The gowned figures loomed over Adelaide Green, two on each side, casting long shadows across the white draping. A curtain separated Ms. Green’s head from her body, like a sterile sideshow act.

“It’s bigger than we saw on the MRI,” the left-hand resident said, “and not as well encapsulated. You think there’s still a way to get it out without endangering anything else?”

Silence save for beeps and blips of machinery. Then, “We can only try. But the odds are not with us.”

The nurse glared at the lead surgeon.

“Yes, I know,” the surgeon said with a weary sigh as he poked and prodded. “Patients have been shown to understand what’s being said in the operating theater. But current thinking is that honest assessment by an operating team can stimulate a patient’s immune system to fight harder.”

“You mean your current thinking,” the right-hand resident said under his breath.

But the renowned brain surgeon heard all. Behind his magnifying goggles his eyes narrowed. “I highly doubt that attitude is patient-positive nor useful right now. I’d throw you out of my theatre but we’re shorthanded enough as it is. Scalpel.”

The instrument appeared in his outstretched hand. It hovered above the exposed brain. “We’re almost there, Ms. Green,” he said to the left hemisphere of her frontal lobe. “Just a few more minutes and soon you’ll be back in your chair doing your thing.”

The nurse cast a sharp glare up to the gallery, where a man in an expensive-looking suit jabbered on his cell phone, when he wasn’t scowling down at them like a displeased god. “We’ll make him happy, at least.”

A few more minutes turned into an hour. An hour turned into three. Tissue was severed; the intruder made its boundaries known. And then, as the lights burned bright and sweat beaded on residents’ foreheads, a louder-than-expected thunk of success sounded in a metal pan.

Four held breaths, it seemed, released at the same time.

“Wow,” the left-hand resident said. “I think you got it all.”

“Congratulations, Doctor,” the nurse said.

He patted Ms. Green’s shoulder. “Congratulations all around,” he said. “That was the largest writer’s block I’ve ever removed. Now”—he cast a quick glance to the gallery—“let’s put her agent out of his misery.”