients on his hands had been exhausting. With both of them asleep, he decided he should do the same and be ready to track their progress the next day. A week passed with no event. Elena was still unable to operate as a result of her perpetual tiredness and the constant pangs of pain that pulsed through her chest. Sofia, while healthy, still had not regained her memories. Greg was frustrated with the lack of development. But on the eighth day after that eventful night, Sofia felt a warm glow spread through her chest, as if a golden liquid were filling a hole behind her heart she didn’t even know existed. A nurse hurried to find Greg and urged him to come to Sofia’s room: as it turned out, she had recalled something. Greg took the stairs two at a time and rushed to room 1138, where Sofia was awaiting him excitedly. “I remember something!” she exclaimed, her voice full of promise. “I remember where I grew up! My parents were doctors in New York, and I was raised there. I then attended Colombia University where I studied to be a doctor.” Greg inhaled sharply. It couldn’t be a coincidence...could it? For he remembered that Elena, too, had lived in New York as a child, where her parents were doctors, and she too had a M.D. from Colombia University. And now here she was, a successful cardiothoracic surgeon. Yes, he thought, here she is – a successful cardiothoracic surgeon. Right in front of me. And it seemed natural to him that Sofia had the same childhood as Elena. Upstairs, in room 2334, Elena Murphy sat up in bed and screamed. Her voice echoed around the hospital floor, carrying a sound of pure anguish to the ears of everyone within distance. The pain in the operating room had been bad. This pain was ten times as worse. The hand was back in her chest, absolutely ransacking her soul. The hand stole a part of it and left, leaving the soul in tatters and Elena in indescribable misery. She racked her brains to remind herself of who she was, but instead found a gaping hole where the recollections of her childhood had been. All of a sudden, she didn’t have an inkling of who she was. She was just a woman in immense pain. Downstairs, in Sofia’s room, Greg was oblivious to Elena’s pain. He was listening eagerly to Sofia Carlson, whose memories were flooding back into her mind. “I am a cardiothoractic surgeon, and I’m good at what I do. I remember, yes, this is me!” Sofia sounded passionate, and Greg had no doubt that she was a fantastic surgeon. Upstairs, Elena’s pain no longer ebbed and flowed. Now in was continuous – the scaly hand did not leave her chest but instead kept tearing off pieces of her essence. Screaming took too much energy, because Elena now had to focus every fiber of her being into breathing. Downstairs, Greg was beginning to recognize Sofia for who she was. Of course, he had worked with her for so many years. She was a surgeon at this very hospital. Just last week, he had performed a groundbreaking surgery with her where they restarted the heart of a woman who had been dead for a hundred years. Yes, Sofia had collapsed while performing the surgery due to psychological shock, but now she was getting better. The patient whose heart they had started unfortunately had not been recovering well from the surgery and it was anticipated that she would not survive through the post-operative care. That was alright, though – not every experiment could be successful. Greg was just glad that his longtime friend and colleague Sofia Carlson was going to be healthy once more. Greg left Sofia’s room, satisfied that she had regained control of her identity, and made his way up to Elena’s room, the room of the poor patient who would not survive the restarting of her heart despite being cancer-free. When he got there, though, he was aghast: Elena’s condition had deteriorated more rapidly than he had imagined it would. Elena lay slack on the bed, her face incredibly pale and her body decrepit. She was fighting for every breath, her mind devoid of any kind of sense of self. She had no idea who she was or what she was doing here. She was aware only of physical pain, only of a deep cavity behind her heart where her soul had once rested. She was able, with much effort, to raise her head as Dr. Carlyle entered the room. She stretched out her hand, seeking human comfort. Dr. Carlyle took it, trying to put her at peace and out of suffering. Her hand went limp in his as the zig-zag line on the monitor behind her flattened, and the monitor emitted a tone that conveyed a sense of finality. What lay on the bed before Greg was an empty body, the heart unable to beat without the soul that supported it. But Greg was unaware of this, assuming simply that Elena’s was a body that could not live one hundred years after dying. He arranged for the room to be emptied and went downstairs to spend time with his good friend Sofia, who had told Greg that she felt as if “her soul had never been more complete”. Greg took it to mean she was feeling herself again, ready to be the spectacular surgeon once more. The next day, the local newspaper published an article about the failed experiment of restarting a long-dead heart. After explaining that the patient, Elena Murphy, had been too weak to survive after the operation, the article went on to describe that the silver lining for the hospital was that the doctor who had collapsed during the surgery had made a full recovery.
ABOUT THE WRITER Avni Halabe is an Indian American chemical engineer student attending the University of Texas at Austin. In her spare time, Avni enjoys literary and interpretative analysis as well as creative writing . When Avni is not writing or solving a myriad of discrete math equations, she enjoys playing tennis and serving the community.