The narrator suffers from depression and a pain in the right side beneath his ribs. Surgery will be performed at his home by Dr. Haddon and Dr. Mowbray, but the narrator worries that he might die during the operation. During an afternoon nap on the day before surgery, he dreams of death and resurrection. Chloroform is administered prior to the operation, but the narrator continues to be aware of everything taking place.

He can see into the minds of the surgeons and learns that Dr. Haddon is afraid of inadvertently cutting a vein. Almost on cue, the vein is slashed and hemorrhaging occurs. The narrator has a near-death experience associated with an extraordinary clarity of perception. He senses movement upward - beyond his body, beyond the town, and beyond the world. He believes his soul is streaming through space past the solar system and nearby constellations.

His impression of absolute serenity is eventually replaced by a sensation of loneliness. All matter becomes condensed into a single point of light, then a fuzzy glow, and finally the image of a colossal hand clenching a rod. A faint sound punctures the silence followed by a voice proclaiming, "There will be no more pain" (63). He awakens and sees the surgeon standing next to the rail of the bed. The narrator has not only survived the operation, but his pain and melancholy are vanquished.


The narrator is troubled by "the presentiment of death" (52) triggered by his excessive fear of upcoming surgery. He wonders if there is any validity to such precognitions. He appears to understand that death is not only a physiological occurrence but can be an emotional or cognitive event as well.

The account of the narrator's astral journey is mind-bending. Time and space are infinite at the start of his voyage yet concentrated at the conclusion. Physics and spirituality seem quite compatible as the narrator's soul travels throughout the universe.

The description of an operation done at the patient's own home and in his own bed is notable. The peek into the minds of the two surgeons performing the operation is fascinating. The effects of anesthesia, hypoperfusion of the brain due to blood loss during surgery, and a genuine out-of-body experience are just some of the competing explanations for the remarkable phenomenon depicted in this story.


The story first appeared in 1896.

Primary Source

Selected Stories of H.G. Wells


The Modern Library

Place Published

New York




Ursula K. Le Guin

Page Count