The details of the illness that struck me down so suddenly in my middles life. are known to you. I need not waste time upon them except to admit at once how foolish I was not to have gone earlier to my doctor. Cancer is one of the few remaining diseases that these modern drugs cannot cure. A surgeon can operate if it has not spread too far; but with me, not only did I leave it too late, but the thing had the effrontery to attack me in the pancreas, making both surgery and survival equally impossible.
So here I was with somewhere between one and six months left to live, growing more melancholy every hour and then, all of a sudden, in comes Landy.
That was six weeks ago, on a Tuesday morning, very early, long before your visiting time, and the moment he entered I knew there was some sort of madness in the wind. He didn’t creep in on his toes, sheepish and embarrassed, not knowing what to say, like all my other visitors. He came in strong and smiling, and he strode up to the bed and stood there looking down at me with a wild bright glimmer in his eyes, and he said, ‘William, my boy, this is perfect. You’re just the one I want!’
Perhaps I should explain to you here that although John Landy has
‘Look,’ he aid, pulling up a chair beside the bed. ‘In a few weeks you’re going to be dead. Correct?’
Coming from Landy, the question didn’t seem especially unkind. In a way it was refreshing to have a visitor brave enough to touch upon the forbidden subject.
‘You’re going to expire right here in this. room, and then they’ll take you out and cremate you.’
‘Bury me.’ I said.
‘That’s even worse. And then what? Do you believe you’ll go to heaven?’
‘I doubt it,’ I said, ‘though it would be comforting to think so.’
‘Or hell, perhaps?’ .
‘Idon’ really see why they should send me there.’ ‘You never know, my dear William.’
‘What’s all this about?’ I asked.
‘Well,’ he said, and I could see him watching me carefully, personally, I don’t believe that after you’re dead you’ll ever hear of yourself again unless…’ – and here he paused and smiled and leaned closer- ‘…unless, of course, you have the sense to put yourself into my hands. Would you care to consider a proposition?’
The way he was staring at me, and studying me, and appraising me with a queer kind of hungriness, I might have been a piece of prime beef on the counter and he had bought it and was waiting for them to wrap it up.
‘I’m really serious about it, William. Would you care to consider a proposition?’
‘Go on then, if you like. I doubt I’ve got very much to lose by hearing it.’
‘On the contrary, you have a great deal to gain – especially after you’re dead.’
I am sure he was expecting me to jump when he said this, but for some reason I was ready for it. I lay quite still, watching his face and that slow white smile of his that always revealed the gold clasp of an upper denture curled around the canine on the left side of his month.
‘This is a thing, William, that I’ve been working on quietly for some years. one or two others here at the hospital have been helping me, especially Morrison, and we’ve completed a number of fairly successful trials with laboratory animals. I’m at the stage now where I’m ready to have a go with a man. It’s a big idea, and it may sound a bit far-fetched at first, but from a surgical point of view there doesn’t seem to be any reason why it shouldn’t be more or less practicable.’
Landy leaned forward and placed both hands on the edge of my bed. He has a good face, handsome in a bony sort of way, with none of the usual doctor’s look about it. You know that look, most of them have it. It glimmers at you out of their eyeballs like a dull electric sign and it reads Only I can save you. But John Landy’s eyes were wide and bright and little sparks of excitement were dancing in the centres of them.
‘Quite a long time ago,’ he said, ‘I saw a short medical film that had been brought over from Russia. It was a rather gruesome thing, but interesting. It showed a dog’s head completely severed from the body, but with the normal blood supply being maintained through the arteries and veins by means of an artificial heart. Now the thing is this: that dog’s head, sitting there all alone on a sort of tray, was alive. The brain was functioning. They proved it by several tests. For example, when food was smeared on the dog’s lips, the tongue would come out and lick it away, and the eyes would follow a person moving across the room.
‘It seemed reasonable to conclude from this that the head and the brain did not need to be attached to the rest of the body in order to remain alive provided; of course, that a supply of properly oxygenated blood could be maintained.
‘Now then. My own thought, which grew out of seeing this film, was to remove the brain from the skull of a human and keep it alive and functioning as an independent unit for an unlimited period after he is dead. Your brain, for example, after you are dead.’
‘Don’t interrupt, William. Let me finish. So far as I can tell from subsequent experiments, the brain is a peculiarly self supporting object. It manufactures its own cerebrospinal fluid. The magic processes of thought and memory which go on inside it are manifestly not impaired by the absence of limbs or trunk or even of skull, provided, as I say; that you keep pumping in the right kind of oxygenated blood under the proper conditions.
‘My dear William, just think for a moment of your own brain. It is in perfect shape. It is crammed full of a lifetime of learning. It has taken you years of work to make it what it is. It is just beginning to give out some first-rate original ideas. Yet soon it is going to have to die along with the rest of your body simply because your silly little pancreas is riddled with cancer.’
‘No thank you,’ I said to him. ‘You can stop there. It’s a repulsive idea, and even if you could do it, which I doubt, it would be quite pointless. What possible use is there in keeping my brain alive if I couldn’t talk or see or hear or feel? Personally, I can think of nothing more unpleasant.’
‘I believe that you would be able to communicate with us,’ Landy said. ‘And we might even succeed in giving you a certain amount of vision. But let’s take this slowly. I’ll come to all that later on. The fact remains, that you’re going to die fairly soon whatever happens, and my plans would not involve touching you at all until after you are dead. Come now, William. No true philosopher could object to lending his dead body to the causes of science.’
‘That’s not putting it quite straight’ I answered. ‘It seems to me’ there’d be some doubts as to whether I were dead or alive by the time you’d finished with me.’
‘Well,’ he said, smiling a little,’I suppose you’re right about that. But I don’t think you ought to turn me down quite so quickly before you know a bit more about it.’
‘I don’t smoke, you know that.’
He took one himself and lit it with a tiny silver lighter that was no bigger than a shilling piece. ‘A present from the people who make my instruments,’ he said. ‘Ingenious, isn’t it?’
‘May I go on?’ he asked.
‘I’d rather you didn’t.’
‘Just lie still and listen. I think you’ll find it quite interesting.’
There were some blue grapes on a plate beside my bed. I put the plate on my chest and began eating the grapes.
‘At the very moment of death,’ Landy said, ‘I should have to be standing by so that I could step in immediately and try to keep your brain alive.’
‘You mean leaving it in the head?’
‘To start with, yes. I’d have to.’
‘And where would you put it after that?’
‘If you want to know, in a sort of basin.’
‘Are you really serious about this?’
‘Certainly I’m serious.’
‘All right. Go on.’
‘I suppose you know that when the heart stops and the brain is deprived of fresh blood and oxygen, its tissues die very rapidly. Anything from four to six minutes and the whole thing’s dead. Even after three minutes you may get a certain amount of damage. So I should have to work rapidly to prevent this from happening. But with the help of the machine, it should all be quite simple.’ ‘What machine?’
‘The artificial heart. We’ve got a nice adaptation here of the one originally devised by Alexis Carrel and Lindbergh. It oxygenates the blood, keeps it at the right temperature, pumps it in at the right pressure, and does a number of other little necessary things. It’s really not at all complicated.’
‘Tell me what you would do at the moment of death,’ I said. ‘What is the first thing you would do?’
‘Do you know anything about the vascular and venous arrangement of the brain?’
‘Then listen. It’s not difficult. The blood supply to the brain is derived from two main sources, the internal carotid arteries and the vertebral arteries. There are two of each, making four arteries in all. Got that?’