A surgeon recounts his long career, revealing his struggles to become a pre-eminent doctor one operation at a time in this debut memoir.
Kaplan grew up in the New York area in the 1930s as a student with average grades, but he was greatly marked by two events: his first major surgery (for appendicitis) and the death of his Uncle Edward—most likely due to a misdiagnosis. After being admitted to Michigan State, the author embarked on the path to becoming a doctor. But when seeking admission to medical schools, he encountered discrimination due to his Jewish heritage, stiff competition despite his exemplary college transcripts, and difficulty impressing the elite doctors of America’s finest universities (one particularly embarrassing moment scars him from ever again using the expression “pretty good”). Kaplan would eventually be admitted to the University of Buffalo, where he would begin building toward his goal of becoming a thoracic surgeon and where the thrill of actually operating came into perspective only minutes after starting his first internship. “I began to massage a heart during an actual cardiac arrest,” he writes. From that point on, he would jump from one urgent call and one grinding residency to another, from the Air Force to Westchester County and back to Manhattan, all while trying to realize his dream. Kaplan addresses the politics and cost-cutting techniques that often got in his way, but the majority of the book is dedicated to the various thrilling surgeries he performed across New York. (Blood often gushes “out by the bucketful,” and he gives an unforgettable description of the “stench of dead bowel” that will likely haunt squeamish readers for years to come.) While the author narrates these scenes with the precision and skill one expects of a surgeon, more introspective aspects lack the same intensity—he often reflects wisely on becoming a patient himself, but his family life and inner emotions are mostly absent from the memoir. Despite this minor shortcoming, Kaplan’s laser focus on his career delivers an engaging examination of what becoming a doctor really entails.
A captivating and detailed look at the evolution of the medical profession as seen by one physician over 50 years.