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Direct Red: A Surgeon's View of Her Life-or-Death Profession Hardcover – August 11, 2009

3.9 out of 5 stars 58 customer reviews

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--This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

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Editorial Reviews


More praise for Direct Red:
"Gabriel Weston's exactitude of expression is rare and uncanny, the more so for the sense one gets that this is a world in which the moral value of truthfulness is ambiguous. Her description of the struggle to remain individual and hence moral is her real achievement. This, to me, is what female writing has to do, and she does it with style and humour and beauty."
— Rachel Cusk

"A curiously thrilling read, written with an elegance of expression heightened by both its clarity and economy. Weston slices into sentences with scalpel-like precision."
The Guardian (UK)

"Like an episode of House, but without the close up shots of furrowed brows … the writing is colourful, even artful…. Gabriel Weston the writer has serious talent — were she penning TV scripts, doctor shows might very well be a little more watchable."
National Post

"If Gabriel Weston wields her scalpel as confidently and precisely as she does her pen, she is a masterful surgeon indeed…. A haunting and ultimately hopeful account of her journey to self-understanding, acceptance and preservation…. Weston's language is elegant, her images powerful, her references to art and literature effective. But her memoir is outstanding because it bears witness to the human capacity to honestly interrogate and learn from the past."
Winnipeg Free Press

"Gabriel Weston succeeds in illuminating a medical world too darkly dim, and she does it by answering the question so many people have of their doctors: 'Just who is it behind that mask?' In Weston's case, it is a woman who is honest, deeply brave, and to the fortune of both her readers and patients, richly human."
— Dr. James Maskalyk, author of Six Months in Sudan --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

From the Back Cover

Surgeons have long been known for their allergy to doubt, an unsurprising trait in professionals who must play God, routinely risking someone else's life to do their job. But in this illuminating memoir, Gabriel Weston reveals the emotions, passions, and doubts normally hidden behind a surgeon's mask.

Interweaving her own story with those of her patients, old and young, Weston evokes both the humor and the heartbreak that come from medicine's daily confrontation with the ultimate unknowability of the human body. With prose that does not flinch from the raw, graphic realities of a surgeon's day, Weston confronts life, death, and the unique difficulties of being a female surgeon in a heavily male-dominated profession.

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

A Surgeon's Perspective
Read an excerpt from Direct Red by Gabriel Weston [PDF].

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; 1 edition (August 11, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061725404
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061725401
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (58 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,351,723 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
My gold standard for books by surgeons about their profession is Richard Selzer's "Mortal Lessons: Notes on the Art of Surgery" which conveys a sense of the fragility of human life by simply looking at the physicalities of our bodies close up. Gabriel Weston's "Direct Red: A Surgeon's View of her Life or Death Profession," does not reach the poetic heights that Selzer's prose does, but it is a strong, well-written account of a surgeon's experience from her early days as a medical intern through her growing expertise as a practitioner. Because Weston is female, it has the added bonus of giving us some insight as to what it's like to be a woman in a mostly male profession. (clue: it ain't easy). And because she's British, it's a particularly timely look at how some aspects of the British Health Care system work, although that is largely a by-product and not a direct topic of her observations. What I like best about it, however, is her willingness to share her emotional life with us, reminding us that surgeons are not automated machines that slice and cut, but rather human beings like ourselves with sometimes very strong personal feelings about the situations they find themselves in. It's very much worth reading.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I was expecting a memoir of a surgeon looking back at their 30 plus year career, but this book is slightly different. It takes the reader through viewpoints the author has as she progresses through medical school, internship, and residency. It poses the questions I'm sure every surgeon has to answer from the human aspect of dealing with life and death decisions. I had a relative who was a surgeon, I'm not sure he ever stopped to answer those questions.

There are a couple of things I would have liked to have seen in this book. First, why the author chose the course they did in becoming a surgeon. That would help to understand her viewpoints at certain points in the book. The second is what I said before, more experience to be drawn from.

As a patient on the other side of the knife, it is nice to know that surgeons have embraced the human side of their trade. We aren't just a piece of meat to them, and sometimes they do allow us to have a say in our treatment. Of course there are times they have to hurt us, or push us to our limits, in order to save a life. One story told in this book will settle with me for awhile, where she describes the seemingly barbaric treatment of a patient to attempt to save their life, without the chance for that patient to say their goodbyes to relatives.

For a first stab as an author, Gabriel Weston has done a good job portraying what it's like to be sometimes a "superhero" in the medical field. Based on what I gathered from the book, I can't see many more books like this coming from her.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This isn't the typical type of book I read but with some friends and relatives in med school and the medical profession, it seemed like it would be interesting to read about Gabriel Weston's journey to becoming a surgeon.

When you read this book, it takes a strong stomach. The accounts of the various situations and surgeries are so vivid you feel like you are right there watching things unfold, except you can't close your eyes to shut out the images. Nothing in here is sugar coated. The physical pain, the emotions, the sights and smells are all presented and described in graphic (and sometimes gory) detail to make the reader feel as if they are in the OR watching the events unfolding.

Throughout the book, Weston addresses the issues faced by doctors & residents from the lack of sleep to the politics of making the right decision for the patient vs. the right decision for political purposes and the conflicting emotions that may arise when a bond begins to build with a patient.

Overall, I thought the book was excellent and painted an extremely vivid and sometimes gruesome picture of what it is like to be a surgeon and that path it takes to get there. Most of all, it simply provided a perspective on a journey in life different from my own. It also makes you appreciate a little bit more how lucky many of us are as we remain healthy and do not have to endure the procedures, operations, and recovery times of those unfortunate souls who provided the material for the episodes recounted in the book.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Gabriel Weston's writing style seems fitting for a surgeon. The writing is to the point, and almost coldly clinical, even in its candor. For this alone, I found it to be an interesting read.

For some readers, the short sentences read as "choppy" and the cool tone turns them off. Others wonder what the point of the book is, and another reviewer is dismayed at the idea of a medical student feeling uncomfortable touching a patient's penis. It seems to me that many wish the surgeon/writer to be a person much larger than life. The fact that Gabriel Weston presents herself and her subject matter as a series of simple quiet vignettes, exposes her weaknesses plainly and with little apology, to me, it's quite refreshing. Medical students are young people, and Weston's reflections about that fact are not ground breaking, but personal and honest. How many surgeons would admit to feeling attracted to patients, feeling nauseated or bored during surgery, unmoved by birth, confused when diagnosing, or feeling relief when a patient dies after a long operation?

We learn little about Weston's life outside the hospital or her motivations for choosing her specialty. Given the tone of the book, this would have seemed out of place. The 14 chapters, all with simple names such as "Speed" and "Beauty" feel quiet and reflective, as if they were meant to serve more as meditations on the subject at hand than a memoir. Indeed, the author prefaces the book by stating clearly that the "stories" are not, as Weston puts it, "in the strictest sense, true."

This, too, is part of this book's appeal for me. One would expect a book about surgery, with sometimes gruelingly bloody scenes of emergency surgery, would read at an exciting clip.
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