VITAL SIGNS: A Young Doctor's Struggle with Cancer by
Kirkus Star

VITAL SIGNS: A Young Doctor's Struggle with Cancer

Email this review


Mullan was 32, a pediatrician with the Public Health Service in New Mexico, when a casual x-ray he ordered on himself showed a massive tumor growing in his chest. Thorough examination revealed the worst--the malignant growth was entwined with many of the vital structures of the chest--and Mullah's subsequent treatment was Failed with the kind of medical mess-ups that seem to befall doctors who become patients. But Mullah made it, and his story is truly ""a living testament and not a parting shot."" He doesn't spare us the calamities: the initial routine biopsy turned into a major, life-threatening operation when a large blood vessel was cut, necessitating open-chest surgery, massive blood transfusions, and a prolonged stay in an intensive care unit on a respirator. (The initial strain, he acknowledges, was all on his family: he ""slumbered through"" the crisis.) There followed severe radiation bums, extreme debilitation from chemotherapy, and a second, four-month-long hospital stay involving plastic-surgery procedures to repair treatment-induced deformities. Mullan's own assessment is that he was not a paragon of positive thinking--but he does give a splendid view of what pulled him through: encounters with other patients; competent, caring bedside help; and his family. The biggest boost was the birth of a daughter, midway through his treatment, who had been conceived the evening before Mullan was first hospitalized. Mullah, familiar in activist medical circles for White Coat, Clenched Fist (1976), notes that he toned down his conclusions in a rewrite: ""With such lithe certainty about my own body, how could I make claims about the world at large?"" Riveting in its detail, moving in its candor.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1982
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux