A screening chest X-ray reveals the presence of a cardiac myxoma in a 72-year-old dictator. His personal physician (fearing for his own life) timidly informs Mr. President about the tumor and the likelihood that it will claim the dictator's life in a matter of months. The physician lacks the training and ability to remove the tumor but recommends Dr. Gala Sampras as the surgeon most qualified to perform the procedure.

Slight problem: Sampras was one of 14 surgeons who "disappeared" in 1992 after criticizing the dictator and his regime. She was imprisoned and abused in a labor camp. Her husband and three children were also removed from society. A bargain is struck. Sampras will do the operation. After the surgery is done, she will be reunited with her family.

The dictator shows Sampras pictures of her family. Although the photos of her children appear to be recent, the picture of her husband seems to have been taken years ago. On the day of surgery, the dictator directs the doctor's attention to the courtyard where soldiers surround her daughter. Sampras realizes the dictator might not survive the operation given the complexity of the procedure and the patient's age. Before succumbing to his anesthesia-induced sleep, the dictator is told by Sampras not to worry, but her every move is closely monitored by his soldiers. The night is likely to be long and hard for the doctor and the dictator.


Finesse--does the surgeon have sufficient poise to deal with the dictator and possess enough delicate skill (after years of incarceration and torture) to perform an intricate operation on the heart? The lives of both the doctor and the dictator are on the line. The lives of the surgeon's children may also be forfeited if she fails. Are there ways in which these two main characters are alike? For example, the doctor and the dictator are each familiar with making life and death decisions. Ritual is important for both of them.

The surgeon loathes her patient and with good cause. Would she still perform the operation if her family wasn't being held hostage? What are the ethical issues involved in saving the life of a ruthless dictator who is responsible for the murder and suffering of countless people? Fear rules this story. The two physicians are subject to enormous tension. One wrong word, one small misstep is almost certain to result in an early "retirement." As a demonstration of his authority, the dictator addresses the surgeon as "Mrs." Sampras-never "Dr." Sampras.

Primary Source

The Fahrenheit Twins



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