I shall not cut for stone

   Cutting for Stone

Dr. Hema, the gentle ophthalmologist from Rayagada, doubles (and triples and more) as an obstetrician at the hospital here. She’s been working her for over 25 years. I thought of her as I read Abraham Vergheses’ Cutting for Stone, where another Dr.Hema takes on a supporting actress role in a family saga spanning two (perhaps 3) continents and generations. I was introduced to Verghese’ writing years ago, by a good friend, who also happens to be his niece. His first two books were about HIV/AIDS and homo-sexuality, in the days before they became fashionable, so to speak.
Cutting for stone is Marion Stone’s search for his story – and he tells it for the sake of his dead twin. The training of the doctors and one nurse, Sister Mary Joseph Praise, at the GH, Chennai, India, a stormy ship ride to Africa, and by part one, we are introduced to all the main protagonists at the mission hospital in Addis Ababa – the Missing Hospital, as it was dubbed there. Sister Mary Joseph Praise dies in childbirth but her twins survive. The twin’s grow up at Missing, and their lives intertwine with the patients, the surgeries, the political unrest in Ethiopia and Eritrea. Finally, banished to the US, the story moves towards finding the father of the twins, and for a reconciliation and understanding of the pain and hurt that we cause as we bumble along life’s way.
Verghese is a great story teller, and he effortlessly mixes the love story and family saga with the technical details of liver transplant surgery (some bits I’m afraid I ‘vertically’ read as they were marginally too graphic for my taste!) or the Eritrean revolution for self-determination. He brings alive the missing campus with its varied staff, families and patients. Matron, the backbone of the community, the probationer with (or without) Sound Nursing Sense, Genet and so many more. Definitely worth a read, especially if you’re remotely connected to the medical world! Here’s to the memories of Asclepius (I should have thought of him during the session on animal bites!!) and Susrutha and to all the brilliant surgeons that I know. As for the rest of us, we’re happy to leave the slicing, probing, snipping and stitching to you. We shall not cut for stone.

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