Neurosurgeon adds pen to instrument list
Saturday, July 21, 2007
ANOTHER DAY IN THE FRONTAL LOBE: A BRAIN SURGEON EXPOSES LIFE ON THE INSIDE
By Katrina Firlik
(Random House) 288 pages, $19.95
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Oliver Sacks has company on the bookshelves.
The famous neurologist created an entire genre with his books about people with quirky mental conditions, and now Katrina Firlik is adding to the field with a companion book about the world of neurosurgery, Another Day in the Frontal Lobe: A Brain Surgeon Exposes Life on the Inside.
Like Sacks, Firlik has a first-hand perspective of the job: she's the brain surgeon of the title. Also like Sacks, she's a born writer, handling difficult subject matter - both medical terminology and gore - in an informative and charming manner. Consider the opening paragraph of the book, for instance:
"The brain is soft. Some of my colleagues compare it to toothpaste, but that's not quite right. It doesn't spread like toothpaste. It doesn't adhere to your fingers the way toothpaste does. Tofu -the soft variety, if you know tofu - may be a more accurate comparison. If you cut out a sizable cube of brain it retains its shape, more or less, although not quite as well as tofu. Damaged or swollen brain, on the other hand, is softer. Under pressure, it will readily express itself out of a hole in the skull made by a high-speed surgical drill. Perhaps the toothpaste analogy is more appropriate under these circumstances."
If that's not tasty enough, Firlik also throws in passages from Raymond Carver - brainy and literary!
The best thing about Firlik's book is that all of her patients are horrifically unique.
There's the construction worker who has a barbed nail in his head courtesy of a co-worker. There's the hermit who has maggots inside of his head. There's the hippie woman who wants only "natural" products put in her head.
And Firlik's co-workers and friends are an interesting bunch as well. Take the surgeons who have pet names for their instruments. Or her husband, a neurosurgeon turned venture capitalist, who kicks her out of bed because she smells like bone dust.
Frontal Lobe is a quick, light read and a must-read for anyone who's ever heard the words "Hey, it's not brain surgery" and paused to wonder what that meant.
© The Windsor Star 2007
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CanWest Interactive, a division of CanWest MediaWorks Publications, Inc.. All rights reserved.