Thursday, December 27, 2007

Complications - A Surgeon's notes on an imperfect science - Dr. Atul Gawande

For the common man, medicine is as magical as wizardry and a doctor with a stethescope or a scalpel is seen as a wizard with a magic wand. Dr. Atul Gawande in his book, Complications, has tried to demystify medicine and surgery for you and me. The imperfectness, the procedures and other details that go on behind the blue curtains are illustrated with examples from Dr. Gawande's experience making this book a medical thriller from cover to cover. The depth of detail the author delves into is absolutely fantastic. At the same time, it is very easy to comprehend as the author doesn't use any fancy medical jargon. A National Book Award finalist, Complications was recommended to me by a colleague of mine.

In the first part of the book, the author deals with errors in the field of medicine and surgery. Good medical practices in hospitals, the use of computers to diagnose diseases, M&M (Morbidity and Mortality) conferences and retirement policies for doctors are discussed with insight into the pros and cons of these processes to reduce mortality and errors during treatment. Trade offs in using interns/residents to perform procedures are discussed in depth as well.

In the second part of the book, the author goes into the mysteries of medicine and other intriguing surgical procedures. The topics dealt in this part of the book include gastric bypass for obese patients, clipping of nerves radiating from the spine to stop blushing among blushers and a deep dive into nausea among patients.

The final part of the book is titled Uncertainty and this part deals with issues like autopsies and their usefulness, patient consent and the degree of patient freedom in making their medical choices. The book ends with "The case of the red leg", which shows us that our bodies are in equilibrium on a needle tip and a very small thing like a rash could make a case for an amputation.

Overall, it's an exciting book and I would recommend it to medical and non-medical professionals. The imperfectness of medicine has left an uneasy feeling in me and has perhaps made me a little paranoid, but it has definitely given me a different perspective into the world of medicine.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Running With Scissors

Definitely not chick-lit :-)

After picking up soo many books and losing track of them half way through(yes, anything more than 1 page is halfway there for me... stop snickering), I made a resolution to stick through with the next book that I pick up. That is when the world of books decided to unleash their revenge on me.

I picked up this book after reading the reviews. "Wickedly, ridiculously funny" said the Boston Herald.

The book is a memoir told through the eyes of Augusten, a compilation of his teenage life in a totally whacky and disjoint family. This is a first hand account of the hippie culture, of a family that willingly accepted and embraced the concept of 'free will'. It chronicled the possibilities in a world where parents were not ordained by the society to be the responsible care givers, where everyone is on a Vegas vacation, perpetually. A lot of 'gross-me-out' comical accounts, some with way too many details for the 'lady' and the 'gent'.

The excerpt

Many nights, my mother and I had dinner at Fern's. Her family was genuinely warm and always made me feel like they'd been waiting impatiently all day long for me to show up.

Her four children each had perfectly white, straight smiles. Like Chiclets. Even the girls had clefts in their chins. And they always appeared to have just stepped from a hot shower.

Perhaps because of my determination to bite my tongue and complete the book, I failed to 'get' the book. Maybe one day I will read it again under the tree.

I can see that it could be funny, in that South Park genre of comedy. But sadly, this was not my cup of tea. But hey... if you want to give it a try, give me a holler!

PS: Yes, I did finish the book, from cover to cover.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Street Lawyer

Long ago, Sandeep and I, in one of our myriad discussions, had talked about book reviews on Facebook. He had mentioned crack a book, and I had eagerly asked to be added in. After all these days, here is a review. Finally.

I have read most of John Grisham's books a while ago. However, a recent random TV program featured him, and on a whim, I decided to read some of his books again. It is convenient to see all his books in one place; the library's policy of unlimited borrowings makes it even more tempting to just take them all ! But I desisted, and came back with just The street lawyer. It is a fantastic story, quite fitting my current situation in life. Instead of documenting the story itself, let me write about what went through my mind so far....

It is just past midnight now, and I am halfway through the book with no signs of sleep. It brings back the familiar yet strange excitement of reading a good novel through the night. Long ago, on sundays, the brother and I would read late into the night. The father would arrive home close to midnight from his weekly games of cards, scold us for being up so late, shut off the lights and go to sleep. A few minutes later, we would be back at it! It has been several years now since such interest has been by a book!

This one is the story of a rich and successful lawyer. Rich in the pocket, poor in the soul. Circumstances bring him face to face with the reality of homelessness, and he delves into volunteering, then to practicing public interest law for a fraction of the salary he previously earned. In the process, he feels alive, inspired and fulfilled.

A few years ago, it would have just been another novel. But now, the references to Pennsylvania avenue, homelessness near the Capitol and the Potomac river all conjure up real images in my mind, from my recent trip to DC.

And in another thread, the futility and unfairness of money beyond need in the pockets of the few (read self), strikes some chords. My recent surge of (relative) wealth had gotten me thinking somewhat, and Grisham's character articulates these thoughts extremely well.

Half the book still remains, and it is already 1: 51 AM. I am looking forward to the rest of the morning, and to finishing this one on a high. Something tells me I will be thinking about this long after.

I am reminded of Dorothy Boyd's statement to Jerry, when she quits the high paying agency blindly reposing faith in him - Most of all, I just want to be inspired, Jerry.

And, I want to be inspired. Something tells me I will be tonight.

ps: Blogger spell check actually corrected 'practised' to 'practiced'. How strange ! I still remember my English teacher, Mrs Geeta:
Practice with a c, if used as a noun. Practise with an s, if used as a verb.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


I have been wanting to write this review for a long time now. I picked up this book from my favorite Tata Book House in Bangalore. (for an extra 10% discount and told the lady at the counter how much I liked the store and have been buying books from them for the past 10 years in spite of me working for the world’s biggest online book retailer).

Now about the book, I should say a very interesting read. A must read for information junkies, it provides numerous references to facts and correlates many of them. The main theme of the book is about asking interesting questions and trying to answer them with numbers and statistics. It is mostly analyzing tons to collected data and arriving at conclusions. And I should say in most his examples he makes a very interesting case for the way he munches these numbers to bring out the bottom line.

Here is one of the interesting questions:
Why do drug dealers still live with their moms ?
In most cases he talks how answers derived by conventional wisdom are not entirely correct and how numbers can be used to better answer such questions.
A fun read over all, easy writing style and is kind of gripping when you see it unfold and the way it defies common sense in many occasions.

Well if you are too lazy to read, then watch this author talk, the talk is very funny and nice, it is only 20 mins.