In this absorbing memoir, a doctor’s off-handed reminiscences yield perceptive insights.
McCully (Beyond the Moon, 2006) spent 40 years as a radiologist in such diverse settings as the Mayo Clinic, the Army and decrepit rural hospitals. His experiences afforded him a wealth of funny, sometimes unnerving anecdotes: the cuckolded anesthesiologist who burst into an operating room and punched out a romantic rival in the middle of performing surgery; the spectacularly incompetent doc who pressed a gun to the head of a colleague trying to save a patient; the identical twin who took her sister’s place on the operating table as part of a devious scheme to ensnare McCully in a bogus malpractice suit. But these episodes convey more than perverse yuks and riotous misbehavior. A patient who messily treats his shingles with the blood of a rooster prompts a meditation on the human craving for certainty and control, and a luminous remembrance of past house calls serves to highlight the physician’s role in reassuring people about the verities of life and death, even when there’s little hope for a cure. McCully’s painfully comical recollections of his own mistakes show the exhaustion, self-doubt and frailty that bedevil doctors beneath their veneer of unflappable expertise. He writes in a lively, vivid style infused with common sense, a keen wit and a knack for explaining complex medical issues. He devotes one lengthy section to an engrossing examination of contradictory studies on the health effects of dieting and other lifestyle choices; concluding that moderation is the best policy, McCully warns that the stress of fretting about a food’s healthfulness is likely to be bad for our health. His astute observations reveal as much about the quirks of the soul as the mysteries of the body.
An entertaining, illuminating chronicle of medical pratfalls and misadventures.