Guest Storyteller, I. J. Sarfeh

I. J. S.I. J. Sarfeh was born in Tehran, Iran, to a Persian father and Russian mother. When he was nine years old, his parents sent him off to an English boarding school — he believes they thought the British system would correct his unruliness. After spending the formative years there, he and his family moved to America, where he studied medicine, became a board-certified surgeon, and ended up on the faculty of the University of California. In 2000, he retired as Professor Emeritus to pursue his original passion before being lured into medicine: creative writing. So far, he has written eight novels, most of which are in the medical mystery/suspense genre. He changed genre for his latest novel, Beyond the Third Garden, which draws on his experiences during the childhood and formative years, which were far from ordinary.



I was fourth-assistant at an operation to remove a patient’s cancerous stomach.

In awe, I watched the surgeons operating with grace, speed, efficiency. The music of Mantovani’s violins wafted from a portable radio, while the procedure flowed along as smoothly and effortlessly as the cascading strings. Without wasted movements, each action blended into the next like the harmony of the orchestra.

After removing the stomach, the surgeons fashioned a new one using a length of intestine cut down the middle, doubled on itself, and sewn together. The result was a pouch that could hold a modest amount of food, which they attached in continuity with the rest of the digestive tract. Then, using thick nylon sutures strong enough to hold the sinews together, they started closing the abdomen.

Halfway through the closure, I glimpsed a flash of metal.

Instrument or illusion?

Now began my struggle to inform the surgeons—during major operations, medical students were bound by the not-even-a-squeak rule.

Two more stitches, and my mouth was bursting to squeak.

I looked at the chief surgeon, a big man with an attitude. “Dr. Krabowski, m-may I s-speak?” I stammered in a near whisper.

He glared at me over his mask and half-lenses perched on the tip of his nose. “What?”

“I-I saw this shiny object.”

“Congratulations. The O.R. is full of shiny objects, so now we know you can see as well as speak.”


Struggling through the overdose of intimidation, I pressed on. “I hope the object inside the abdomen won’t harm your patient, sir.”

His eyes bulged. “Inside the abdomen? You think we left an instrument behind?”

“I don’t know what it is, sir.”

“Are you certain it’s there?”

“Well, I…”


“Speak up!”

“It’s in the right upper quadrant, sir. Hidden from view.”

“Do you realize we must reopen the whole abdomen to explore that area?”

A hesitant nod.

He cut out six stitches, groped around inside, and pulled out his hand. It brandished a shiny forceps.

“Well done!” he yelled. “You just saved the patient from serious post-op troubles, and us from a gazillion-dollar malpractice suit.”


He leaned into me. “Name?”

“Wheat, sir.”

“What is surgery, Wheat?”

Blank stare.

“Give me the definition of surgery, man!”

I cleared my throat. “It is the art and science of—”

“Bullshit! Surgery is courage. In your case, the courage of persisting despite fear.”

At last, my courage was out of hiding.


Sarah says: Thank you, so much, Iraj, for visiting my blog as a guest storyteller. Your short medical tale is certainly an example of writing about what you know. I won’t ask if this incident is based on a true life experience! 

Click on either of the Amazon links below and it will take you to a page of novels by I. J. Sarfeh for you check out: /


To read January’s guest storyteller post by Naomi Baltuck click here

Welcoming Guest Storyteller, Naomi Baltuck

Each month, I plan to invite a guest storyteller to my blog. And to my absolute delight, Naomi, who is a professional storyteller, has agreed to kick things off.

So first, here’s a short bio about Naomi, which is followed by one of her lovely tales told in traditional style…

naomiphoto1-300ppiNAOMI BALTUCK ~ is a Contributing Editor and Resident Storyteller at The Bardo Group, an international collective fostering peace, proximity, and healing through the love of arts and humanities. She is a world-traveler and an award-winning writer, photographer, and storyteller whose works of fiction and nonfiction are available through Amazon HERE. Naomi presents her photo-stories at Writing Between the Lines, Life from the Writer’s POVShe also conducts workshops such as Peace Porridge (multicultural stories to promote cooperation, goodwill, and peaceful coexistence), and programs of Tandem Tales with the Baltuck/Garrard Family Storytellers. For more on her programs visit Naomi

The Most Noble Story
(c)1995 Naomi Baltuck

There was once a widow who had three sons, Alberto, Eduardo, an Ernesto. She had spent a lifetime trying to teach them the meaning of charity and compassion. The day came when she knew she was dying, and would no longer be there to guide them. She called her sons to her bedside.

My sons, the only thing of value I have to leave you is my diamond ring. It was given to me by my mother, who had it from her mother, whose mother handed it down to her. It cannot be divided and it must not be sold, for one day, it shall go to one of your daughters. Now I must decide which of you is most worthy of this treasure. Go, my sons, and do good in the world. Come back in one week’s time and tell me your stories. The one who has performed the most noble deed shall inherit the diamond.”

By the time the three young men gathered again at her bedside, their poor mother was near death. She said to her firstborn, “Alberto, tell me your story.”

Well, Mother,” said the eldest, “after much thought, I gave half of everything I owned to the poor.”

My son,” said the old woman, “no one can tell you that you haven’t performed a good deed. But it is not a noble deed, for have I not taught you that it is everyone’s responsibility to care for the needy?”

She said to her secondborn son, “Eduardo, tell me your story.”

He said, “Mama, I was passing the river when I saw a small child swept away in the current. I can hardly swim, but I jumped into the water and pulled the child out to safety. It was only by the grace of God that I didn’t drown myself.”

My son, you too have performed a good deed, but not a noble deed. Have I not taught you that everyone should be willing to lay down his life for that of a helpless child?”

The old woman said to her youngest son, “Eduardo, come tell me your story.”

Ernesto hesitated before taking her hand. “Mamacito,” he confessed, “I haven’t much to tell. As you know, I’ve no earthly goods, and I cannot swim a stroke. But I’ll tell you something that happened to me this week. Very early one morning I was walking in the mountains. I came upon a man sleeping at the edge of a cliff. If he were to stir in his sleep, he would surely fall to his death on the rocks below. I determined to prevent this tragedy. I crept over, so as not to startle him awake. Then I saw that it was my bitter enemy, Juan Miguel. At first, I thought to leave him there, for the last time we met, Juan Miguel threatened to kill me if he ever got the chance. But deep down I knew what I had to do.

As I put my arms around him, Juan awoke and I could see the fear in his eyes as he recognized me.

“’Don’t be afraid,’ I told him. I quickly rolled him away from the precipice to safety, and helped him to his feet. When Juan Miguel came toward me, I was sure he meant to kill me. But then he threw open his arms to embrace me.

Juan said, ‘Last night darkness fell before I could get home. Rather than chance a misstep in the dark, I decided to spend the night where I was. I had no idea I was so close to the cliff edge. You saved my life, Ernesto, and after I treated you so poorly!’

To make a long story short, Mamacita, Juan and I are no longer enemies, but have sworn to be friends forever.”

The old woman shed tears of joy. “My son, I have taught you well. That was truly a noble deed, and you are a noble man, for you risked your life to save a man sworn to kill you. With one act of kindness, you have transformed hatred into love and made the world a better place.” With her dying breath she told her sons, “The diamond shall go to Ernesto, but you must all remember that with each noble deed you perform, you shall add to the treasure that awaits you in Heaven.”

All three sons married and had children of their own. They, like their mother, taught their children the meaning of charity and compassion. When the time came, Ernesto left his mother’s diamond to one of his daughters. But Alberto and Eduardo left their children a gem worth as much as any diamond, for their children held in their hearts their grandmother’s precious legacy, the story of the most noble story.

  All words and images copyright 2013 Naomi Baltuck, All rights reserved

Mr and Mrs Pink’s Experiment

To assess the observational skills of present-day Homo sapiens, Mrs Pink and I go shopping on a Saturday morning, leaving our clothes behind.

As we wheel our trolley into the supermarket, a teenage girl talking on a mobile phone says, “Hey Trace, guess what’? Two sticks ’f rhubarb just went by.” What she means by rhubarb, we’ve no idea, but at least someone has noticed us.

A toddler, having a tantrum by the sweet counter, breaks free of its mother’s hand and rushes towards us, shrieking, “Yum, yum, yum, big sweeties, tasty,” and bites Mrs Pink on the thigh. Fortunately for her, the gummy creature’s few milk teeth aren’t strong enough to break her skin. “Come here, Daniel,” says Mum. “Leave the rhubarb alone.”

A tall young man approaches us, wearing a frown and a smile. He has a badge pinned to his jacket with ‘David, Store Manager’ written on it. He says, “So sorry, we weren’t expecting you today. Most remiss of part of Head Office not letting us know. Exactly which rhubarb product are you promoting?”

Feeling confused and a little curious, I tell him we’d very much like to see where he keeps the rhubarb.

“Of course,’ he says. “Which would you like to look at first? Fresh, chilled, or frozen?”

“Fresh will be fine.”

On our way to the rhubarb, a customer glares at us and then complains to a woman next to him, “Damn commercial gimmicks. Whatever will they think up next?”

David stops and points at something macabre dumped in a green crate. “Here it is. Our very own locally grown rhubarb.”

Mrs Pink takes one look at the pile of prostrated sticks piled high with their tops removed, and emits a wail of despair. “But you’ve chopped off their heads and killed them.”

The Manager laughs, obviously thinking Mrs Pink is acting. “Uh, well, a decent boil in the pot with sugar and a little water should revive them.”

Mrs Pink and I lean against each other for support, regretting leaving our spaceship in the woods instead of the supermarket car park for a quick getaway. We urgently need to warn our kind about how Earth people treat our young, to save Vege sapiens from extinction.

Rhubarb (Photo credit: FotoosVanRobin)
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