Tag Archives: hospitals

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

While Cutting for Stone was on my reading list, it was not particularly high; it was a book I’d get to eventually.  My mother, however, bought it, read it, and passed it along.  I am glad she did, because Cutting for Stone is an engrossing family saga that, despite its length, I managed to get through in only a couple of days.

The book is about Anglo-Indian twins born in Ethiopia to a nun-nurse and a surgeon.  Abandoned by the father (who tried to perform in-the-birth-canal infanticide) and having lost their mother to the trials of their birth, they are taken in by the two other doctors at Missing Hospital.  The book follows Marion, the firstborn of the two boys, and his experience growing up in a multitude of ways: as a twin, as the child of doctors, as a ferengi despite having been born in Addis Ababa, as a witness to upheaval in Ethiopia, and as a romantic idealist.

Verghese does a wonderful job of crafting the events of Marion’s childhood and adolescence.  Marion and his brother, Shiva, have a companion in Genet, an Eritrean servant’s daughter.  The pettiness of his childhood grudges and mixed feelings about Genet and Shiva snowball into something very interesting throughout the book.  His emotions are understandable and very human.

Hema and Ghosh, the two doctors who, for all intents and purposes are Marion and Shiva’s parents, are very good parents.  The only thing I question about them is something that also makes the book totally worth reading if you’re at all interested in surgery: they allow their sons access to medical texts, Gray’s Anatomy, and, eventually, let them watch and participate in procedures.

The most amazing component of this book is the detailed surgical and medical description.  Abraham Verghese is himself a physician, and he manages to create a real surgical scene while not making it feel as if it were artificially plopped down in the middle of a chapter.  It’s just so wonderfully crafted that I can barely believe it.

The only drawback Cutting for Stone has is that the ending wraps up a bit too neatly.  There are a few too many coincidences and a few too many things that just cause me to lose my suspension of disbelief.  This is most likely because the rest of the book is so realistic.  I understand Verghese’s choices regarding how he ended the book; I just don’t feel like they made for the most realistic — or satisfying — conclusion.

Overall, Cutting for Stone is a well-crafted, realistic tale about a family both brought together and torn apart by the same things — medicine, education, and love.  It’s too bad that the last part of Marion’s story didn’t hold to the realistic standard Verghese had set up through the vast majority of the book.

Rating: 4/5.

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Filed under 4/5, Book review, Favorable, Fiction

Critical Care by Theresa Brown

No matter how many medical memoirs I read, I never seem to get enough.  The best ones, I’ve found, lead me to a new understanding of how we, as biological creatures and thinking beings both, function.  They bring me into a realization about myself and others that would not have otherwise occurred to me.  I think this is a gift that this particular genre can give more easily than most other forms of nonfiction.  Theresa Brown’s entry into the field, Critical Care, is a competent work written about the in-hospital training of the author as a nurse.

In her book, Brown discusses some of the standard concerns of a new nurse:  feeling inadequately trained for some of the situations that arise; facing the strict chain of command that structures every hospital; dealing with horrible time constraints and unreasonable work loads; and learning to balance personal life.

Brown writes on these topics with an open hand, allowing the reader to easily grasp what is being said.  She has a gift for making the reader understand what, exactly, is going on with a particular treatment or procedure, and is able to make most situations fairly approachable.  I suspect this is because she has a background as an English professor, and has the technical skill to use language in a very effective way.  In fact, I think her idiosyncratic career history makes her story more compelling — it’s quite the career change to go from being in front of a classroom to being in a hospital room, hanging an IV.

She takes a look at some interesting topics, such as injuring her knee after becoming a nurse and viewing the role of patient from within, rather than without.  In fact, the book is full of fascinating stories about patients, the learning process, and on keeping one’s humanity while working with those who are ill.  It takes a while to realize that even those people Brown discusses as having gone into remission are more likely than not either dead or experiencing relapses.  How hard that must be for their caregivers, both past and present, to handle.

The stories she tells about her experiences and the people she has known and taken care of are not, however, ultimately satisfying.  The main reason for this is that she doesn’t manage to provide a feeling of depth to the lessons she attempts to impart.  Her anecdotes and recalled stories all have an underlying message of some sort or another, but are lacking the aspect of new insight.  The things she tries to teach feel as if they have been discussed before and been discussed better; she has nothing to add to the conversation that is special or innovative.

This is sad, because I think, with a little more encouragement, Critical Care could go from being a mediocre nurse’s memoir to being a work of incredible power.  Brown works with oncology patients, and, from what she has written here, she has had many powerful experiences.  She just needs to be able to focus on creating tight narratives that can stand on their own, without the explanation of what should be gleaned from the story she feels compelled to include.

Rating:  3/5.

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Filed under 3/5, Advance Reader's Copy, Book review, Mixed, Nonfiction