DEAD WRONG

AND OTHER EPISODES FROM A LIFE IN MEDICINE

Gory surgeries, grisly autopsies, baffling ailments and the JFK assassination enliven these entertaining if sometimes icky medical memoirs.

McConnell is a professor of pathology who admits he dislikes doing autopsies, and as we read his slice-by-slice replays—“When I cut into her abdomen and an odious rush of feces spilled from the incision”—we can’t really blame him. His 50-year career landed him in plenty of scrapes outside of the morgue as well. A stint as an Army doc found him jumping out of airplanes, performing a circumcision on an uncooperative paratrooper and standing vigil over the casket of President Kennedy. (An assassination buff ever since, he offers tart commentary on the competence of the military pathologists who autopsied Kennedy and floats an intriguing alternative to the “magic bullet” theory.) There are vacations filled with impromptu consultations; on one Grand Canyon rafting expedition, he treats heat stroke, panic attacks and a bite to the butt by a rattlesnake. In a noir-ish vignette, he testifies in an abortion prosecution before a vaguely corrupt Mississippi courtroom. And there are many scenes of McConnell performing a doctor’s most basic task—struggling to figure out what’s ailing a patient, sometimes in the reflective quiet of the pathology lab, sometimes in the chaos of the emergency room. The author fills the book with absorbing medical procedural that presents medicine as an intellectual puzzle with its share of triumphant deduction and humiliating cluelessness. (One case, resolved only after umpteen lab tests and a home visit that reveals a tell-tale enema bottle, is a diagnostic mystery worthy of a House episode.) This is mainly a collection of vivid shaggy-dog stories, but there’s also an emotional resonance to McConnell’s reminiscences; as he wrestles with his patients’ suffering, he reveals that the physician’s anguish is also inherent in the art of healing. Engrossing in every sense.

 

Pub Date: July 28, 2011

ISBN: 978-1453845707

Page Count: 199

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Sept. 12, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2011

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Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and...

THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS

A dense, absorbing investigation into the medical community's exploitation of a dying woman and her family's struggle to salvage truth and dignity decades later.

In a well-paced, vibrant narrative, Popular Science contributor and Culture Dish blogger Skloot (Creative Writing/Univ. of Memphis) demonstrates that for every human cell put under a microscope, a complex life story is inexorably attached, to which doctors, researchers and laboratories have often been woefully insensitive and unaccountable. In 1951, Henrietta Lacks, an African-American mother of five, was diagnosed with what proved to be a fatal form of cervical cancer. At Johns Hopkins, the doctors harvested cells from her cervix without her permission and distributed them to labs around the globe, where they were multiplied and used for a diverse array of treatments. Known as HeLa cells, they became one of the world's most ubiquitous sources for medical research of everything from hormones, steroids and vitamins to gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, even the polio vaccine—all without the knowledge, must less consent, of the Lacks family. Skloot spent a decade interviewing every relative of Lacks she could find, excavating difficult memories and long-simmering outrage that had lay dormant since their loved one's sorrowful demise. Equal parts intimate biography and brutal clinical reportage, Skloot's graceful narrative adeptly navigates the wrenching Lack family recollections and the sobering, overarching realities of poverty and pre–civil-rights racism. The author's style is matched by a methodical scientific rigor and manifest expertise in the field.

Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and Petri dish politics.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4000-5217-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2010

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A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

INTO THE WILD

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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