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Hot Lights, Cold Steel: Life, Death and Sleepless Nights in a Surgeon's First Years 1st Edition

4.7 out of 5 stars 101 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0312337780
ISBN-10: 0312337787
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Collins begins this personal chronicle with an account of a choice he had to make between amputating a 14-year-old boy's leg and saving the limb at a greater risk to the boy's life. (He amputated the leg.) This dilemma came at the conclusion of Collins's grueling four years of residency at the Mayo Clinic, culminating in his appointment as chief resident in orthopedic surgery. Now in practice in Illinois, he details, with admirable humor and insight, the early, virtually sleepless years when he learned not only to perfect his craft but to come to terms with the emotional impact of causing pain and losing patients. Collins brings to life the dramatic moments when he made his first, terrifying incision and hand-drilled a traction pin into a weeping six-year–old's leg. Collins and his wife, Patti, wanted a large family, but the economic strain of having three children in three years (they eventually had 12) forced him to moonlight every other weekend at rural hospitals. There are moving passages about his love for Patti and the bonds he developed with other residents, and empathetic evocations of those he treats. Collins describes powerfully how he came to understand that his calling was not just to develop as a skilled surgical technician, but to treat his patients humanely as individuals.
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* If he didn't feel overwhelmed before the Mayo Clinic senior orthopedic surgery resident lobbed a beeper at him with the nonchalant order, "Cover for me," 29-year-old ex-cabdriver, ex-construction worker, and, at the time, brand-new resident Collins certainly did then. It was his first day on the job, and instantly he began fielding calls from staff nurses requesting orders for patients he hadn't laid eyes on. If it hadn't been for his innate sense of humor--brilliantly demonstrated in this memoir of his Mayo residency--and a sense of perspective derived from that experience, he might have failed. He didn't, and here he honors those who helped him along the way and those whom he helped. As a man who recognizes that he, too, makes his living with his hands, Collins anguishes over the options available to a carpenter who had severed four fingers. After assisting at a young cancer patient's leg amputation, only to learn later that she had died within months, anyway, he agonizes over what drew him to his profession in the first place and what could possibly keep him on course. "I wanted to be the guy who confronted the arbitrariness of life and strangled the unfairness out of it." Instead, while honing his craft, he learned from a Vietnam vet that the main thing patients deserve is compassion. If Collins' scalpel is as sharp as his pen, his patients are in capable hands, indeed. Donna Chavez
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; 1st edition (February 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312337787
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312337780
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.3 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (101 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #247,330 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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.
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Format: Hardcover
I loved this book! The story of Collins' surgical residency at the Mayo Clinic is passionate, well-told and very funny. The stories of the sometimes serious injuries facing his patients are balanced with often humorous stories about his young and growing family struggling to make ends meet. I enjoyed gaining an insight into the often difficult life of a barely paid, over-worked resident. What Scott Turow's "One L" was for law students, this book will be for residents. I highly recommend this book!
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Format: Hardcover
Even though this is technically a medical memoir, there is no need to be a medical professional to appreciate this humorous and well-written book chronicling Collins' journey to become an orthopedic surgeon. Although the book primarily focuses on the patients he treated and the lessons he learned along the way, some of the funniest and most touching parts of the book center around Collins' ever-expanding family. Also entertaining are his woes revolving around several piece-of-junk cars. Collins has a cunning wit and a fantastic sense of humor that make this book a joy to read.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A very heart-rendering, gut-wrenching book that causes you to get misty-eyed one minute and laugh out loud the next.

It follows a new physician through his four year residency program. He explores the trials and tribulations of his residency while living on the edge of total poverty. All this with no sleep. It is far superior to Willian Nolan's "The Making of a Surgeon."

The real question is, when is Dr. Collins going to write his next book?
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Format: Paperback
"Hot Lights, Cold Steel," by Michael J. Collins, is a fascinating account of the making of an orthopedic surgeon. Collins starts his residency at Rochester's prestigious Mayo Clinic with deep feelings of insecurity. In fact, he dispiritedly dubs himself "the dullest scalpel in the drawer." Unlike his fellow residents, Collins, an Irish Catholic from Chicago's West Side, did not do multiple rotations in orthopedics while in medical school, conducted no research, and wrote no scientific papers. Instead, he worked on a loading dock to make ends meet. To his credit, however, Collins has energy, intelligence, ambition, and perseverance.

At first, Collins tries to stay in the background and keep his mouth shut, hoping that his superiors will overlook his obvious ignorance. When he reviews a chart with the notation "Patient is TTWB," he wonders what this acronym means. Could it be "three times without bleeding," or "terribly thirsty without beer?" Collins disconsolately predicts that he will shortly be drummed out of the residency program for "practicing medicine without a brain." The author's self-deprecating humor is delightful and it helps to offset the tragic cases he recounts.

Collins explores the grueling nature of a surgeon's training: the sleepless nights, snatched meals, long absences from loved ones, and fear of hurting a patient. Because he is constantly short of money, he and his wife, Patti, drive a series of broken down junkers, and as his family grows, he must moonlight in order to pay the bills. The compensations are the exhilaration of helping a patient regain his or her health, the excitement of performing an operation for the first time, and the deep friendships that Collins forms with his fellow orthopods.
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