A straightforward, somewhat impersonal account of becoming a neurosurgeon, fleshed out with observations on ethical issues and predictions about possible future advances in the field.
One of the few women neurosurgeons in the United States, Firlik kept notes during her recent post-medical-school training, which consisted of one year as an intern, two as a junior resident, three as a senior resident and then a final year as a chief resident. Her subtitle not withstanding, she advises that neurosurgeons do not call themselves brain surgeons, for it is spines, not brains, that the majority spend most of their time operating on. However, brains are a far more intriguing subject, and her memoir focuses on her experiences working with brain injuries, aneurysms, tumors, hemorrhages and various congenital anomalies. Describing a neurosurgeon as part scientist and part mechanic, she provides a revealing look at the tools of the trade—drills, picks, suctions—and of acquiring the skills to use them. There are, of course, some horror stories—one involving maggots being the most nauseating—some happy endings and some hopeless cases. She gives the reader glimpses of a neurosurgeons’ convention and of a hospital’s weekly morbidity and mortality conference, and she distinguishes clearly between the roles of neurosurgeons and doctors in allied fields. Although she includes some biographical details (e.g., her childhood with a surgeon father, her marriage to a fellow neurosurgeon), what is missing is a real sense of who Firlik is as a person—her surgeon’s mask seems always firmly in place.
While not rich in the sort of raw humor, pathos, embarrassments or revelatory moments that characterize so many med-school memoirs, this provides an abundance of information helpful to anyone contemplating a career in neurosurgery.