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The Dressing Station: A Surgeon's Chronicle of War and Medicine


The Dressing Station: A Surgeon's Chronicle of War and Medicine Cover





I am a surgeon, some of the time. In certain clinical situations?penetrating wounds, massive bleeding?there remains no treatment but the knife. I have been fortunate, at times, to have saved the lives of patients who reached me on the threshold of death. Much of my work has dealt with trauma; among people changed abruptly from wholeness to injury, with all the fear of sudden mortality. Some of it has taken place in extreme circumstances?with only the most basic of resources?against a backdrop of dislocation and despair. I have seen people die, of wounds or disease or deprivation, and been unable to help.

All doctors have their ghosts. Sometimes they jostle me: the ones I couldn?t save, the ones I killed. For all of us?even the most dedicated and skilled?the dead pile up, the results of decisions swayed by fatigue or hubris or blind bad luck. And there are those who are simply the inexorable casualties of the system, for medicine is not always benign or balanced, or even practised necessarily to the benefit of the suffering. Every loss diminishes us, yet with clinical detachment?and with exhilaration, fear and fatalism?we continue, always in the hope of redemption.

I have practised medicine in diverse fields: as a hospital surgeon, a flying doctor, a ship?s medical officer. I have operated on wounded straight off the battlefield, treated people with rich strains of tropical disease raging in their bloodstreams, and tried to help those afflicted by occupational illness from industrial toxins or work-place stress. I have run research programmes funded by corporate finance?that met the needs of shareholders before they benefited any patients?and I?ve cared for children wasted by the diseases of famine and war. Like most doctors, I have seen my craft used and abused; been a part of its successes and witnessed its failings. It is by the terms of this unforgiving arena that we struggle to define ourselves.

No clinician can give an objective account of that work: the interaction between doctor and patient is mutual and intimate, and in the end comes down to something between us that is a fragile thing, as fragile as life. All we can do is the best we can in the war against death and against despair, including our own. For at its extremes the practice of medicine is a succession of front lines, and each victory is only a temporary respite. Perhaps you wonder what it?s like to stand at that intense interface. Perhaps you believe in the existence of some profound morality, some metaphysical awareness that is vouchsafed by contact with the texture of suffering and the aura of pain. I guarantee nothing; you will have to find out for yourself. Come and see.

Copyright © 2002 by Jonathan Kaplan

Product Details

Kaplan, Jonathan
Grove Press
Military - General
Medical - Physicians
Medicine, military
Medical - General
Edition Number:
1st paperback ed.
Edition Description:
Trade Paper
Publication Date:
February 2003
8.25 x 5.5 in 16.5 oz

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Related Subjects

Biography » Medical
Health and Self-Help » Health and Medicine » General
Health and Self-Help » Health and Medicine » General Medicine
Health and Self-Help » Health and Medicine » Medical Biographies

The Dressing Station: A Surgeon's Chronicle of War and Medicine Used Trade Paper
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Product details 416 pages Grove Press - English 9780802139627 Reviews:
"Review" by , "A unique mix of biography and reportage, both personal and clinical....[A] rare insight into the mind of a surgeon."
"Review" by , "Eloquent....Beautifully written....Provides a startling glimpse of battlefield surgery in those conflicts that CNN does not cover."
"Review" by , "Kaplan...has a keen sense of the smaller moments that leaven the agonies of daily life."
"Review" by , "[A] confident, gripping debut....[A]t the heart of these beautifully written adventures, a rich human drama unfolds as Kaplan makes superhuman efforts to uphold the Hippocratic oath..."
"Review" by , "Kaplan has indeed led an exciting life, but there's just too much here to absorb; the book lacks a guiding thread."
"Review" by , "[R]efreshingly unsentimental....His descriptions of surgery are unflinching, and, while the narrative drags when he's away from the front line, he's never away for long. As a result, Kaplan gives us a remarkable self-portrait of the war junkie."
"Review" by , "[H]is exploits as an aeromedical surgeon provide comic relief as well as occasional heartbreak. Knitting such episodes together are Kaplan's skepticism about governments and publicity-seeking organizations, rage at man's cruelty to man, and glancing humor. Remarkably engaging, though at times horrifying."
"Review" by , "A surgeon?s graphic report on frontline medical work in one war-torn landscape of misery after another....Remarkable and God-awful."
"Review" by , "Exceptional....[Kaplan] is unafraid to look within at his own fears and motivations....The Dressing Station encourages respect for the author?s courage and wonder at the gift that can turn a bloody, messy world into writing that is so wonderful to read."
"Review" by , "We all know that war is hell, but very few of us know that section of the inferno where the wounded and dying are taken. With his brilliant nonfiction debut, The Dressing Station, Dr. Jonathan Kaplan has remedied that....In composing this gripping memoir, Kaplan has performed a considerable redemptive act — not only for himself, but also for the ones he lost and writes about so movingly."
"Review" by , "The Dressing Station is a fast, gritty, shocking read, a parachute-drop of a book that is as fascinating as it is, at times, horrifying....Kaplan?s writing is spare, passionate, precise as the surgeon?s blade he wields."
"Review" by , "For anyone who is interested in the practice of medicine beyond our shores, and the impact of conflict and poverty on the human condition, Kaplan?s book is a must. The Dressing Station is written with flowing prose and vivid description. He brings his story to a personal level, both from the physician?s and patient?s points of view."
"Review" by , "Kaplan has brought a clinical certainty to his reporting: he exposes the humanity of the most gruesome events with a few unflinching strokes and re-creates the drama of the world?s makeshift emergency rooms in deft paragraphs. As a result, his book feels very much a document of our times."
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