A Surgeon’s Reflections on Mortality
When Pauline Chen started medical school, she dreamt of saving lives. She had never considered how much death would be part of her work.
A brilliant young transplant surgeon asks how is it that medicine is a profession based on caring for the ill yet it depersonalises the dying? Over the course of her medical education and training Pauline Chen struggles to reconcile its lessons with her own fear of mortality and the separation of healing from her desire to cure.
From her first dissection of a cadaver in an anatomy class to the first time she uses a scalpel on a living person; from her first experience of witnessing someone flatlining in the emergency room to the first time she has to pronounce a patient dead Pauline Chen confronts how her medical training taught her to suppress her feelings for her patients. Chen finds that her fears of mortality have incapacitated her: she cannot call a dying friend, she cannot forget the tortured death of a young patient. Rejecting her training Pauline Chen begins to create a new role for herself as a doctor who shares her patients’ humanity.
Moving and provocative, inspired by the author’s clinical expertise and extraordinary personal spirit, this is a piercing and compassionate journey into the heart of a world that is hidden and yet touches all of our lives. A superb addition to the best medical literature of our time.
“Pauline Chen’s beautifully-written Final Exam: a surgeon’s reflections on mortality was fascinating.”
Virginia Ironside, ‘The Independent’
“At her best when she writes of individual cases: one turns the page to find out what happened next.”
Dr Theodore Dalrymple, ‘Sunday Telegraph’
“Do doctors neglect death and the dying, choosing instead… on flogging the last bit of life back into patients?”
‘British Medical Journal’