Hot Lights, Cold Steel is, in a way, like many other books I’ve read before. It’s a medical memoir, a genre I have an interest in. Yet it manages to set itself apart through Collins’ sensitive and insightful prose about not only his training, but, really, about the entirety of his life through the four years of his residency. Collins has written a book enjoyable for many reasons, a feat not often achieved by a book typically focused on one, partitioned part of the author’s life.
The book starts off with a scenario Collins faced toward the end of his residency — being in charge of the almost impossible decision of whether to amputate a fourteen-year-old’s leg. Collins then takes us back to the beginning of his residency at the prestigious Mayo Clinic in orthopedic medicine, outlining his four years there in chapters labeled by month.
One of the most refreshing things about Hot Lights, Cold Steel is that Collins is so open about the fear and uncertainty he had going in. He felt inadequate and unprepared for a residency at such a renowned medical center. He discusses his efforts to study up on procedures and conditions he would have to do. He discusses the friendships that he made and the quick understanding he had to make of the personalities of each of the attending physicians he worked under.
More interesting was his discussion of the paltry amount of money a resident makes, even at a place like Mayo Clinic. He found himself forced to moonlight at a hospital in a city ninety miles to the west, which meant that he was even more exhausted than the average resident.
Making his life more complicated was his family situation. He had, at the beginning of his residency, a wife and a young daughter. By the end of the four years, they had added three more children to the mix. His wife, who had training as a nurse, became a stay-at-home mom out of necessity. Collins is very open about the strain the long hours away from home placed on their marriage, and how his relationships with his children suffered. This was actually the part of the book I found most compelling — many of these medical memoirs discuss the physical exhaustion, but rarely discuss the toll the long hours and unpredictable schedules can take on a family.
I can’t think of anything bad to say about Hot Lights, Cold Steel. Collins has produced a book that allows the reader into both his personal and professional life with remarkable ease. From his writing, he feels like someone anyone could know, yet he has the brilliance to write about his experiences with both respect and humor. This ability just makes him more interesting, and makes his book more appealing.