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The Invisible Wound
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The Invisible Wound

By Karoly Kisfaludi

(1788 – 1830)

Early one morning before the famous surgeon was even out of his bed he received an urgent caller who insisted that his case could not be postponed even for a minute; he demanded instant attention. The surgeon dressed hurriedly and rang for this valet.


“Let the patient come in,” he said.


The man who entered appeared to belong to the best class of society. His pale face and nervous demeanor betrayed physical suffering. His right hand was tied up in a sling and, although he could control his features, a painful groan escaped from his lips now and again.


“I haven’t been able to sleep for a week. There is some trouble with my right hand. I cannot make out what it is. It may be cancer or some other terrible disease. At first it did not bother me much, but lately it began to burn. I have not had a moment’s relief. It pains me terribly. The pain increases hourly. becoming more and more agonizing and unbearable. I have come to town to consult you. If I have to bear it another hour, I shall go mad. I want you to burn it out or cut it out. or do something with it.”


The surgeon reassured the patient by declaring that it was not perhaps necessary to operate.


“No, no”, the man insisted. “It will have to be operated on. I came purposely to have the disease part cut out. Nothing else can help.”


He lifted his hand from the sling with considerable effort, and continued:

“I must ask you not be surprised if you do not see any visible wound on my hand. The case is quite unusual.


The doctor assured the patient that he was not in a habit of being surprised at unusual things. Still after looking at it, he dropped the hand in sheer astonishment, for they seemed to be absolutely nothing that matter with it. It looked like any other hand; it was not even discolored. Yet it was evident that the man suffered terrible pains, for the way he caught his right hand with his left when the doctor let it fall, demonstrated that fact quite conclusively.


“Where does it hurt you?”


He pointed to a round spot between the two large veins, but matched the hand back when the physician cautiously touched the spot with the tip of his finger.


“Is that where it hurts?”

“Yes, Terribly.”

“Do you feel the pressure when I place the finger on it?”

The man could not answer but the tears that came into his eyes told the story.


“It’s extraordinary. I can see nothing.”


“Neither do I, but the pain is still there and I would rather die than go on this way.”


The surgeon examined it all over again, with a microscope, took the man’s temperature, and finally shook his hand.


“The skin is perfectly healthy. The arteries are normal: not the slightest inflammation or swelling. It is as normal as any hand can be.”


“I think it is a bit redder on the spot.”




The stranger made a circle on the back of his hand about a size of a farthing. “Here.”


The doctor looked at the man. He began to think that he had to deal with a lunatic.


“You will have to stay in town and I shall try to help you within the next few days.” he said.


“I cannot wait a minute. Do not think, doctor, that I am insane, or under any delusion. This invisible wound hurts me terribly and I want you to cut out just that round part as far as the bone.”


“I am not going to do it, sir.”


“Why not?”


“Because there is nothing that matter with your hand. It  is as healthy as my own.”


“You seem to think that I am a madman, or that I am deceiving you,” said the patient as he drew out his wallet a thousand-florin bank-note and placed it on the table. “You see I am in earnest. The matter is important enough for me to pay a thousand for it. Please perform the operation.”


“If you offered me all the money in the world I would not touch a healthy limb with the operating knife.”


“Because it would not be according to professional ethics. All the world would call you an idiot and would accuse me of taking advantage of your weakness, or declare that I could not diagnose a wound that did not exist.”


“Very well, sir. Then I shall ask you another favor. I shall undertake the operation myself, though my left hand is rather clumsy at such things. All I would ask of you, is to take care of the wound after I operate it.”


The surgeon saw with astonishment that the man was quite serious, and watched him take off his coat and turn up his shirt sleeve. The man even took out his pocket knife, for want of any other instrument. Before the doctor could intervene, the stranger had made a deep incision in his hand.


“Stop”, he shouted, afraid lest the sufferer should sever a vain. “Since you believe it must be done, very well, I’ll do it.”


He then prepared for the operation. When it came to the actual cutting the doctor advised his patient to turn his head away, for people are generally upset at the sight of their own blood.


“Quite unnecessary,” said the other. I must direct your hand so that you may know how far to cut.”


The stranger took the operation stoically and was helpful with his directions. His hand never even trembled and when the round spot had been carved out he sighed a sign of happy relief, as if a load had been taken of his shoulders.


“You don’t feel any pain now?” asked the surgeon.


“Not the least,” he said with a smile. “It is as if the pain had been cut off and the slight irritation caused by the cutting seems like a cool breeze after a hot spell. Just let the blood run. It soothes me.”


After the wound was bandaged, the stranger looked happy and contented. He was a changed man. He gratefully pressed the doctor’s hand with his own left hand.


“I am very grateful to you, indeed.”


The surgeon visited his patient at his hotel for several days after the operation and learned to respect the man, who occupied a high position in the country. He was learned and cultured, and was a member of one of the best families in the land.


After the wound was completely healed the stranger returned to his country home.


Three weeks later the patient again appeared at the surgeon’s office. His hand was again in a sling and he complained of the same tormenting pain in the very spot where it hurt him before the operation.


His face looked like wax, and cold perspiration glistened on his brow. He sank into an armchair, and without saying a word held out his right hand for the doctor to look at it.


“Good Lord, what has happened?”


“You didn’t cut it deep enough,” he groaned. “The pain returned; it is even worse than before. I am almost done for. I didn’t want to trouble you again, so I just bore it, but I cant bear it any longer. You must operate it again.”


The surgeon examined the spot. The place where he had operated was quite healed, and covered with fresh skin. Not one of the veins seemed disturbed, the pulse was normal. There was no fever yet the man was trembling in every limb.


“I never experienced or heard anything like this before.”


There was nothing to be done but repeat the operation. Everything passed off as it had the first time. The pain stopped and though the patient experienced a great relief, this time failed to smile and when he thanked the doctor it was with sad and depressed expression.


“You needn’t be surprised if I am back again in a month,” he said as he took leave.


“You mustn’t think of it.”


“It is as sure there is God in heaven,” he said with an air of finality, “Au revoir.”


The surgeon discussed the case with several of his colleagues, each of whom expressed a different opinion. Not one could ever offer a satisfactory explanation.


A month passed and the man did not appear. Another few weeks, and then instead of the patient, came a letter from his place of residence. The surgeon opened it with pleasure, thinking that the pain had not returned. The letter ran as follows:


“Dear doctor: I do not want to leave you in any doubt as to the origin of my trouble, and do not care to carry the secret of it into my grave, or perhaps elsewhere. I wish to acquaint you with the history of my terrible illness. It has returned three times now and do not intend to go on struggling against it any longer. I am only able to write this letter by placing a burning coal on the spot as an antidote against the hellish flames that burn it within.


“Six months ago I was a very happy man. I was rich and contended; I found pleasure in everything that appeals to a man of thirty-five, I buried a year ago. It was a love match. A very beautiful, kindly and cultured young lady was my wife. She had been a companion to Countries not far from my estate. She loved me and her heart was full of gratitude. For six months the time passed happily, each day bringing greater happiness than the last. She would walk miles along the highway to meet me when I had to go to the town and would not stay away even at the home of her former mistress, where she often visited, for more than a few hours. Her longing for me made the others of her party uncomfortable. She would never dance with another man, and would confess it as a great crime if the happened to dream of someone else in her sleep. She was a lovely innocent child.


“I cant say what that brought me to the belief that this was but a pretense. Man is foolish enough to seek misery in the midst of his greatest happiness.


“She had small sewing table, the drawer of which she always kept lacked. This began to torture me. I often noticed that she never left the key in the drawer and she never left it unlocked. What could she have to conceal so carefully? I became mad with jealousy. I did not believe her innocent eyes, her kisses and loving embraces. Perhaps all these were but a cunning deceit?”


“One day the Countess came to fetch her and manage to persuade her to spent the day at the castle. I promised that I should follow later in the afternoon.


“The carriage had scarcely pulled out of the yard when I began trying to open the drawer of the sewing table. One of the many keys I tried at last opened it. Rummaging among the many feminine effects under a folder of silk. I discovered a bundle of letters. One could recognize them at the first glance. They were of course love letters, tied together with a pink ribbon.


“I did not stop to consider that it was not honorable to commit such an indiscretion: looking for secrets of my wife’s girlhood days! Something urged me to go on: perhaps they belonged to a later period--- since she had borne my name? I untied the ribbon and read the letters one after the other.


“It was the most terrible hour of my life.”


“They revealed the most unpardonable treachery ever committed against a man. They were written by one of my most intimate friends. And their tone… They revealed the tenderest intimacy and deepest passion. How he urged her to secrecy. What he said about stupid husbands. How he advised her what to do to keep her husband in ignorance! Every one of them had been written after our marriage. And I thought I was happy. I don’t want to describe my feelings. I drank my poison to the last drop. Then I folded the letters and returned them to their hiding-place, locking the drawer again.


“I knew that if I did not go to the castle she would return in the evening. That was precisely what happened. She sprang gaily out of the carriage and rushed to meet me on the porch, kissing and embracing me with the utmost tenderness. I pretended that nothing was amiss.


“We chatted, had supper together and went to bed as usual, each in our own room. I had at that time decided upon a course action which I would carry out with the stubbornness of a maniac. What a miserable deception on the part of nature to endow sin with such an open face, I said to myself as I entered her room at midnight and looked at her beautiful innocent face as she slept. The poison had taken effect in my soul and had eaten itself through every vein of my body. I placed my right hand silently on her neck and pressed it with all my might. For a moment she opened her eyes and looked at me astounded, then closed them again and died. She did not make a move in self-defense, but died as quietly as though she were in a dream. She bore no grudge against me even for killing her. One drop of blood oozed through her lips and dropped on my hand—you know the spot. I only noticed it in the morning after it was already dried. We buried her without much ado. I lived out of the country on a private estate and there was no controlling authority to investigate. Besides, no one would have thought anything about the matter , for the woman was my wife. She had no relations and had no friends, and there were no questions to answer. I purposely sent out notifications of her death after the funeral, in order to escape the importunities of other people.


“I felt no pangs of conscience. I had been cruel, but she had deserved it. I did not hate her. I could easily forget her. No murderer committed his deed with more indifference than I did.


“When I arrived at the house, the Countess had just driven up. She was too late for the funeral, as I intended she should be. She was under a tremendous strain. The terror and the unexpectedness of the news almost dazed her. She spoke in a queer manner and I could not make out her meaning as she tried to console me. I didn’t listen to her with any interest, it is true, for I was in no need of consolation. Then she took hold of my hand in an intimate manner and said she would like to entrust a secret to me, adding that she would not take advantage of it.


“Then she said that she had entrusted a bundle of letters to my late wife; she could not possibly keep them at her own house owing to their peculiar character, and asked whether I would be good enough to return them to her. I felt a chill down my spine as I listened to her. With assumed calm I asked her what those contained? She trembled at the question and said:


“Your wife is the most faithful and loyal woman I ever met. She did not ask what they contained; she even gave me her word never to look into them.”


“Where did she keep the letters?”

“She said she kept them under lock and key in the drawer of her sewing table. They are tied with a pink ribbon. You would easily recognized them. Thirty letters in all.


“I took her to the room where the sewing table stood and opened the drawer. I took out the bundle and handed it to her.


“Are these the letters?”


“She reached out for them eagerly. I dared not raise my eyes for fear she might read something in them. She left soon afterward.


“Exactly one week after the burial a stinging pain visited the spot on my hand where the drop of blood feel on that terrible night. The rest you know. I know it is nothing but auto-suggestion, but I cannot rid myself out of it. I am going to join her and will try to obtain her pardon. She will surely forgive me. She will loved me just as she loved me when she lived. I thank you, Doctor, for all you have done for me.”



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This is a contemporary story written by Karoly Kisfaludi.

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