3 pathologists failed to find a cause of death though all remarked on the mysterious pinpricks in the dead hypochondriac’s skin.
According to the pathologists, he should not have been dead. But he was.
At the time of his death he was in fine physical health. His heart appeared strong, without any discernible flaws. But it had stopped all the same.
The toxicology report showed no evidence of anything capable of causing a fatal cardiac arrest. No stimulants or intoxicants of any kind were present. He appeared to be a clean-living young man, in his prime.
Other than the tiny pinpricks, there were no external wounds. No obvious signs of a potentially fatal trauma.
There were four of the holes in total. One on the sole of his left foot, one in the crook of his right elbow, one between his shoulder blades, and the fourth in his right buttock.
It was the third pathologist who spotted them. They were so small that they had gone unnoticed by the first two. But even when they were told about the discovery, all they did was shrug their shoulders.
The pathologist who discovered the pinpricks probed them delicately with a hair-fine needle, plumbing their depths. Three were less than a centimetre deep. The fourth, the one in the buttock, was about six centimetres.
No, it was impossible that such minuscule breaches of his body could be responsible for his death.
A stiletto through the heart, yes. But not these shallow pinpricks in innocuous places.
The police looked into the dead man’s background. They discovered that although he was in excellent health, he often believed himself to be suffering from some mysterious malady or other.
Receiving no help or sympathy from conventional doctors, he had turned to alternative practitioners. In particular, he placed a great deal of faith in the power of acupuncture and had been attending the clinic of a Chinese doctor in North London for many years.
Over the years, he had become friendly – perhaps too friendly – with the Chinese doctor’s wife, who worked as a nurse at the practice.
The acupuncturist suffered terribly from jealousy and began to suspect that his wife and his longstanding patient were carrying on an affair.
It is certainly impossible for acupuncture to revive a heart that has stopped beating. But whether it can stop dead a perfectly healthy heart is unknown. Perhaps if the patient who is undergoing treatment believes absolutely in the power of the treatment, and if the doctor administering it whispers into his patient’s ear “This next needle will stop your heart” at the moment of insertion – perhaps then, it might.