A lonely neurosurgical resident becomes involved with a comatose patient. Susan, a dying woman with an inoperable brain tumor, is the subject of a research study. Scientists are attempting to discern her thoughts with the aid of computers. The resident serendipitously stumbles onto a program that successfully translates the electrical activity of Susan's brain into speech. He labels the computer program a failure (but saves a copy for himself) so that others are unable to eavesdrop on her dreams.

He spends nights listening to her thoughts and soon begins communicating with Susan, sharing his own secrets with her. When the resident learns that the research project is about to be terminated, he decides that Susan is in desperate need of human contact. He kisses her and presumably has sexual intercourse with the comatose woman. The next morning he is found asleep beside her and is dismissed from the hospital.


This haunting story targets both geography--where we are and where we would like to be--and human behavior. The neurosurgeon-narrator escapes to and loses himself in the sometimes harsh but always beautiful landscape of Canada. Yet he is in constant search of a place inside himself that he either discovers in (or projects onto) the comatose woman.

Despite the challenges, prestige, and gratification of a career in neurosurgery, the narrator nonetheless leads a dull personal life. Loneliness appears to be a deep and self-inflicted wound until he makes contact (in more ways than one) with Susan. The comatose woman generates feelings inside the narrator that awaken the doctor's desperate need for human connection. Only after he is dismissed from the hospital does the resident realize how perfect his life had been for that brief period of time.

Medical misbehavior looms large in this story. Readers are left to consider important ethical issues including medical research on dying patients, the invasion of peoples' privacy (mental as well as physical), and standards of professional conduct.


The story was originally published in Prairie Fire in 1999.

Primary Source

Small Accidents


Raincoast Books

Place Published

Vancouver, British Columbia



Page Count