Book Review

‘Blood And Guts: A History Of Surgery’

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thebookworm

Terri Schlichenmeyer

Generally speaking, nobody in their right mind would ask to be cut up like a rare steak. As hard as you try, that thought keeps creeping into your consciousness and, well, you won’t lie. You’re nervous.

Which is silly when you think about it. During the surgery you’re about to have, you’ll be asleep the whole time. You’ll feel little, if any, pain when it’s over. You’ll be home before the weekend, no problem.

And you have a lot of people to thank for all of the above, as you’ll read in the new book “Blood and Guts: A History of Surgery” by Richard Hollingham.

Long before you’re wheeled into the operating room, someone arrives to discuss the kinds of anesthetic you’ll get so you’ll drift gently off to sleep. But if your surgery had been scheduled for a quiet morning two centuries ago, there would have been no anesthetic at all. Your doctor may have been a barber before he was a surgeon, and he might have been operating under the assumption that extreme pain was the only way to assure your survival.

Understandably, your survival chances would’ve been small.

As the surgery begins, someone monitors your heart and other vital signs, but a few generations ago, heart medicine was still in its infancy. Doctors, in fact, were looking at groundhogs, dead hogs and frozen dogs in their quest to make surgery on one’s ticker a less ticklish endeavor.

Doctors had a lot to learn about blood and tissue, too, and you should be glad they did. In the case of transplants, a lot of animals (and not just a few humans) died before surgeons realized that you couldn’t just place one human’s body part in another human and expect it to work. The foundation for modern transplant science was laid by an arrogant, obsessed man who briefly collaborated with the Nazis, and the key to success was found in a bag of dirt.

Hollingham trained for medical school nearly 30 years ago, but the pull to journalism was stronger. Hollingham lets his former training, talent and fascination with medicine shine through.

In an edge-of-your-seat style, Hollingham winds his way through five branches of surgery to tell the tale of men (alas, always men) whose curiosities made chasmic leaps in medicine, and of patients who were willing to be guinea pigs – and in one case, Guinea Pigs with a theme song.

If you love a good story told with suspense, true-life twists, a few winces and a touch of subtle humor, this is the book to read. For surgeons and the fascinated curious, “Blood and Guts” is a slice above.

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