By: John Gamel
Publisher: Bascom Hill Publishing Group
Published On: August 2011
Reviewed By: Cory Bickel
Reviewed On: September 30, 2011
Meet George H., the man who elected to have both legs removed in an “eggcup surgery” to regain his freedom and self-sufficiency. Meet “Spinal Beauty,” 17-year-old Cathy Kohler with a back so twisted by scoliosis she can barely breathe, desperate for the human affection her deformity has denied her. Meet Edward Brown, the scrawny baby born with his intestines on the outside, written off as hopeless until an ingenious surgery gives him a chance for life. And meet Dr. John Gamel, the doctor who tells their stories as well as his own in his fascinating collection of essays, The Man Who Lived in an Eggcup.
As the subtitle A Memoir of Triumph and Self-Destruction suggests, Gamel’s essays depict both the best and worst of human nature through the case histories he recounts. Spanning his career from bumbling med student to experienced ophthalmologist, the cases he presents reveal the pain that people are capable of inflicting on themselves and each other, as well as their ability to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles and accept their fate with grace. Along with the stories of the patients, Gamel tells of himself and the staff he works with and the heartbreak or triumph they experience with each case. He describes his own struggle with hypochondria, his cold and loveless marriage, and near-affairs with nurses, as well as the effects of his personal life on his relationship with patients. He demonstrates moral dilemmas faced by physicians, such as the case in which a family requests a lobotomy for a dangerous and miserable man without his consent while he is undergoing brain surgery.
Despite the many serious issues discussed, the book is filled with wry, self-deprecating humor, such as when the childless Gamel is forced to give instructions on childcare to experienced mothers in the maternity ward, or when an enema gone horribly wrong has explosive consequences. The exquisitely gory detail with which cases are described may not be for the squeamish, but creates vivid images that are wonderfully disgusting, “a No. 11 Bard Parker blade is razor sharp, angled for deep penetration, encouraging the pus to pour out in warm yellow dollops,” (pg. 43) or lovely “there before me lay a stunning panorama - a lacework of arteries and veins spread on a burnt-umber palate swirled and streaked with delicate shades of ochr.,” (pg. 192)
The Man Who Lived in an Eggcup is a must-read for anyone interested in experiencing life in the medical field through the eyes and heart of a doctor. Readers will fall in love with patients along with Gamel, mourn their passing and celebrate their victories, laugh, cry, possibly vomit, but will never be bored. These stories suck one in like a subdural hematoma being slurped up by a vacuum cannula, “black tentacles oozed into the cannula, then surged in quivering jerks down the transparent vacuum tube.” (pg. 139) The only disappointing thing about this book was that it wasn’t ten times longer.
Quill Says: An amazing collection of essays that reveal the heart and guts of the medical world. Gamel recounts his cases in lurid detail and with endearing compassion and humor.