Friday, December 14, 2012

The Scalpel and the Soul by Allan J Hamilton MD,FACS

Another review moved from my other blog.  Read this December 2011.
The Scalpel and the Soul  by Allan J Hamilton MD, FACS, paperback, 
published in 2008, 241 pages, *****
This was a selection from our local book club and an outstanding read.  The group facilitator has given copies of this this book as a gift and reported all readers were delighted as we were.  It is about the medical experiences of a neurosurgeon who specialized in brain tumors and the science of psychoneuroimmunology at the University of Arizona Health Sciences Center. 

 He explains the difference between a doctor and a surgeon and beginning with his trip down the Ogoue River in Africa as a Schweitzer fellow, we learn about the link between the supernatural and medicine. He emphasizes the importance of connecting with a medical professional and of bedside manners.   

The writing is exceptional,  surprising for a doctor, but not so when he reveals his interests,  pg. 28, "Some folks never listen to the little hairs when they stand up on the back of the neck.  I listen hard to those hairs, because they're my intuition.....There's a distinction between a decision and choice.  ...superstition, I choose to believe it."   Through stories based on actual patients we learn so much about what lies beyond  modern medicine and its miracles. 

My favorite patient tale was about the gypsy queen, whose family takes her to the roof of the hospital so that her spirit may leave and be free from the body a process facilitated by Dr. Hamilton after the nurses complain about all the candles the family set up in the patient's room.  His patients are  terminal, at the best he buys them some time with surgery  but often their tumors reoccur.  This is an amazing read, very different from anything else I've read in years, when I started it I feared it might be too technical with medical terminology that would lose my intetest, that was an unreasonable suspicion.  

His final chapter has 20 rules for patients with explanations of each one; here are 1--10:
1 Never under estimate luck--good or bad;
2 Find a doctor who cares about you; 
3Never trade quality for quantity of life; 
4 Live your life with death in it;   
5 You cannot dodge the bullet with your name on it,   
6 Ask your doctor to pray with you,
7 Never believe anyone who says "nothing will go wrong"
8 Don't be turned into just another patient
9 Listen to your favorite music
10 Never let hospital rules interfere with patient visiting hours

 Pg. 167, "What one is to become is largely predetermined by forces beyond our control, ...we ride our destiny....the sensibility of discipline and self determination draws its inspiration from an earlier stage in life for which we are hardly able to assume responsibility."   He explains that luck and hope are flip sides of a coin and gives a harrowing example of what occurs in medicine when hope is removed.  However he does not advocate sugar coating nor deluding oneself in a terminal status, he acknowledges there is a time to not pursue further treatment.   I am purchasing  another copy of this book to give to our wonderful family physician at Mayo.  I hope he will be as intrigued as I was.  It is brave and different  for a prominent physician to write such a book, especially in these times of health care reform; his acceptance of the alternatives  to medicine is refreshing.

As noted at the start tis is a 5 *****   The book club members varied from  4 to 5 stars.