THE VITAL PROBE: My Life As a Brain Surgeon by I. S. Cooper

THE VITAL PROBE: My Life As a Brain Surgeon

Email this review


Two accolades to the inventor of cryogenic surgery precede his memoirs, which require no send-off beyond his own strong, troubled words: ""How does a surgeon decide to place, for the first time, a delicate surgical instrument deep within a child's skull, in order to destroy a tiny bit of tissue that is part of that miracle of miracles, the human brain?"" The story, then, is of individuals--always with questions. Raymond Walker, Cooper's first crucial case, was 35, incarcerated in a mental hospital, an extreme sufferer from the tremors of parkinsonianism. Cooper had ""serendipitously"" discovered a way to relieve such tremors (by closing off an artery at the base of the brain), without in the process paralyzing the patient. ""But would it work again. . .?"" The success of that operation introduces the story's second major strand: Cooper's long-standing, turbulent confrontations with the ""distinguished"" neurologists who dismissed his findings, called his work fraudulent, even suggested that he was a charlatan. Why was Cooper shunned? He still can't explain it, though he suggests that his age, his naivetÉ in handling the attacks, and his lack of early failures contributed. So did certain occurrences--among them, Life coverage of his treatment of Margaret Bourke-White--which led his detractors to label him a publicity-hound. Cooper's patients and their families are here in force; and this is where he draws his strength--notwithstanding the 2 A.M. calls (""We want you to suffer, too"") from the family of one patient who died. He makes the decisions seem horrendous, the brain-work (deceptively) easy--and leaves the reader wanting to know more. (Did he really go to reed school because ""three middle-aged ladies told me I looked like a doctor""?) Humane, humorous, and dramatic--a fail-safe combination.

Pub Date: Oct. 26th, 1981
Publisher: Norton