Tumor

The ambulance roared through the midday traffic, lights on, siren blaring. Bill was trying to get their patient to the hospital as quickly as he could, while his partner Ernie worked on him in the back. He heard Ernie radio ahead, reading the vitals, and he knew it didn’t sound promising. “Shit!” he yelled, notching the wheel slightly left and leaning on the horn to avoid an idiot in a Toyota who was starting to turn on red, despite the blaring siren. Thankfully, the hospital was just ahead now. He drove up to the ER bay, swinging around and backing in as close to the doors as possible.

The automatic doors slid open as the ambulance backed in, Doctor Charles Green leading two nurses out to meet the EMT crew. "What do we have?" he asked, as they carefully lifted their gurney out and dropped the legs. "William Cavanaugh, 37-year-old male, collapsed in his home after complaining of a severe headache. His wife listed the headache, along with blurred vision, loss of balance, confusion, and seizures as his symptoms. His vitals are weak, and he has a pronounced swelling on the left side of his head," Ernie recounted, calm and professional.

Charles, the resident on duty, examined the patient, checking pupillary response and noted the swelling on the head seemed to be moving, pulsing rhythmically. He gently felt the swollen area, and pulled his hand back, feeling a sharp pain in his fingertip. “Damn, must have gotten a paper cut and didn’t even notice it,” he thought.

"Get him up to OR and prep him, stat. No time for an MRI, we need to relieve that pressure on his brain." The EMTs and nurses transferred the patient to another gurney, and the nurses rolled it to the elevator as Bill and Ernie gathered and packed their gear.

Charles called the neurosurgeon on call and advised him of the patient's condition and vitals, who agreed with his initial diagnosis and said he was on his way.

Ending the call, Charles felt perplexed. He'd seen all sort of trauma in the ER, but the way that swelling was pulsing was unsettling. The patient had all the signs of a brain tumor, but tumors don't pulse. Their growth is slow and steady until addressed, and certainly not externally visible as this one was.

He planned to speak with George Cohen, the neurosurgeon, after his surgery and inquire about that odd swelling, and what he’d found. For the moment, however, he had patients to attend to in the ER, so he pushed his curiosity aside and went back to reviewing charts, idly thinking he’d need to get a Band-Aid for his finger, along with some aspirin for the headache he felt beginning to settle in.

“Who was that, dear?” Ruth Cohen asked, looking up from her book.

“That was Doctor Green. He has a patient with an unusual cranial condition that I’ll need to look at.”

“Oh, my. Shall I call Mike and Ellen and tell them we won’t be there for dinner this evening?”

“Not just yet, dear. I don’t believe this procedure will take too long, but of course I won’t know for sure until I have a look. I’ll let you know if it will be longer than I expect.”

They both stood, Ruth giving George a hug and kiss, and he walked through the kitchen to the garage, patting his pockets to insure he had his keys and his wallet as Ruth put on the kettle to prepare a cup of tea.

Doctor Cohen arrived twenty minutes later, heading right up to the OR suites. He scrubbed in as Donna Caputo, his head nurse, gave him the background on their patient’s condition. She slipped the gloves on him, and they entered the OR together.

The patient was prepped, his head clean shaven and glistening in the bright lights. The growth on the side of his head was pulsing, clearly visible now to all. “All right, let’s see what we have here, shall we?” he asked as Donna handed him up a scalpel from the instrument tray. Doctor Cohen made an incision, his hand sure and steady, then another and one more, allowing him to peel back the skin, exposing the mass.

His hand wavered momentarily, as he tried to process what he saw. The bone of the skull was already open, the mass attached directly to the brain. The edges of the opening in the skull were rounded and thick, as though the bone had somehow been melted away to permit the intrusion.

He carefully began separating the mass from the brain, precisely incising the base to insure the brain tissue remained untouched. He tipped the tumor back which revealed a number of tentacles at its base, extending into the brain. They were also pulsing, as though drawing brain matter up into the mass itself.

Tipping the mass further back, he cut through the tentacles to release it. He'd have to extract those individually once the mass was removed and made a mental note to let Ruth know this would indeed be longer than anticipated, after all.

He cut the last one, noting the thick, yellow fluid oozing through the ends, and set the scalpel down to lift the mass out and place it into the waiting specimen tray.

As he lifted it away from the patient, a flap in its center moved, sliding open to reveal a single eye, fixing him with a malevolent stare.

He barely had time to register his shock at seeing the eye when his right hand exploded in a bright flare of pain, his yell making the nurses jump.

The mass had injected a new set of tentacles into his hand which all began pulsing immediately. His arm grew cold, then numb as something started moving upward through his veins. The eye rolled back, revealing its muddy white sclera as the flap slowly closed to cover it. The mass then began pulsing again, just as it had done on the patient’s brain. The head nurse reached for his hand, and he moved his arm away.

"Don't touch it, Donna! God knows what it'll do to you!"

"But, your hand..."

"Never mind that. Please, I need you to apply a tourniquet to my bicep before...before..."

He never finished, his eyes opening wide, unfocused. His mouth hung open, a line of drool falling onto his gown. He wavered, losing his balance and falling against the table, jostling the prone patient. His knees bent as he slid down to the floor, falling on his back. The cap slipped off his head, and Donna cried out.

“Oh my God, his head! Look at his head!

His head began swelling on the left side, exactly as the patients had. She looked at his hand, and the mass had diminished, nearly gone now. Was that thing somehow traveling up through his arm into his head?

"Oh shit, I am NOT seeing this!" the anesthesiologist exclaimed, pointing at the patient.

The severed bases of the tentacles were growing out of the brain, seeking and joining with each other, reforming into a new mass right before their eyes. The monitors confirmed the patient had flatlined, yet the tentacles remained very active in his exposed brain. Donna turned and walked to the door, striking the red button mounted on the wall next to it. The lighting in the operating room changed, and alarms went off outside as the doors locked.

"What just happened?" asked Bernice Palmer, the assistant nurse.

"I put us under lock down, Bernice. I don't know what's happening here, but whatever it is took out Doctor Cohen, and I don't want it spreading outside this room."

"What about us?" Bernice asked, the fear evident in her voice.

"Protocol, Bernice...they'll be here soon," John Everett, the anesthesiologist explained, "She's right, we need to isolate this thing until we can find out what the hell is g-g-going o..."

John began shaking and stuttering, his balance growing unsteady before he went limp, collapsing on the floor. Bernice screamed as she looked down and saw that tentacles from Doctor Cohen’s extended hand had slithered across the floor to John, sliding up inside his pants leg.

Donna grabbed Bernice by the arm and pulled her over to the doors, reaching for the phone on the wall. As she lifted the handset, she heard the ding of the elevator arriving and set it back into the base.

“Oh, thank God,” she said, but gasped when she saw Doctor Green stagger out of the elevator by himself, hand against his head, blood seeping between his fingers.

Where the hell were the containment personnel, and what happened to Doctor Green? Donna’s hands were shaking badly now.

As he staggered toward their doors on unsteady legs, she saw that a tentacle had pierced through his left eye from within, waving in front of his face through the ruined socket. She instinctively knew it was looking, seeking something. He nearly made it to the door when he collapsed face down in front of them. Donna began to reach for the release button, stopping when she saw a group of tentacles fanning out across the floor from beneath Green’s prone body. No way out.

Bernice screamed again as Donna grabbed the handset from the wall phone, and heard nothing. The line was out, not even a tone as she pounded the buttons to dial for help.

She let the phone slip out of her hand as the two nurses turned back to face the room and saw countless tentacles slithering across the floor toward them.

Bernice fainted, and Donna tried to catch her, but was knocked to the floor by her unexpected weight. The last thing Donna saw were the tentacles, moving faster now, sensing her, and once they pierced through her eyes, finding her brain within, Donna’s world came to a cold, dark end.