This is a well-written and highly polished memoir about an Orthopaedic surgeon's four year residency at the famous Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. Dr. Collins is a good writer, giving the impression that he poured his heart and soul into this text: it's funny, at times sad and gruesome in parts, but again, reading about the training surgeon, one gets the distinct feeling that these men and women, having to run through the depths of hell to finally get qualified, must be born to the task - or simply masochistic by nature.
If this memoir is to be believed, and there's no reason why it shouldn't, every nightmare story that you have heard about the four-year residency is absolutely true. It's astounding that these people manage to survive - the tortuous long stretches on their feet saving lives, sometimes reaching 60 to 70 hours is nothing less than miraculous. Treating patients day and night, constantly worrying that you'll screw up, taking peoples lives in your hands could send the most grounded individual around the bend - in some cases it does, but for the most part, these people get through to become qualified surgeons, as did Dr. Collins, but through a lot of blood sweat and tears.
Hot Lights, Cold Steel reads like a novel, as the characterization, structure of the plot and the pathos, the utter sadness of some of his cases, and the joy and exhilaration of his successes, had me just as enthralled as any top selling thriller. Dr. Collins has a gift for description as he illustrates the amputation of a limb, including a section of the patient's pelvis, in such detailed imagery, that it became difficult to read. He also has a great sense of humour, which I believe is so necessary to survive in this profession.
One of the more terrible of the Dr.'s experiences was the attempted resuscitation of a six year old boy who had been run over by a drunk. Collins and the ER staff did everything humanly possible to save the child, but his injuries were too severe. The undeserved death of innocence is hard to take, and it affected the attending staff in a big way. This was also terribly difficult to read. Then there was the young kindergarten teacher who just came in because of a slight pain in her hip, to discover her entire skeleton was riddled with cancer, unfortunately she died six months later. After reading about these cases one realizes that life is fleeting and fragile, and should never be taken for granted.
I have always had great respect for those in the medical profession, but this book has doubled that respect and opened my eyes to their tenacity, courage and skill. This is a great book and is highly recommended.