A debut memoir from a pediatric neurosurgeon that portrays hospital life at its absurd best and its tragic worst.
In several vignettes, Fulkerson (Neurological Surgery/Indiana Univ. School of Medicine) dramatizes his experiences in neurosurgery at what he dubs “the Baby Hospital.” His second year of medical school closed with the sobering loss of a series of patients. But during his time there, he worked with a colorful cast of co-workers, including “the Old Man,” a maverick who developed the neurosurgery department; “Grandpa P.,” the Old Man’s successor as chairman; and Thomas, a hyperactive but highly compassionate surgeon. None of them fit Fulkerson’s caustic stereotype of neurosurgeons: “stern, pompous douchenozzles with executive silver hair and a God complex.” The book’s funny, informal dialogue shines during recalled cases that range from the scatological—a rectal abscess—to the unconventional yet ingenious, as when the Old Man cooled a patient’s head by sticking his bed halfway out a window. The metaphors are memorable, too, such as a cerebral palsy patient who was “twisted…into a macabre pretzel” and a head wound’s “sickening sorbet of blood, fluid and grayish mush.” The author vividly describes his obstetric and psychiatric rotations as well as a medical mission to Kenya and two years of ROTC service in Japan. Grandpa P. then lured him back to the hospital with a neurosurgery residency. Fulkerson notes that his line of work “forces one to ask the big questions” of why kids get sick and die. “Unfortunately,” he laments, “it is loath to give back the big answers.” Two unforgettable patients include a 5-year-old with a gunshot wound to the head who survived skull surgery and a subsequent infection and a teenager who died of a brain tumor days after being voted prom queen. Despite the crushing sadness he’s witnessed, Fulkerson says that he still believes in God and the goodness of the world: “you have to take so much joy in the children who do well that it blocks out the pain from the ones who don’t.” (Includes 15 black-and-white photographs and diagrams.)
An engaging reflection on the surgeon’s lot that’s humorous and poignant in equal measure.