Eszter topped extension English in the HSC. This is what she wrote

Eszter Coombs has shared her first in course writing with our readers.Credit:Louise Kennerley

Warning: graphic content

The Ice Pick

The upper eyelid is bent back as far as possible and the leucotome, a specialised pointed instrument made of surgical steel and closely resembling a household icepick, is introduced to the conjunctival sac 3cm from the midline and inserted at an upward angle. (The lobotomiser should not be concerned if dark purple bruising or swelling appear around the eye as he operates. This is normal in areas of high sensitivity.)

Once the leucotome is felt to have reached the skull, a few enthusiastic taps with a hammer are sufficient to crack through the thin orbital plate and permit access to the patient’s prefrontal cortex. If the area of bone is too thick, withdraw the leucotome and employ the larger orbitoclast.

Asking simple questions such as “Who is the president of the United States of America?” or “Could you recite the Lord’s Prayer?” allows the lobotomist to gauge the patient’s level of coherency as they work, and regulate the extent to which the leucotome is inserted into the eye socket. Once the tool is correctly positioned, a twirling or wiggling motion with the hand severs the white fibres connecting the prefrontal region and the thalamus, thereby dulling the patient’s sensitivity to the exterior world and stabilising their emotions.

For Walter Freeman there is something about an untouched frontal lobe, all the synapses perfectly crisp and connected and cohesive, that makes it the most perfect thing in the world. Like snow that has not yet been trodden in.

When Moya Johansson’s parents came to visit their twenty one year old, frazzled, naked angry daughter the second day after lobotomy, they found her posing on a stool in front of Freeman’s fold-out white backdrop with an assistant applying rouge to her cheeks for a headshot. She was in a salmon pink hat with a piece of thin netting that hung down over her eyes and a salmon pink blazer buttoned up to her neck. Underneath that her blobby thighs hung out of a hospital gown with a large reddish brown stain on it.

Mrs Johansson removed a glove to shake Dr. Freeman’s hand. He was in a perfectly fitted suit.

She was very impressed by his suit. On the way home, she said to Mr. Johansson, “Didn’t you think his suit was very smart?”

To which Mr Johansson replied, “Yes. Very smart.”

Moya shuffled on the spot and the leg of the stool gave a squawk. Moya squawked too, and flapped her arms. The assistant with the camera turned around and gave the Johanssons a funny smile.

A few years before he died, Walter Freeman bought a new van. It was a while after Mortensen and he had colon cancer (he didn’t know yet) and he decided to go off in a van and find the people he had operated on so that the tiny niggly feeling that he had high up in his chest (maybe the beginning of his throat, like a lump) would go away. So he bought a van from a dealership in Los Altos a few years before he died. He also bought a portable tape recorder and a tube of pineapple now and laters.

And a multipack of white ribbed socks. That was three weeks in when he realised he hadn’t brought enough socks and that his feet felt damp and smelt rubbery. So he stopped the van in a Walmart car park in Weston, West Virginia, and went in for some new socks.

It was about noon on a Tuesday and the Weston Walmart was almost empty. There was a pop song playing and the aisles were very white and the floors were mopped, and a toilet paper pyramid had just been arranged across from the sliding entrance. A teenager who stood next to it said, “Good morning, Sir.”

Freeman bought some white ribbed socks. He needed compression stockings for his circulatory issues, but this was Walmart in 1967 and they didn’t start selling compression stockings in select branches until 1974.

He kept feeding it pineapple now and laters but the lump got tighter.

Transcript of doctor-patient interchange during a transorbital lobotomy conducted at the George Washington Medical University. Performed on a conscious patient

Doctor: And this is going to help you, isn’t it?

Patient: (anxious) Mmm.

Doctor: Alright, then. That’s alright. Alright, here we go, . Eyes wide open.

Patient: Jesus, doctor. I don’t know. I don’t think so.

Doctor: Not long. Here we go.

Patient: Shit! Son of a bitch! You’re killing me!

Doctor: (patient digs nails into my hand) You’re holding onto my hand real tight there

Patient: Please! You’re splitting me open! Aww…

Doctor: Alright. That’s alright.

Patient: Stop! Shit! Stop! You’re killing me! Youvemadeamistake!

Fig. 2: Diagram showing the manner of incising the white matter of the frontal lobe. Manoeuvre is repeated bilaterally.

Doctor: Nice and calm. Go on and let go of my hand. Patient: Awww…doctor… Aww God.

Doctor: Better? Can you tell me who the president of the United States is? Patient: Aww..

Doctor: Can you tell me that?

Patient: (still shaky) … Rrr-rr-rro (sudden release of breath)

Doctor: – Uh-uh. Come on. Concentrate real hard for me. Next one.

Patient: I dunno, doctor.

Doctor: That’s fine. We’re done. Well done. Extra well done. Where’d that fear go, huh? Patient: I dunno…went away

Doctor: Feel good?

Patient: mhmm.

Doctor: Will you go ahead and let go of my hand?

Patient: mmm.


Bernadette Rogers was Walter Freeman’s 1764th patient. She was very white and very skinny. She was so skinny that her cheeks had sprouted a fine layer of blonde fuzz, like a jacket. She was also so skinny that Walter Freeman could fit his hand round her ankle with extra space. He experimented after some electroshocks.

“Look,” he said to the junior neurologist and the nurse, and held up her ankle. “Look how skinny she is.”

Uncovered in twelve cardboard boxes sealed with red-and-white FRAGILE tape were 3, 874 black-and-white photographs and 150 reels of 16 mm film. The neurologist who found them, a Dr. Kalina Kalcheva (newly arrived from the Sofia Academy of Medicine) told the local paper; “I could not sleep. Seeing the eyes of those people, I could not sleep for days.”

The eyes, everyone agreed, were the worst bit.

Dr. Kalcheva watched the first reel in the faculty auditorium next to the operating theatre. The technology assistant fed the film into the projector.

She crossed her legs.

The auditorium was black for a time and then the screen crackled into a fuzzy image of a very white profile. It was positioned against a very black curtain. And two large hairy arms appeared above it, one decorated with an expensive looking wristwatch. No gloves. No gloves? thought Dr. Kalcheva, who was finicky about protocol.

And one of the hairy arms ended in a set of fingers bent sort of delicately, like fingers holding a crochet hook, around a pointy metal instrument. Sort of delicately, and the camera operator moved to give us a closer view, and all the time white milliseconds were being counted in a black box at the bottom of the frame – 00:02:55.29, 00:02:55: 30, 00:02:55:31, 00:02:55:32, 00:02:55:33, 00:02:55:34, 00:02:55:35, 00:02:55:36, – and the hairy arm that was decorated by a wristwatch brought the pointy metal tool up over the head, and the other arm lifted the eyelid of the head on the table which was positioned against a black curtain and then lifted it a bit more and positioned the leucotome above the eyeball with meaty fingers arranged delicately and pushed it a tiny little bit more and the seconds went 00:03:36:46, 00:03:36:47, 00:03:36:48, 00:03:36:49, 00:03:36:50, and the camera moved to get a good shot of the eye, which could not see because it was in an electrically-induced sleep but which to Kalina Kalcheva seemed to be looking directly at her (“the eyes were the worst bit”), and then the leucotome went in with this strange force, and she watched as it was bonked on the end with a hammer, one time, and another time, and she watched as it was cranked from side to side, and she felt like they were looking right at her and then up and down with a strange force. Oh my God. Kalina Kalcheva uncrossed her legs and looked away. Oh my God.

Irene Martin came in with the jitters. Sitting next to her husband, she bounced gently through the consultation, and then on the way into the operating room, and then she bounced on the table through the first four electric shocks.

Mr. Martin had brought her to Washington after she defecated on their new cream carpet for the first time.

The wall paperers and the carpeters had come the previous afternoon, and the house was a new and beautiful shade of cream. The plates and the tea set were also cream, but a slightly darker shade, because the store had almost sold out of its porcelain selection.

Still, when it was all finished, it really looked quite nice, thought Mr. Martin, closing the cream front door on the men with ladders and paint rollers. Somewhere nice for Irene to spend her day. Somewhere that would calm her nerves.

Mr. Martin had read an article that had been reprinted from the American psychiatric journal which found, in a study of institutions in Nebraska, that off-whites were the most effective paint pigment in soothing patients with psychiatric disorders. Across the country, he read, hospitals were calling in painters to creamify entire buildings. Landscape paintings in greens and reds were being driven off in skips by the hundreds.

She had been getting sicker since their wedding in early June. That was when the jitters started, and the ill-timed secretion of bodily fluids.

The couple arrived in a hotel after a dinner with both of their sets of parents, during which the bride had refused to touch the lamb and potatoes on her plate or say anything to her family.

He unlocked the door and she got into bed in her high heels and closed her eyes. For a few seconds he observed her. She was angelic, really. He had thought she was in a mood, but he saw now that she was angelic. Mr. Martin pottered into the bathroom and took a piss. When he came out, she was further under the covers, with only the top of her head and some little silver barrettes sticking out. He liked the barrettes; he had told her that she should wear the barrettes.

Should he tickle her? Would that be fun? He might reach over and stroke her head silently until she started murmuring and breathing heavily and then she would turn over and look at him with her little eyes … So should he stroke her head? Or start kissing her neck? That’s what he had

imagined. He had imagined her gazing at him longingly (“Oh Duncan…“) and then him inching over and starting to kiss her neck. But she wasn’t gazing longingly at him yet, and he very much wanted her to gaze longingly at him. So maybe he should touch her first to wake her up, get her

to turn over. He could touch her lightly on the shoulder first. He would have to reach a little under the covers and then he would give her a sort of loving pat on the shoulder, so she would turn around in bed and gaze longingly at him. That was good. He was sure she longed.

And that was when the jitters started. Mr. Martin froze. It felt like she sensed his hand coming, and that is what really hurt his feelings.

She let out a yelp and began to bounce gently (or quiver violently) under the bedspread like an epileptic.

Later, he told people “I thought she might be having a fit,” which was a lie. Mr. Martin knew that his wife was quivering because of his large sweaty palm which was moving towards her like a meteor that bit by bit was going to block out the world (light and animals and buildings) and make everything into a small cream nothingness.

So she leapt, frog-like, out of the bed with one great big jitter before he could deliver the pat, and urinated in a corner of the hotel room. A large pale yellow stain formed on the carpet.

After that, it was impossible. Mr. Martin went to sleep on the sofa in the adjoining room. Little Irene Martin, in a great white cloud of crepe and chiffon, jittered on top of the covers of the king sized bed until she fell asleep and the odour of bridal piss hung evenly over the whole suite. Then she looked angelic again.

When Mrs. Martin woke up in a hospital bed with a nurse bobbing above her holding a bowl of chicken lemon soup, she did not know where she was, and she started to scream.

The nurse pushed a spoonful of the soup against Mrs. Martin’s lips. “Mr. Martin told us it was your favourite.”

It was. She stopped screaming and slurped it all up.

Thirty-eight minutes later he entered the room, an intense shade of purply-red, holding a bouquet of lisianthus. His propped-up wife observed him silently with multiple chins.

Mr Martin sat at the end of the mattress. He was careful not to sit on her legs, in case they snapped. He was also careful not to look her in the eyes, because they had him spooked.

When Freeman’s career was done with, so a couple of days after the hemorrhage, a man called the office from the Herrick Memorial Hospital. He was sorry to inform Dr. Freeman that the board had made a decision on the outcome of the Helen Mortensen operation.

On Estelle Lamb’s last day (although she of course did not know that it was her last day) she thought she might go to the zoo. She got up early and prepared a mortadella-and-pickle sandwich which she put into her skirt pocket. She decided not to do anything special with her hair because she was only going to see animals, and animals do not care about hair.

She rode the 52 bus across town in an outrageous fur coat. It was cold, and the bus windows were foggy. There were only four other people on it. There was a man with a newspaper and an old woman with her hair pulled back into a low bun with a small child, who would not stop biting the old woman’s knee.

On the other side of the bus was a very large man who smelled of cigars. Everyone who got on avoided him.

No one said anything except the old woman, occasionally. She would say: “Stop that!” and then she would slap the boy on the neck. After that the boy would go back to biting her knee. She also, every now and then, eyed Estelle’s outrageous fur coat disapprovingly.

Estelle knew it was outrageous.

She got off opposite the zoo, having thanked the driver.

At the gates, she bought a day pass and complimented the woman in the box on her hair colour. Estelle felt self-conscious about her own hair, which she had decided not to do. She also felt self conscious about her outrageous fur coat, which was a constant. She sat underneath a large palm tree and ate her mortadella-and-pickle sandwich.

Female, 32, ill three years,

Severe depressive

Mood swings, occasional outbursts

Generally compliant

She threw the crusts and a little chunk of mortadella on the ground, and a group of pigeons warbled over. Pigeons warbled over. Warbled Pigeons warble… that’s a noise they make. Warbling. One pigeon, puffing out his chest, pushed through to the front of the pack and ate the chunk.

Estelle wondered if pigeons were allowed to eat processed meat. Because dogs aren’t, and humans who eat too much of it get fat. Estelle had a cousin who ate lots of ham, and any time

Estelle went to visit there would be platters of pinky folded strips of ham and her cousin, who was very fat, would say, “Estelle! you have to try this ham you have to I’ve just come from the deli!” The fat would be the splotches. The mortadella has bits of pepper and splotches in it. What is that? Fatty splotches. That are more pale than ordinary ham colour. And then on top of that (as well as that) it has little bits of pepper in it. How disgusting. The splotches like little bits of fat that do not taste of anything at all,

“Bleurgh,” thought Estelle. She had been a vegetarian until she left college.

At college Estelle was a sociology major. She liked it. She met Roy Lamb there in her second year and they went to a spaghetti house on student Sunday where they ate half-price spaghetti and Roy talked. And after a while she said, “excuse me” and went to the bathroom to change her tampon even though it had only been in half an hour because she was paranoid about leaking onto her skirt (or worse, smelling) on her first date with Roy Lamb (and you know how it feels to pull out a dry tampon; Estelle, wincing, made that sacrifice for love) and when she returned and saw him slurping up a long strand of spaghetti in an intelligent-looking corduroy jacket she decided she really was in love.

And they got married after a while.

According to the map she was given, Seal City was holding a live demonstration at 10:00. Seal City had a very small population of two seals, who swam around and around in a big circular tub. At one point there was a viewing deck facing onto a large glass window, through which toddlers would observe the two seals, who were called Hamish and Lavinia, and clap their hands and gargle.

And as Estelle climbed the tiered seats to find a good view of the demonstration, one of the seals lifted its head out of the water and went “auw, auw. Auw, auw auw.“, so Estelle turned around and looked Lavinia square in the eyes (tiny, sad and black) for ten seconds, and quietly it seemed she was going crazy, because she thought the stupid seal was talking to her. But she wasn’t, and Estelle sat down next to a family and patted her undone hair. Lavinia fell back into the tub.

“Welcome to Seal City!” said a young man in khaki.

On the Saturday that Estelle went to the zoo, a luncheon was held at the Mayflower Hotel.

The private events room in the Mayflower Hotel is a high-ceilinged sort of hall with limited lighting, dark wood walls and a long table. All a bit mediaeval.

The first course was a nice lobster bisque, over which, one by one, Mrs. Edward Lewis, Mrs. John Tillman and Mrs. John Mason took the opportunity to congratulate Dr. Freeman on his achievements.

“Congratulations, Dr. Freeman,” they said, “on your achievements.”

And Dr. Freeman received their congratulations on his achievements very graciously, doing the thing that people do when they are trying not appear pleased with themselves: bending his head and wincing and giving a little voiceless laugh,

“Oh, thank you very much,” he said, “Thank you very much.”

The second course was claggy raviolis in a sweet ketchupy sauce. Mrs. Norris L. Crandall, Mrs. John H. Lyons and Mrs. Arch L. Riddick took the opportunity to congratulate Dr. Freeman on his achievements.

“Dr. Freeman,” they said, “may I take this opportunity to congratulate you on your achievements.”

“Oh, thank you. Thank you very much,” he said.

Over dessert there wasn’t much left to say.

There was a little bronzey sign hanging on the door which said WALTER FREEMAN, MD PhD. Helen Mortensen knocked two times. WALTER FREEMAN, MD-PhD opened the door.

Radio interview from 1946. The recording is a little fuzzy but Dr. Freeman is the one with the cough and the deep voice.

…Host: Just finally now, Dr. Freeman, ‘cos we’re about to pass to a commercial, what about the, uh, the risks? I (ha) read one bold young journalist write of your procedure that “sometimes if you hit a broken watch it’ll start again.” Is that what your tran-transital

Freeman: transorbital.

Host: Yeh. Tra-transorbital. Is that what your transorbital lobotomy is? Hitting a broken watch? I mean, what do you say to the critics? What about the risks? Because it seems to me

Freeman: David, do you have children?

Host: Uh…No. No, I haven’t had children.

Freeman: No? Okay that’s fine. That’s no problem. Let me tell you something then… When I get a phone call from the parents of a young lady who used to refuse to speak to her family, who refused to change out of the one dress for months at a time and sulked at all hours of the day, to tell me that she now, two years after my coming into the institution she lives in and undertaking this procedure on her frontal lobe (coughs) that she now takes pride in her appearance, that she just celebrated thanksgiving with the whole family…David, when I get a call like that, it makes everything I do worth it. So I say simply (coughs again) that my aim is not to produce candidates for the Nobel prize in- in science, nor is it to produce patients with an IQ or a reaction time of

such and such, to pass this test or that test set by the, the…unqualified individuals who set their minds to criticising me. My aim is to relieve the daily nightmare lived by the most fragile among us, so they can return to loving homes. (pause) David, I dare you to find fault with that.

Host: (rustle) No, no, no, well, from what I’ve heard it sounds like you’re doing good, amazing work on the frontlines there. My listeners know we just like to put across everyone’s point of view here, Doctor Freeman. So thanks so much for coming in today and speaking with me and after this we’ll have a short break.

Freeman: I am always so glad when I can collabora….

The recording ends.

Freeman, in the early days, had a recurring dream. He would find himself at a long banquet table in a high ceilinged hall, around which a few thousand women (his guests) dined, with the tops of their heads cut off and their brains sticking up in the air, wobbling slightly as they conversed. They were all made up a little sloppily, with lipstick smudges on front teeth and a general excess of over-yellow powder, but elegantly dressed, and they chatted quietly amongst themselves, clinking glasses and laughing politely behind little gloved hands. It felt, Freeman always thought to himself, like a wonderfully civilised occasion. And he had the honour of being seated at the head of the table in front of a plate of duck. Prepared rare, with a greyish pinkish tinge.

He woke up after a woman sitting next to him started to pour him a glass of pinot noir, accidentally tipped it onto the front of his scrubs, and exclaimed, “Oh my goodness, Dr Freeman!”

“Oh my goodness, Dr Freeman!”

That was when he woke up, feeling confused.

Roy Lamb was called to the zoo on Auburn Street at noon.

“Your wife,” said the woman at the gate, with large eyes, “is in a bad way” —


Mariana Barrios was Walter Freeman’s 1256th patient. When he pulled up in his van outside the Weston State Hospital in Weston, West Virginia, she had just celebrated her forty sixth birthday, which involved a hamburger, a pointy hat and a visit from her sister Fernanda.

Mariana, until “well, you know” (as her parents referred to it) had lived in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Barrios and worked in a factory where she canned mashed potato. She was mostly deaf, which, although no one would admit it, everyone found a bit irritating. Nonetheless, her family told people, she seemed happy enough. She seemed happy enough.

In the period that followed “well you know” she was moved to the Weston State Hospital.

Everything at Weston was a whitey-yellow colour that buzzed very faintly because of the faulty neon lighting that the local government installed in 1947 (there was an article in the gazette and a celebration in the staff kitchen involving chips and dip). So anywhere Mariana went – or, more often, was taken – was lit by a strange not-quite-sunlight that refused to keep still.

The person who did the taking was a young woman called Matilda with pretty very thin arms and a mole on the side of her neck that looked like it might be cancerous. Nurse Matilda would take Mariana to sit places after breakfast. Nurse Matilda would read illustrated magazines. Mariana usually found herself thinking about mashed potato, which was odd (this was another thing she thought about) because she had never been very attached to her job in the factory.

She went in to apply three months before the war ended and the morning after her mother accused her of being “una inútil” at the dinner table. That is Spanish for a waste of space.

Mr. Turner gave her a full-time position that paid sixty five cents an hour and involved arriving at 6:30 in the morning six days a week. She would put a white dust coat over her dress and a net over her silly crispy bleached hair, and Mr. Turner and his large moustache would direct her and forty two other “ladies″⁣ (he called them ladies – “ladies, may I have your attention please!” etc.) to their places along a conveyor belt.

There were a few beeps and some levers were pulled, and then the steel vats on the other side of the factory floor would start grinding and sloshing potatoes, which tumbled down a complex

system of interconnected tubes. And by the time the first batch of mush hit the conveyor belt at 6:52 am daily and Turner’s ladies held their scoops ready, the product, Turner’s Special Formula®, was already perfectly creamy and very slightly grey. Nothing like grubby, lumpy potatoes, but, Mariana sometimes thought as she scooped and canned and pressed and sealed, more like nothing. And so efficient. Turner saw that each lady canned 630 portions per shift, and it was always achieved. Then she could take five cans home. Free (!)

After work Mariana would sit behind the bins out the back, where trucks arrived, and she would eat half a tin of Turner’s Special Formula® and a pepperoni stick. When she sat on the ground with her knees bent to her chest, she rocked slightly.

It was the nice time in the morning when lines of white light go zooming around the room every time a nurse walked past the curtains, and Helen Mortensen was watching the zooming with her head propped up. Three neurology students watched her from the tiered seats. Last time there had been more than three. Walter Freeman’s head bobbed. When you lie down on an operating table, and when they take the pillow out from under your head, everyone bobs around above you.

Irene went home on a Saturday. It was humid, and her calves were sweaty, and they stuck to the leather seats inside the station wagon.

“Are you hungry?” Mr. Martin asked her.

“I don’t know,” she responded in profile.

“I have some mandarins,” he said, “would you like a mandarin?“

“I don’t know.”

“Do you want a mandarin?”

“I don’t know.”

So Mr. Martin put the key in the ignition and drove out the gates of the George Washington University Hospital.

Mariana did not go home on a Saturday or on any other day. Mr. and Mrs. Barrios died. Fernanda, who worked as a receptionist, and had four children between the ages of two and seven, did not have space for her deaf, diabetic, schizophrenic sister. When she went to visit, and she felt very guilty about this, she found Mariana intensely annoying. Sometimes she felt like slapping her across the face. Which she felt very guilty about. Probably, if she had felt less guilty about how much she hated visiting, she would have visited much less. As things stood, she drove to the hospital every month. Her sister died of something or other the day after her 61st birthday, which involved one of those visits, a hat and a hamburger.

Estelle became very pretty after Freeman put a sharp tool into each of her eye-sockets and cut up her brain. …

She still has the unfortunate beaky nose, but she is very pretty now. Much prettier.

Roy Lamb collected Estelle also, coincidentally, on a Saturday. His was raining though, and cold, for California. He brought a card that read:

“Thank you, Doctor Freeman. We are excited for this new phase in our lives,”

and there was a little pencilled line that drew that message to the open mouths of two tiny smiling stick figures, who were labelled ROY and ESTELLE. Roy had sad eyes.

Dr Freeman put the card in his filing system, between LAGUARDIA and LAMBERT. He thought it was cute.

Turner’s mashed potato factory shut down after a group of his ladies went on local radio in early 1952 to expose a violation of labour laws. The minimum wage was in fact seventy five cents an hour.

“I give them free mashed potatoes!” Mr Turner exclaimed, over dinner, to his wife.

“Bitches,” said Mr Turner’s wife.

Walter Freeman, prominent neurologist, dies aged 77

Walter Jackson Freeman II, the eminent American neurologist and inventor of the five minute ‘ice pick lobotomy’, has died due to complications arising from an operation for colon cancer performed on Saturday, the 30th April in the Menlo Private Hospital in Los Altos, California.

In a partnership with James Watts that formed during Freeman’s three-decade term in the neurology department of George Washington University, he performed upwards of 3500 operations across the United States.

He leaves behind a wife and four children.


Helen Mortensen watched the light zooming around because a nurse was walking past the curtains with a cup of jelly. Some buttons were pressed and she thought how sticky the section of operating table under her arms was, and then Walter Freeman’s head bobbed above her and put cloth everywhere except her eyes. She thought maybe she might buy a newspaper on the way back from the hospital. She might tell the taxi to stop so she could go into the newsagent and buy a copy of the Sunday Star and she might ring a number in the classifieds section and get a job in an office not far from her apartment, which might be located on a third floor with a nice view, and she would come in in the mornings in a two piece suit with a nice waist and with stockings that wouldn’t hurt when they scraped the hair on her legs in the wrong direction because once she got the job she would start doing something about the hair and on her lunch breaks she might sit in the kitchen and share jokes and baked treats which she would bake on the weekends and her colleagues (suited, very handsome) would say “Helen! These biscuits! You’re a star!” and when they nodded that she must have one she would give a little laugh and say she wasn’t feeling hungry. Then everyone put their hands on Helen Mortensen, and there were several jolts, which sent her into an electrically induced sleep.

Kalina Kalcheva left the auditorium without talking to the technology assistant and went down to the cafeteria. She was wearing a pair of nude wedges that she liked a lot, and they clonked when she went down the stairs. They echoed. And when she stood in line, she crossed one shin in front of the other, for ease of balance. She bought a wrap and put sixty five cents in the tip jar. The tip jar said TIPPERS ARE SEXY.

“The eyes,” she thought, “were the worst bit.”

The first thing that happens is that the patient is administered a series of low level electric shocks which stun them into unconsciousness for a period of four to six minutes.

There was a jolt and Helen Mortensen closed her eyes which were the only things that could still feel the cold because everywhere else was covered with cloth. There were a few more jolts and then she couldn’t have opened her eyes even if she wanted to.

“Leucotome,” said Freeman

A nurse passed him a nice freshly sterilised leucotome.

He took a forefinger and thumb covered in powder-free blue latex and prised open Mrs Mortensen’s right eye. The leucotome went in.

Everything was a bit quiet so one of the three neurology undergraduates blinked.

Freeman held out his other hand, and the nurse put a sort of wooden hammer in it. He bonked the end of the leucotome, and coughed again.

Another student took a note in very quick biro.

“Leucotome,” said Walter Freeman, and the nurse passed him a second sterilised leucotome.

He did the eyelid again and then the second leucotome slid in. The neurology students looked at each other.

Helen’s left eyeball looked at Walter Freeman. It stared at him, and was white. It was very white, and then it became a pale yellow, and then pink, and then a circle of red formed all the way around it, and it was pink and wet with a circle of red around it, and then blood started welling at the edges, and the eyeball wasn’t white anymore but it was red and blood was pooling and welling at the edges and trickling out of the edges.

Walter Freeman swore under his breath.

When Helen Mortensen was about seven and a half and her aunt was on the toilet she went into the kitchen and made herself a ketchup sandwich. She didn’t want to use a knife in case she cut herself and in case she left evidence that she had been eating ketchup sandwiches which wasn’t allowed between meals, so she snipped off the crusts with her teeth and spat them out in the dustbin.

And then she took the sandwich up into the tree in the garden, and propped herself against the trunk and ate it (it was delicious), watching white light go zooming around inside the bubble formed by the leaves, and watching the blue in the cracks in between.

Eszter Coombs was a student at Fort Street High School and state dux of English extension 2 in the 2020 HSC.


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