Scars: An Anthology. Edited by Erin Wood

 For more on this book, go to  www.etaliapress.com

For more on this book, go to www.etaliapress.com

For some two years, Erin Wood spent her time examining scars. As careful and probing as a surgeon, the writer and editor of Scars: An Anthology examined a wealth of poems, photographs, and prose about the subject and handled each person's revealing narrative with the emerging understanding that "there is a great deal about our scars that extends far beyond the individual body and the self."

Wood, whose essay "We Scar, We Heal, We Rise" was a Notable Essay in The Best American Essays 2013 (it appears in this volume) reflects on the ways scars may "belong to different versions of ourselves: our past selves...or new selves, selves in transition, or even selves we wish to regard more fully."

Stories that address these issues make the collection a rich reading experience that at times can be intense and painful, but also enlightening and entertaining. There is a lot of humor alongside the humanity that's revealed, as well as insight into the clinical encounter, most notably in Sayantani DasGupta's "'Tell Me About Your Scar': Narrative Medicine and The Scars of Intelligibility." One of the most moving and insightful pieces in the collection is "The Women's Table," an interview with Andrea Zekis, who speaks frankly about her "gender confirmation surgery" and the scars, emotional and physical, created but also taken away during her transition. A photo essay by New York photographer David Jay, who began The SCAR Project, is a stunning look at those who show their scars frankly and with pride. And while many of the pieces in this book are personal essays and memoirs, it is the poetry— like Samantha Plakun's "Written In Stitches" and Philip Martin's "The Pry Bar"—that draws the reader in close to examine the beauty and personal history revealed in the body's terrain.—Donna Bulseco

On December 10,2015, Columbia University's Seminar on Narrative, Health and Social Justice presented "Scars as Art, Text and Experience" at the Faculty House, featuring Editor Erin Wood and contributors Kelli Dunham, Lorrie Fredette, Samantha Plakun, and Heidi Andrea Restrepo Rhodes. Marsha Hurst, who is a lecturer in Narrative Medicine at Columbia University and co-chairs the University Seminar on "Narrative, Health, and Social Justice" introduced the panel. Hurst is co-editor with Sayantani DasGupta of Stories of Illness and Healing: Women Write Their Bodies. Listen to the event in its entirety below:


Last Night in the OR: A Transplant Surgeon's Odyssey by Bud Shaw, M.D.

lastnightintheOR

There’s a revelation that comes about halfway through Last Night in the OR: A Transplant Surgeon’s Odyssey by Bud Shaw, M.D. The title leads you to believe you’ll be reading a medical memoir, a genre that has drawn a lot of attention recently with fine books by Henry Marsh (Do No Harm) and Atul Gawande (Being Mortal). Dr. Shaw’s new book traces his evolution from an impressionable 31-year-old surgical resident in Utah through his years of training in what was then the relatively new field of liver transplantation, as well as other significant life events—marrying, divorcing, being fired, undergoing treatment for lymphoma, and getting older and shifting into a new life as a writer. Along the way, we meet the kind of characters you might encounter in a novel: Renowned transplant surgeon Dr. Thomas E. Starzl, one of the most ornery, foul-mouthed, caustic human beings you’d never want to entrust your life to—except for the fact that he was brilliant, fearless and demanded the best out of his team: the taciturn and efficient Dr. Shun Iwatsuki, Dr. Hong from Shanghai (dubbed the Human Retractor for his skill at retracting a patient’s rib cage out of Dr. Starzl’s way), Dr. Carlos Fernandez-Bueno, and Shaw. We meet many patients, in chapters with titles like “Janie and the Giant Abscess,” “Death 5, Mrs. Rothstein l” and “Burned Yolanda.” Shaw’s father, also a doctor, is a major presence, and the emotional thru-line of a father-son relationship complicated by a shared vocation is finely drawn.

 Author Bud Shaw, M.D. The father of three adult children, Shaw lives with his wife, novelist Rebecca Rotert (Shaw), in the wooded hills north of Omaha, Nebraska.  Check back in January for an interview with Dr. Shaw on  Intima .

Author Bud Shaw, M.D. The father of three adult children, Shaw lives with his wife, novelist Rebecca Rotert (Shaw), in the wooded hills north of Omaha, Nebraska.

Check back in January for an interview with Dr. Shaw on Intima.

So here is the revelation: Medical humanities has found its Raymond Carver. Dr. Shaw’s writing is a true departure from the other brilliant books in this genre because of the distinctive way he tells his stories. His writing is taut, spare and direct, but also gracefully nuanced. We feel we’re getting a factual accounting of events, but also the bigger, more symbolic picture of a time and place and the lives within it. There is a visceral recognition of the physical and psychological toll exacted on physicians and the real fears associated with a job that deals with life and death on a daily basis. Yet, thankfully, the writing never succumbs to sentimentality or philosophizing. Like Carver, Dr. Shaw lays out the Big Issues by making the little worlds we live in alive and real on the page.

Here’s how the chapter “Good Opera” begins:

On the table lay a man from Kansas. He had a wife, two daughters under five, and a bad liver. He had a belly full of fluid, skin glowing like a pumpkin, and a nest of veins like snakes between my knife and his liver.

I looked into the eyes of four surgeons scrubbed and waiting to help me. Shun was in the lounge smoking. He’d helped me do dozens of transplants by then and he figured I’d call for him if I got into trouble. Hong, the Human Retractor, grinned at me. I asked for the knife and we began.

As with any medical memoir, expect a few squeamish moments (that is, if you’re not a clinician used to talk about fluids, blood, diseases, etc.). Expect, also, to be moved by a doctor’s tales, expressed succinctly and with great depth and feeling.—Donna Bulseco


DONNA BULSECO, M.A., M.S., is a graduate of the Narrative Medicine program at Columbia University and Managing Editor of Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine. After doing undergraduate work at UCLA in creative writing and American poetry, the L.A. native studied American Gothic and English at Brown University, then moved to New York City in the late seventies. She has been an editor and journalist for the past 25 years at publications such as Women's Wear Daily, W, Self, and InStyle, and has written articles for Health, More, Redbook, and the New York Times.