‘Cutting for Stone’, by Abraham Verghese

This epic novel  has touched everyone I’ve talked to who has read it. Spanning continents and generations, with unforgettable characters and a story that takes us from a small mission hospital in Ethiopia (gotta love the name Missing, mispronunciation of Mission Hospital) on to India and America. There is something for everyone in this novel: the often unique relationship between twins, the incredible love of adoptive parents, the struggles of doing medicine in remote places, the challenges of immigration to a new country, and the pain of losing someone that you love.

In the book, Marion observes that in Ethiopia, patients assume that all illnesses are fatal and that death is expected, but in America, news of having a fatal illness “always seemed to come as a surprise, as if we took for granted that we were immortal”.

The title Cutting for Stone is more than a play on words about a surgeon called Stone. It comes from the Hippocratic Oath “I will not cut for stone, even for patients in whom the disease is manifest; I will leave this operation to be performed by practitioners, specialists in this art”.  Verghese has said that this line comes from ancient times when stone cutters would go digging for bladder stones and the patient would usually die of infection.

Medical stuff has always intrigued me, but I love the part when Thomas Stone asks “What treatment in an emergency is administered by ear?” The answer is memorable. In order not to spoil it, I won’t tell you here, but if you’ve already read the book and have forgotten, just ask and I’ll tell you!

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