Brain Surgeon: An Intimate View of His World

An intimate view of mind and brain and life and death and all the spaces in between.
— Michael Herr (author of DISPATCHES)
Lawrence Shainberg is the author of “One on One,” a novel, and the recently published “Brain Surgeon: An Intimate View of His World.” Dr. Selzer postulates, in desperate search for her pain; and the best piece, “Sarcophagus,” is a bloody, almost unbearable account of an operation for stomach cancer. During the course of this procedure the author discovers that the cancer has eaten through the stomach wall and so weakened the wall of the aorta that a surgical clamp bites through it altogether. This is strong stuff, enough to make one cringe at times, but Dr. Selzer contains it with muscular prose and astute observation. In doing so he forces the reader to confront and endure his terror, and acknowledge his own vulnerability. Here is the climactic moment in that operation:

“I throw the heavy sutures, one after the other, into the pool of blood, hoping to snag with my needles some bit of tissue to close over the rent in the aorta, to hold back the blood. There is no tissue. Each time, the needles pull through the crumble of tumor. I stop. I repack the stomach. The bleeding is controlled. We wait. Slowly, something is gathering here, organizing. What had been vague and shapeless before is now declaring itself. All at once I know what it is. There is nothing to do.