Dear reader, life is too short for crap books.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Your Body is a Wonderland

Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science by Atul Gawande

Before reading this book, everything I knew about the medical profession came from either television or my friends' horror stories about medical school. Therefore, in my mind, surgeons were either the most arrogant, self-righteous doctors in the hospital, or they were like Chris Turk(leton) from Scrubs.

Atul Gawande is a surgeon who is neither of these. For one thing, he doesn't crack a single joke for the entire book. Not even a pun. I don't think he even describes himself smiling or laughing a single time. He's a bit of a grind, but a fascinating one who writes with as much honesty (and as little arrogance) about his successes as about the patients he nearly kills.

In a way, reading these essays makes you pray you never ever have to entrust your life to a doctor. The first section of the book is entitled "Fallibility," and includes essays about the mistakes that surgeons make. Turns out, they make a lot because of the unfortunate Catch-22 that you have to train new doctors to save lives, but in order to train new doctors, you're going to have to let them cut on people when they don't really know what they're doing.

The book also contains essays about medical mysteries that make you marvel at the strangeness of the human body. I mean, science has allowed us to transplant organs and fix bum tickers, but we still don't really understand everyday things like blushing, overeating, and nausea.

To most people, medicine is shrouded in mystery and doctors are scary. This book isn't really a sensational expose of what really goes on behind the knife. It's more of an attempt to bridge the gap between patients and doctors, and once you get past the stories about the intern who botches a central line or the girl who dies having her wisdom teeth removed, there's oddly, a kind of understanding at the end.

And Gawande's writing style is a little dry and methodical, but it's never boring. You just feel like you're in the hands of an extremely competent and thorough professional, and you hang on his every word. Which is, I guess, why he's a surgeon.

If you liked...: Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach, prepare to have a new favorite book because while Complications is similar, it absolutely kicks the shit out of Stiff.

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