Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures

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    Book Synopsis

    Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures is an astonishing literary debut, a collection of mature and intricate stories connected through the relationships that develop among group of young doctors as they move from the challenges of med school to the intense world of emergency rooms, evac missions, and terrifying new viruses. .

    Vincent Lam holds in delicate and sinful tension black humour, investigations of both common and extraordinary moral dilemmas, and a sometimes shockingly realistic and matter-of-fact portrait of today’s medical profession. .

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    Review by Paula

    Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures by Vincent Lam

    Dr. Vincent Lam, an Emergency Physician by profession, has aptly utilized his wealth of knowledge and experiences in his debut book Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures. The book comprise twelve interwoven short stories chronicling the lives of Ming, Fitz, Sri and Chen, four young medical students and their lives as physicians. Lam captured the Scotiabank Giller prize for this book

    So I take you through each of the twelve stories with interesting tidbits to wet your appetite and a critique here or there along the way.

    How to Get Into Medical School, Part 1 is the opening story. Here you are first introduced to Ming and Fitzgerald, their love affair, the cultural differences that come into play and tips on how to study for exams, compliments of Ming. It worked for “Fitz”. Would-be medical students should take note of this. Of all the short stories, this one I found the pace slow at the beginning and a few sentences written awkwardly but a story that sets the stage for the next eleven stories.

    Take All of Murphy

    Along with Ming, you are introduced to two more medical students Sri and Chen, as they enter the ‘bowels’ of the hospital to learn about dissection of the human cadaver. The story is told with sensitivity, compassion and humor. You are given insight as to how each of these students deals with their first dissection and the raw emotions that come forth. Personalities certainly are developing in this segment. Loved the bit about the tattoo – it gave a personality or spirit, whatever you want to call it, to “Murphy”.

    How To Get Into Medical School, Part II

    You are back again with Ming and Fitz, and Chen becomes a major player, much to the misery of Fitz. I found this story well written, and you do feel for Fitz as the ‘love of his life’ moves on. The cultural differences between Ming and Fitz are an important factor in this story.

    Code Clock

    You meet Fitz again, along with other interns and medical staff as ‘Code Blue’ is called out over the intercom. In a well written story you feel the energy, excitement, nervousness and adrenalin rush as Fitz, along with another colleague ‘run the code’ to get to the patient, who is in cardiac arrest. You have seen these stories on TV but the written word by Lam gives you a much more realistic glimpse into the feelings of those in attendance as they struggle to keep a patient alive.

    A Long Migration

    This story rather stands on its own, almost like a ‘sidebar’. It is Chen’s family history, but really centered on his grandfather Yeh Yeh. It’s a great story and Yeh Yeh is so colorful and with Yeh Yeh’s illness, Chen’s interest in medicine is piqued and thus his journey begins. I think a book could be in the making on Chen’s grandfather alone.

    Winston and Eli

    In the story about Winston, you travel with Winston through his psychosis as Sri tries to to handle the case with tact and compassion. Sri shows up in other portions of stories and it is his compassion in dealing with patients that comes through. There is a sadness for Sri but then you will have to read the stories to find out.

    In the story of Eli, Fitz is at the helm, and he must attend to a prisoner who is brought to the hospital by police. Eli is the uncooperative, angry prisoner and has to be held down while Fitz attends to his wounds. There are risks to a doctor’s own health and safety, let alone the police, when dealing with this type of patient. I read about Eli as if I was reading a medical report on a clip board. But what both stories do is show the multi-tasking that doctors have to juggle and the extreme ends of medical cases they must deal with, and therefore the stories are crucial to the overall picture of ‘doctoring’.


    Another patient for Sri – a Code Blue. Every effort is made to save the patient but the patient dies. It is up to Sri to tell the family. He tells the family what they need to hear – with a slightly different version running through his mind But the story does not end there. The patient had his cardiac arrest at a barber shop, or more exactly, in the backroom. The patient’s wife is then on a mission to find out what took place in the backroom. I liked the characterization of the wife – she actually made this story I thought.

    An Insistent Tide

    Well the short stories would not be complete without a birth and this is just what this story is about. And Ming is the doctor on duty. An emergency situation develops towards the end of labor which has an interesting development. I found this story one of my least interesting. Perhaps it was meandering about too much before the story got into the actual birthing.

    Night Flight

    Dr. Fitzgerald takes to the air on a med vac emergency and the story unfolds. You get a glimpse into what is happening personally to Fitzgerald’s health and see that the stress, strain and sleepless nights are contributing factors, along with loneliness. You start to see a slight unraveling of Fitzgerald.

    Contact Tracing

    Remember the SARS epidemic in Toronto, well Dr. Lam captures in this story, just how staff must have been affected. The pressure on ward nurses to work the SARS floor and if they chose not to, what they would have to forfeit in return. Both Fitz and Chen come into contact with the virus and the story moves forward from there. This is one of the best stories in the book. There is so much emotion in this story and you have quite a fondness for Fitz and admiration for Chen who risks his own health to assist Fitz.

    Before Light

    Before Light, is the last of the twelve stories and it is a good one to wrap up the series. Chen is the central figure in this story. You go with Chen on his rounds and at the end of the day, you find yourself as exhausted as him. I felt the author really captured the ‘day in the life of a physician’.

    In Vincent Lam’s Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures, I choose to give a little insight into each story, since each stands on its own merits. I did find several of the stories slowly paced in parts, with other stories moving along more swiftly. However, that is a minor criticism. Lam has given us an honest and human glimpse into the hearts, minds and souls of Ming, Fitz, Sri and Chen. I will remember them for a long time. Good book Dr. Lam. I shall look forward to your next literary work.

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