Friday, September 29, 2017

Book Review: 'Surgeon's Story' by Mark Oristano

Physicians are often the focal point of newscasts, novels and television series about triumphs, tragedies, or human errors – portraying too often the uncaring and cold new techno-doctor whose skills at times lack a sense of caring. Kristine Guleserian, MD the Surgical Director of Pediatric Cardiac Transplantation at Children’s Medical Center Dallas is a magnificent exception - a profoundly respected surgeon, and humanist, who represents the too rarely witnessed palpable caring doctor-patient relationship. Meet Dr G – a female thoracic surgeon who rises above the male centric field to stand for hours on an OR stool to perform dramatic pediatric heart transplants and follows those challenges with all the warmth, caring, and contagious enthusiasm for nurturing her patients and families – and her own joie de vivre for life outside the sacred OR. . Dr. Guleserian is currently practicing pediatric cardiothoracic surgery with the Heart Program at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami, Florida.

Writer/journalist Mark Oristano readjusts the light in the OR to shine on this particularly fine real life lady surgeon in his book SURGEON’S STORY and in doing so restores an ideal, marking another highpoint for the author in raising the options and inspiration that will encourage other young women to enter roles cast in molds similar to the success and station of Dr G.

Mark demonstrates why he is THE observer/author best suited for this task of writing about a respected surgeon in his introductory remarks – ‘To see a human heart beating inside a chest is astonishing. I’d seen one in the OR before, from a distance, standing behind the anesthesiologist. But this was my first time observing a transplant. It was a teenage boy. His diseased heart was removed and placed in a small dish, put aside for later study by pathologists. I always try to walk carefully when I’m in the OR because I’m terrified of tripping over something, or getting in somebody’s way and screwing up the operation. This time I walked slowly, carefully, over to the dish. I got my first close look at a human heart, only inches away. And it moved. It beat. The heart was trying to pump blood that wasn’t there around the body to which it was no longer attached. The heart didn’t want to die. It pulsed about once every 30 seconds for the next ten minutes, before resting forever.’ Prose that approaches poetry, and that is the manner in which he writes his book.

Mark’s invitation into the life and work of Dr. Kristine Guleserian occurred ‘March, 2010. I was finishing up my weekly Tuesday afternoon volunteer shift at Children’s Medical Center in Dallas when Dr. Kristine Guleserian, pediatric heart surgeon, stopped me in the hallway. Dr. G is five feet tall, but “diminutive” isn’t a term to apply to her. A thick head of dark black hair, falling in waves over her white lab coat, frames sharp, probing eyes and highlights the features of her Armenian heritage. Her speech has an insistence that compels you to listen. “We’re transplanting today at four. It’s going to be an interesting one. You might want to come and observe.” So ... a quick text to my wife to tell her I’d miss dinner, then a change into surgical scrubs, followed by some food to prep for a long evening.’

In addition to the sensitive respectful drama of this book Mark provides significant amounts of information about the hospital, the staggering degrees of preparation to enter the realm of cardiothoracic surgery, impressive insights into cardiac function and congenital disease, his own scholarly preparation about cardiovascular disease as he spent volunteering at Children’s Medical Center, a teaching hospital that is part of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas. Throughout this book he shadows Dr G., observing her manner with staff, patients and parents as she performs heart transplants – repairing the tiny hearts of tiny children. Stories of actual patients undergoing procedures, plentiful photographs of the patients and personnel and the complexities of the surgeries, descriptions of surgeries, excellent anecdotes and asides that inform the reader of the science of medicine all provide an involving read. But it is the personal history of Dr G. coupled with the aura of her persona that make this book not only a tribute to an important surgeon but to a great humanist lady.

Toward the end of this glimpse into the life and work of Dr G. she responds to Mark’s query about her perception of her work. ‘But then I was thrown into the field of cardiothoracic surgery. When I was beginning I looked around and there were very few female surgical mentors. It doesn’t mean that I didn’t have mentors, because some of my greatest mentors have been men. Not all of them have been cardiothoracic surgeons. But now, I feel like it’s up to me to be a role model for the younger generation coming through. Whether they are women or men doesn’t matter—just so I can offer them a different way of seeing a cardiothoracic surgeon. Grady Harp, March 17
I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this book.

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.

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