#amreading Travel Writing: Lawrence Durrell on Alexandria

Going ashore in Alexandria is like walking the plank for instantly you feel, not only the plangently Greek city rising before you, but its backcloth of deserts stretching away into the heart of Africa. It is a place for dramatic partings, irrevocable decisions, last thoughts; everyone feels pushed to the extreme, to the end of his bent. People become monks or nuns or voluptuaries or solitaries without a word of warning. As many people simply disappear as overtly die here. The city does nothing.

— Lawrence Durrell in An Alexandria Anthology: Travel Writing Through the Centuries, edited by Michael Haag (Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press)

#amreading #amwritingfantasy: Inspired by Ian McEwan’s SATURDAY

The first time self read Saturday, by Ian McEwan, was in 2009. She only knows for sure because she did a Search on this blog. And up it popped, complete with spoilers.

But, since she believes she has more time to appreciate reading while she’s in Ireland, she’s going to give Saturday another go.

Amazing how ‘interior’ it is. Also amazing: that it’s about a surgeon. And she just got through reading Do No Harm, by neurosurgeon Henry Marsh. She swears, that’s just coincidence.

What Saturday‘s already succeeded in doing, even though self is only a few pages in: it’s gotten her to add a few more lines to the story she began three days ago, after arriving at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Annaghmakerrig. Working title: Transporter 2118

“As a matter of fact . . . ” I thought, but why mince words when she could read minds.

Tu-an Ju rose from the bed.

Oh. I didn’t realize she was that tall.

Looks like the transporter might have a problem.

lol

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

DO NO HARM: p. 171

Self just joined a Doctors Book Club. So she can participate in the book club discussion on Do No Harm. She even sent a link to her nephew, William. The one who got married in September. The one who works at Columbia-Presbyterian.

Henry Marsh is doing his round of the spinal theatres. In one theatre, he asks the operating: “Why such a large incision? And why are you using the big bone rongeurs?”

Marsh goes over to the operating table.

“I’ll have a look.”

He picks up “a pair of forceps and” looks into the wound. “A long shiny white thread, the thickness of a piece of string — four or five inches long — came up out of the wound . . . ”

“Oh Jesus fucking Christ!”

SELF (Flapping her hands about): OH NO The student’s just cut someone’s spinal cord.

Marsh: The “registrar had completely misunderstood the anatomy and opened the spine at the outer end rather than the inner edge of the spinal canal and hence had immediately encountered a nerve root, which, even more incomprehensibly, he had then severed.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

The Red Book: DO NO HARM, p. 72

Dr. Henry Marsh visits the Bessarabian Market, Ukraine:

Igor was later to tell me that the Bessarabian Market was still functioning only because it had become something of a tourist attraction. He suddenly became quite excited and pointed at one of the fish stalls.

“Very rare!” he said, pointing at three long, smoked eels in a glass cabinet. He bought one of them and gave it to me as a present. It smelt rather awful.

“Very unusual!” he said proudly. “They are in Red Book!”

“What’s the Red Book?” I asked.

“Book of animals soon dead. None left. You are lucky to have one,” he said happily.

“But Igor, this could be the last Ukrainian eel!” I said, looking at the long and once beautiful creature, who had been swimming, glittering, in some remote Ukrainian river and was now smoked and dead and wrapped in a Giorgio Armani plastic bag.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Advice: DO NO HARM, p. 45

  • “Go and have a cup of tea. Tea is the best haemostatic agent!”

— Henry Marsh to a fellow doctor who calls him about a patient’s oozing haemangioblastoma

DO NO HARM: Aneurysm, Part 2 (SPOILER ALERT)

Wonder what the woman patient in this chapter would think of Henry Marsh’s book? Doubt the hospital administration would have told her:

We tried three times to clip the aneurysm but the first two clips were flawed and the head surgeon ended up throwing one of the flawed clips across the operating room. You’re damn lucky.

Anyhoo, the day after the operation, when Marsh visits the patient, she has a huge black eye and a swollen forehead. Marsh may not have appeared sufficiently concerned about the patient’s appearance because her husband, who happens to be there, glares at Marsh angrily.

Marsh explains his nonchalance thus:

  • Perhaps I should have expressed more sympathy but after the near-disaster of the operation I found it difficult to take her minor post-operative problems seriously.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

ANEURYSM: DO NO HARM, Chapter 2

It is really interesting reading the Goodreads reviews of Do No Harm, as many of the reviewers seem to either: a) know the author personally, or know someone he has treated, or b) suffer from a malady mentioned in the book.

Self engaged in the discussion yesterday: someone summarized each chapter, thereby indirectly dropping spoilers. So self recommended putting a SPOILER ALERT over her review, as right now she is in the chapter called Aneurysm, and until reading the review she was completely on pins and needles.

And now self needs to add:

SPOILER ALERT

The chapter has the pacing of the very best thrillers. The protagonists are a neurosurgeon (the author) vs. a patient’s brain.

The brain acquiesces quite easily, but the fault lies in the first aneurysm clip (six-millimetre, titanium) which won’t open. The assistant tries first, but fumbles, so after a few seconds the author has to take over. This time, the clip does open, but the applicator can’t seem to release the clip.

Of all the — ! This patient (a 32-year-old wife and mother) has to have the worst luck in the world! The author has to sit there holding the clip and cursing, worried that if he moves his hand, the aneurysm will tear off the cerebral artery and cause a catastrophic hemorrhage in the patient’s brain (It’s at this point where self can’t stop thinking of the Jeremy Renner character in The Hurt Locker, when he finds an IED but discovers to his horror that it’s one of those butterfly ones, six little bombs in a circle, and he’s standing right in the middle)

He realizes he has no choice but to remove the clip he has just so painstakingly positioned, and find a third clip.

As the doctor removes the second clip, “the aneurysm suddenly swells and springs back into life, filling instantly with arterial blood. I feel it is laughing at me . . . ”

The author shouts, “That’s never happened before!” which is a completely futile statement, in self’s humble opinion. Because literally nothing has ever happened before.

So what does the author do? He throws the offending clip, just flings it across the room.

Gawd, if self was the patient, and she was watching this go down (Thank God for anesthesia) she might very well change her mind about the operation and say: Let me out of here!

(And if this were an American hospital, wouldn’t the doctor be afraid of writing about this incident? America being such a litigious society, after all. But this is England, self is reminded. And England is not as litigious.)

Here’s the rub: “The faulty ones, for some strange reason, turned out to have stiff hinges.” (p. 30)

Self has a feeling the story turns out well; it wouldn’t be in the book otherwise. It simply wouldn’t.

Stay tuned.

#amreading: DO NO HARM, by Henry Marsh

Self is behind her Goodreads reading challenge: she set herself a challenge of reading 30 books in 2017. So far, she’s read 22.

Of the books she’s read so far in 2017, her favorites are:

  • Waterloo, the History of Four Days, Three Armies, and Three Battles, by Bernard Cornwall (read in August)
  • Barbarian Days, by New Yorker writer and avid ex-surfer William Finnegan (started mid-June, finished mid-July)
  • This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance! by Jonathan Evison (read this in the first half of June)
  • The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey, by Rinker Buck (read this in May, in — of all places — Paris)
  • Montcalm and Wolfe: The Decline and Fall of the French Empire in North America, by Francis Parkman (started mid-February, finished a month later)

The book she is currently reading, Do No Harm, by English neurosurgeon Henry Marsh, is pretty fascinating and may well move into her list of favorites by the time she’s finished. It’s her first medical memoir in a long time. She used to read nothing but: Atul Gawande, Jeremy Toobin, Oliver Sacks, Irwin Yalom, Abraham Verghese, Jerome Groopman. Her interest in this field started in 1991, when her only sister passed away suddenly in a New York hospital on the Upper East Side, Lenox Hill.

Marsh is very, very good at describing not just the technical aspects of brain surgery, but the emotional aspects as well:

“Anxiety might be contagious, but confidence is also contagious, and as I walked to the hospital car park I felt buoyed up by my patients’ trust.” — pp. 22 – 23

 

Cleaning Up, Post-Apocalypse

A cameraman reports:

They were washing roofs. But how do you wash an old lady’s roof if it leaks? As for the soil, you had to cut off the entire fertile layer of it. After that there’s yellow sand. One old lady was following orders and throwing the earth out, but then scraping off the manure to use later. It’s too bad I didn’t shoot that.

— p. 105, Voices From Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster

A friend will ask self what she is reading now. When she tells them, they go, Sheesh! (Sub-text: You really must be a glutton for punishment!)

The first night after she began reading this book, she arrived in New York City. She stayed up all night, bug-eyed. The first story is the worst, the absolute worst. You just want to shake the stupid woman and cry. There’s all this florid Oh woe is me! I love my husband! Let me kiss him on his radioactive lips so that my unborn baby will know I did it all for love!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Let’s Eat Radiation

From an interview with a Russian soldier sent in to help the radiation clean-up effort around Chernobyl (pp. 41 -42, Voices From Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster)

  • I’ve spent all day riding through all the villages, measuring the radiation. And not one of the women offers me an apple. The men are less afraid: they’ll come up to me and offer some vodka, some lard. Let’s eat. It’s awkward to turn them down, but then eating pure cesium doesn’t sound so great, either.

 

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