Dr. Benway Operates

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(Excerpt from Naked Lunch)

William S. Burroughs

The lavatory has been locked for three hours solid…. I think they are using it for an operating room….

NURSE: “I can’t find her pulse, doctor.”

DR. BENWAY: “Maybe she got it up her snatch in a finger stall.”

NURSE: “Adrenalin, doctor?”

DR. BENWAY: “The night porter shot it all up for kicks.” He looks around and picks up one of those rubber vacuum cups at the end of a stick they use to unstop toilets…. He advances on the patient…. “Make an incision, Doctor Limpf,” he says to his appalled assistant…. “I’m going to massage the heart.”

Dr. Limpf shrugs and begins the incision. Dr. Benway washes the suction cup by swishing it around in the toilet-bowl….

NURSE: “Shouldn’t it be sterilized, doctor?”

DR. BENWAY: “Very likely but there’s no time.” He sits on the suction cup like a cane seat watching his assistant make the incision…. “You young squirts couldn’t lance a pimple without an electric vibrating scalpel with automatic drain and suture…. Soon we’ll be operating by remote control on patients we never see…. We’ll be nothing but button pushers. All the skill is going out of surgery…. All the know-how and make-do… Did I ever tell you about the time I performed an appendectomy with a rusty sardine can? And once I was caught short without instrument one and removed a uterine tumor with my teeth. That was in the Upper Effendi, and besides…”

DR. LIMPF: “The incision is ready, doctor.”

Dr. Benway forces the cup into the incision and works it up and down. Blood spurts all over the doctors, the nurse and the wall…. The cup makes a horrible sucking sound.

NURSE: “I think she’s gone, doctor.”

DR. BENWAY: “Well, it’s all in the day’s work.” He walks across the room to a medicine cabinet…. “Some fucking drug addict has cut my cocaine with Saniflush! Nurse! Send the boy out to fill this RX on the double!”

Dr. Benway is operating in an auditorium filled with students: “Now, boys, you won’t see this operation performed very often and there’s a reason for that…. You see it has absolutely no medical value. No one knows what the purpose of it originally was or if it had a purpose at all. Personally I think it was a pure artistic creation from the beginning.

“Just as a bull fighter with his skill and knowledge extricates himself from danger he has himself invoked, so in this operation the surgeon deliberately endangers his patient, and then, with incredible speed and celerity, rescues him from death at the last possible split second…. Did any of you ever see Dr. Tetrazzini perform? I say perform advisedly because his operations were performances. He would start by throwing a scalpel across the room into the patient and then make his entrance like a ballet dancer. His speed was incredible: ‘I don’t give them time to die,’ he would say. Tumors put him in a frenzy of rage. ‘Fucking undisciplined cells!’ he would snarl, advancing on the tumor like a knife-fighter.”

A young man leaps down into the operating theatre and, whipping out a scalpel, advances on the patient.

DR. BENWAY: “An espontaneo! Stop him before he guts my patient!”

(Espontaneo is a bull-fighting term for a member of the audience who leaps down into the ring, pulls out a concealed cape and attempts a few passes with the bull before he is dragged out of the ring.)

The orderlies scuffle with the espontaneo, who is finally ejected from the hall. The anesthetist takes advantage of the confusion to pry a large gold filling from the patient’s mouth….

Naked Lunch was originally published in 1959 by Olympia Press in Paris. The first printing in July 1959 consisted of 5,000 copies, and a second printing of 5,000 copies was done shortly thereafter. The first printing is distinguished by a green ornament border on the title page. Later printings also lacked the dust jacket. (Maynard & Miles A2)
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