Medicine: Direct Red – Read it, STAT!

Direct Red

“You need surgery” is the sort of phrase that strikes fear to the very core. And, surgeons are generally in a league of their own with a reputation for aloofness – after all, they spend most of their time with patients who are unconscious and “bedside manner” is not required.

Yet who are these people with the power over life and death? More to the point, what makes them the way they are?

Direct Red, subtitled “A Surgeon’s View of Her Life-or-Death Profession” is an unlikely candidate for the term “good read” — how sympathetic are we really to surgeons, those arrogant uber-doctors who swoop in, make a pronouncement then move on? Who cause such terrific agony and evoke such great fear?

Perhaps Gabriel Weston’s book is so wonderful to read because, while she clearly has a vocation as a surgeon, she also had a passion for books and studied literature. Each chapter describes another aspect of what it means to have a life in your hands, literally, and each shows another example of how there is no such thing as “easy” surgery. Even a simple tonsillectomy can go awry.

But the book is also very much about Weston’s inner conflict between being a cool intellectual and a person with a soul — both are necessary for greatness as a surgeon, but neither quality sits well with the other. She talks about how she overlooked an ailing child, essentially gave him an aspirin and told him to go back to sleep without really considering why a young boy would have such a severe headache. He died. She talks about how terrified she was to make her first difficult call as the senior surgeon on a case, knowing that in the world of surgeons she’d be a laughing stock and her career would be over before it properly began if she were wrong. In that instance, she saved a life.

Direct Red
is not a long book. It is probably a necessary book, humanizing a group that doesn’t really want to be seen as merely mortal, and describing a side to health care rarely seen and poorly understood. Luckily it is so wonderfully written you won’t mind taking the medicine in the message.