The Blood of Strangers: Stories from Emergency Medicine

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9780520218635: The Blood of Strangers: Stories from Emergency Medicine
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Reminiscent of Chekhov's stories, this collection is a visceral portrayal of a physician's encounters with the highly charged world of an emergency room. The author reveals a side of medicine where small moments - the intricacy of suturing a facial wound, the bath a patient receives from her husband and daughter - interweave with the lives and deaths of the desperately sick and injured. The author presents an array of fascinating characters, both patients and doctors - a neuro-surgeon who practices withcraft, a trauma surgeon who unexpectedly commits suicide, a wounded murderer, a man chased across the New Mexico desert by a heat-seeking missile. At times surreal, at times lyrical, at times brutal and terrifying, this text is a literary work that emerges from one of the most dramatic specialties of modern medicine.

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Review:

Forget the niceties of plot development and the easy moralising of the television shows: there's nothing glamorous about a hospital Accident & Emergency department, that arena where every human flaw and frailty is exposed.

Frank Huyler, a doctor and poet, offers a sharp view of life-and-death realities. A & E, he writes in these affecting vignettes, is a place where the dominant mood is numbness, where doctors and patients alike have seen too much bloodshed and death. As a defensive reaction, Huyler writes, some doctors become addicted to drugs and other pastimes, while others assume arrogant, cavalier, or aloof airs. This is eminently understandable, and Huyler recounts the growing distance in his relationship with patients as "the earlier intimacy I had felt... began to recede into the task." A fine storyteller, Huyler doesn't shy away from tales in which he comes up short, just as he shakes his head in bemusement at the ways of administrators and chiefs. In one episode, for instance, he writes of treating a comatose patient with aggressive measures under one attending doctor's orders, then doing almost nothing under another's instructions. The patient "was gone from the waking world, as nearly dead as a human being can be, lying at the edge but never quite crossing over"--but, amazingly, survived both his injuries and the conflict between the two doctors.

Reminiscent of the surgeon-essayist Richard Seltzer's best work, Huyler's memoirs take readers behind the surgical screen. --Gregory McNamee

Review:

"[Huyler] writes so beautifully, in that humble, simple way that is very affecting. It's very compassionate, filled with detail and just splendid, lucid sentences."--"Entertainment Weekly

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Published by University of California Press (1999)
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