'Frontal Lobe' is intriguing

Brain surgeon's memoir explains work with flair

By Dennis Lythgoe
Deseret Morning News
Published: May 14, 2006
ANOTHER DAY IN THE FRONTAL LOBE: A BRAIN SURGEON EXPOSES LIFE ON THE INSIDE, by Katrina Firlik, Random House, 271 pages, $24.95.

Most of us have been guilty of uttering this stereotypical phrase: "Well, don't worry it's not brain surgery!"

Brain surgery is exactly what 37-year-old Katrina Firlik does for a living in her Greenwich, Conn., practice and in her position on the Yale University School of Medicine faculty. Except she calls it neurological surgery. As an insider, she has written a unique memoir one that carefully analyzes the brain and ties it to her experience preparing for her life's work.

Firlik was the first woman admitted to the neurosurgery residency program at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, one of the most prestigious in the country. And she was determined to excel no matter how much sleep she lost or how many senior "attendings" she had to please.

It's a fair bet that she succeeded partly because she is so engaging and personable which works both in surgery and on the printed page. She is fun to read.

It is close to amazing that a surgeon could make her life and her work interesting to a lay readership, but she does, and she does it with wit, with flair and with sharp writing that never ascends to the out-of-reach level of medicine-speak. She tosses around a lot of medical terms, but she carefully explains all of them, and she uses anecdotes about real people to bring it home.

For instance, she describes a James Bond-type neurosurgeon (complete with British accent) who took the lead in an emergency procedure:

"He arrived quickly but calmly from a formal party wearing a well-tailored suit, and wasted no time in changing into his scrubs. In surgery, he was slick, efficient, and no-nonsense. He was in the guy's belly in no time. In rapid sequence, he isolated the bleeding vessel, repaired the injury, and left me and the chief resident to close the case."

Afterward, writes Firlik, he looked down at his shoes and saw speckles of blood. "Damn. I just brought these back from Italy." In her first month on the job, she found him and his approach "intriguing."

It's also another good word to describe Firlik's book.

 


E-mail: dennis@desnews.com