By Ray Dangel
The room slowly came into focus as the anesthetic released its grip. Jeremy recognized the big round ceiling light, then the sprinkler head a few feet away.
His cardiologist's face slid into view and spoke. "How are you feeling, Jeremy?"
"Urrghh," Jeremy replied. The respirator tube in his throat did wonders for his breathing, but didn't help his speech. "Urrrgghh!" he said again.
Leaning closer over Jeremy, the cardiologist spoke enthusiastically. "Your cabbage surgery went very well. Tomorrow we'll sit you up and you can see it in a mirror."
The morphine made him drowsy and he drifted easily in and out of a light sleep for the rest of the night. By morning Jeremy was more aware and tried to adjust the annoying breathing tube till he discovered his hands were strapped to the bed. Panic struck him and he struggled to free his arms. No use. "Urrgggh!" he said.
A passing nurse noticed him straining and came over to his bed. "Are you in pain?" she asked.
Jeremy wagged his head from side, saying "Urrmmph!" which he intended as "Untie me!" He pulled against the straps.
The nurse tried to calm him. "Please don't struggle. You could injure yourself. In a little while we'll remove the tube and take off those straps. Please just lie back and relax." Jeremy did as he was told.
Eventually the cardiologist and two nurses came into his room and removed the breathing tube. Jeremy tried to thank them, but his throat was dry and sore and the best he could do was to make croaking noises.
"Your voice will return soon," the doctor said. "Sit him up now, please," he asked the nurses.
A nurse brought a mirror so he could see his cabbage.
Jeremy was stunned. There in the center of his bandaged chest was ... a three-inch-tall, bright green cabbage plant! He stared and stared.
"Well," the doctor asked? "Isn't it gorgeous? The graft went perfectly and it will heal you with its juices. It's the cutting-edge technique in cardiac surgery. No pun intended."
"You can't be serious," Jeremy managed to whisper. "A real cabbage plant in my chest ..."
The cardiologist cleared his throat. "You gave written permission for it, you know."
"Well, I thought you meant the acronym for Coronary Artery Bypass Graft, not a live plant!" Jeremy gently touched the cabbage with an index finger. It felt exactly like a cabbage, which it was. The plant's roots were tucked beneath a large swatch of tape and drainage tubes.
"This cabbage was genetically engineered to produce and release a steady supply of simvastatin, which has been shown experimentally to bond to cholesterol molecules and carry them out of the body. You won't need to take a lot of pills every day. Because it remains experimental, there may be other benefits we hope you'll report to us as they occur. We'll remove the cabbage in about six months after your arteries are clear again."
"Doctor, am I the first person to have a cabbage in his chest?"
"Good question. Actually you're the tenth to receive this specific type of cabbage," the cardiologist informed him. "We've learned a lot from each implant, and that's why we're so pleased with yours. It's perfect. You'll be home in a few days and should be totally recovered in a few months."
Jeremy fingered the cabbage. "What if I roll over on it in my sleep and knock it off? Will I bleed to death?"
"No, by the time you go home the bond will be nearly complete and the plant is flexible. You won't harm it."
A repugnant thought struck Jeremy. "What if it gets bugs on it? Will I have to use pesticides? Must I fertilize it?"
The doctor chuckled, then apologized. "Sorry, didn't mean to laugh. No, this cabbage is unlikely to attract bugs. An insect repellant is built into its genes. That probably will protect you from mosquitoes too, by the way. As to fertilizer, the plant will draw what it needs from sunshine and your body chemicals. Just eat a sensible diet and the cabbage will be fine. You'll feel better each day."
After he left the hospital Jeremy went home, and he felt better than he had in years. He had come to accept the cabbage as a fact of his life. Others, however, were not as calm. The plant caused children to ask their parents what that was on the man's chest. "It looks like a cabbage," one parent said.
Jeremy began wearing a large bandanna when he went outside. It concealed the cabbage and the zipperlike incision scar nicely, but he learned he had to sit in front of a full-spectrum light at home afterward for the same amount of time he had covered the cabbage, or it began to wilt and he immediately felt tired.
Weekly at first, then monthly Jeremy returned to the hospital for a physical. After six months his doctors pronounced him cholesterol-safe and set a date to remove the cabbage.
The day before Jeremy was to report for the removal surgery, he paced and paced in his room. Finally he called the hospital and declared he wasn't going through with it. "I like my cabbage," he informed the astonished doctors. "I'm healthier than I've been for years. Losing it would be like losing a hand."
Jeremy was adamant when the doctors tried to convince him that the cabbage had served its purpose and should be removed. The surgery was canceled and Jeremy signed a waiver absolving the hospital staff of liability for any consequences that might result from not removing the cabbage.
Winter came and went without Jeremy catching his inevitable cold. He thanked the cabbage for pumping vitamin C into him.
As the months passed, Jeremy found his need for food was shrinking. He ate less and less, yet he had the same energy as always. One day a glass of milk was his last food. He guessed his maturing cabbage, now quite large, had become able to draw enough nourishment from sunshine to handle its needs and his.
What next, he wondered. The answer came when he noticed his need for sleep was decreasing. He stayed up later and arose earlier each day. One night he didn't sleep at all, and that was how it was from then on.
Jeremy theorized that he was becoming a superperson -- the next evolutionary step for humanity. The idea fascinated him, but he didn't inform the doctors.
At first he was delighted to be able to read all night, because he had long thought sleep was a waste of time. He went through his large "someday" reading pile. Next he checked out books from the library and subscribed to several magazines. Finally he realized that what he had delighted in had become a problem. The more he read the faster he could read and the more reading material he needed. It became an obsession. Eventually Jeremy telephoned the hospital and made an appointment to see the surgeon who had done his cabbage.
Jeremy pleaded with the surgeon. "At first my cabbage was great. I never got sick. I had no need for food or sleep. But my god, doctor, I was bored out of my tree. I want to catch a cold and sleep and eat again. That's what humanity means."
Story & artwork copyright © 1998 Ray Dangel <email@example.com>
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