Many people with chronic illness seem over time to develop a love/hate relationship with their body. They understand the tiniest nuances of how it reacts to specific medications, to different foods, to various environmental factors. But ultimately if you suffer from an incurable, physically compromising illness, there end up being times when you just want to dump your entire body and start over with a healthy new one. Which of course is impossible.
Or is it?
Since college, I’ve joked1 about transplanting my brain in a healthy, Crohn’s-free body. As my fantasy began to develop, it incorporated finding and retaining a world-class neurosurgeon who would be willing to perform such an unproven, ethically questionable procedure. In my teenage years, I envisioned this secret surgery taking place in a makeshift operating room, perhaps in an abandoned hospital we had refurbished, or in some researcher’s basement hobby lab.2
I can’t take credit for this approach to guerrilla brain transplantation. I first came across it during the late 1970s in the Larry Niven story The Defenseless Dead (contained in the Niven collection “The Long ARM of Gil Hamilton”).3 (Spoilers ahead.) Niven’s antagonist is a criminal seeking to change his identity as completely and untraceably as possible. So he kidnaps an orphaned college student who has a squeaky clean police record and is the heir to a large fortune. The criminal has his brain and spinal cord clandestinely transplanted into the body of the college student. (This ends up killing the college student, since his brain is destroyed in the process.) Thus the criminal “assumes ownership” of the college student’s DNA, fingerprints, and other identifiable physical characteristics, while pretending to be the college student, making it virtually impossible for the police to identify him.
As I’ve grown older, my brain transplant fantasy has grown as well. While I initially just wanted a healthy body,4 I now find myself wanting a younger, athletic, good-looking (think babe-magnet) type of body to house my transplanted brain. In fact, transplanting my brain into a new, younger body every 30–40 years or so might be one way to achieve immortality.
Science and medicine continue to advance, and procedures like brain transplantation — which once seemed science fiction — are moving closer to reality. So now when I daydream, it seems just a waiting game, and I occasionally wonder, “where’s my new body?”
Dealing with chronic illness can lead to some very creative fantasies and visions of “what if.” What sorts of dreams or fantasies have you imagined when faced with negative circumstances that are beyond your control?
- Reminder: Kevin has a strong sense of humor, and a reputation as a storyteller. Continue reading with tongue planted firmly in cheek. [↩]
- Details like this were strongly influenced by the media I encountered as a child. A story arc of the old TV series “Crime Story” told the tale of a dying Vegas mobster who kidnaps a heart surgeon and forces him to perform a heart transplant in a makeshift desert hospital in 1965. In reality, the first heart transplant wasn’t performed until 1967. [↩]
- The appearance of brain transplants in fiction goes back at least as far as Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein.” And many of the fictional treatments of brain transplantation describe it as happening in secret. But as far as I know, Niven was the first person to describe using a total body transplant in this particular fashion. [↩]
- That donor body would come from someone who had suffered brain death, as I imagined it, but otherwise had not been physically injured. [↩]