Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures

Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures

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by Vincent Lam

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Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures welcomes readers into a world where the most mundane events can quickly become life or death. By following four young medical students and physicians – Ming, Fitz, Sri and Chen – this debut collection from 2006 Scotiabank Giller Prize winner Vincent Lam is a riveting, eye-opening account of what it means to be a

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Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures welcomes readers into a world where the most mundane events can quickly become life or death. By following four young medical students and physicians – Ming, Fitz, Sri and Chen – this debut collection from 2006 Scotiabank Giller Prize winner Vincent Lam is a riveting, eye-opening account of what it means to be a doctor. Deftly navigating his way through 12 interwoven short stories, the author explores the characters’ relationships with each other, their patients, and their careers. Lam draws on his own experience as an emergency room physician and shares an insider’s perspective on the fears, frustrations, and responsibilities linked with one of society’s most highly regarded occupations.

“I wanted to write about the way in which a person changes as they become a physician — how their world view shifts, and how they become a slightly different version of themselves in the process of becoming a doctor,” Lam explains. “I wanted to write about the reality that doing good and trying to help others is not simple. It is ethically complicated and sometimes involves a reality that can only be expressed by telling a story.”

In the book’s first story, “How to Get into Medical School, Part 1,” students Ming and Fitz wrestle with their opposing personalities and study techniques, while coming to terms with a growing emotional connection that elicits disapproval from Ming’s traditional Chinese-Canadian parents. Lam’s exceptional talent for describing scenarios with great precision is showcased in “Take All of Murphy,” when Ming, Chen, and Sri find themselves at a moral crossroads while dissecting a cadaver. Throughout the book, readers are treated to the physicians’ internal thoughts and the mental drama involved with treating patients, including Fitz’s struggle with self-doubt in “Code Clock” and Chen’s boredom and exhaustion in “Before Light.”

From delivering babies to evacuating patients and dealing with deadly viruses, the four primary characters in Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures are made thoroughly human by Lam’s insightful detail, realistic dialogue, and expert storytelling. The medical world is naturally filled with drama, but it’s the author’s ability to give equal weight to the smaller moments that really brings this book to life.

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Editorial Reviews

Christine Montross
In this collection, Lam deftly illuminates the line physician and patient must walk together—hope and health on one side, cynicism and sickness on the other. We see in cold light what is at risk when the balance slips too far in either direction. In the end, Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures asks how much of death's burden should rest on the shoulders of those we ask to fight against it.
—The Washington Post
Evan Hughes
Lam is better when he emphasizes the inherent strength of his material. He is himself an emergency physician and thus brings to mind Somerset Maugham, William Carlos Williams and Chekhov—the first a former medical student and the others doctors for the whole of their literary careers. But Lam's work fits better among that of nonfiction writers like Jerome Groopman, Sherwin Nuland and Atul Gawande. He writes what is sometimes called "documentary fiction," providing an insider's view of his field, replete with the stark juxtapositions—notably the privilege of the treater with the powerlessness of the treated—and the moral hazards that characterize the profession. Some of the best stories in Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures read like journalistic dispatches from the medical front lines, with careful psychological characterization added. As such, Lam's book represents a promising demonstration of fiction's unique power: to bring the news that stays news, in Ezra Pound's formulation, and to allow the reader to see through the eyes of those who experience events firsthand.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Lam's Giller Prize-winning debut, a veritable cornucopia of interesting characters, voices and effects, presents a formidable burden for a single reader. Through the four main sleep-deprived characters, we wind our way through med school and beyond. Lane sculpts a precise and colorful aural identity for every character, regardless of their significance. A master of capturing nuances in vocal personality, he ranges from a strong, stiff Chinese-American accent to a lisping, muttering paranoid schizophrenic in a heartbeat, and nothing seems forced. At one point, a doctor speaking to a patient in "German-accented Hindi influenced English he learned in Bombay" seems like an narrator's bar bet or a challenge from the author. But Lane pulls it off perfectly, with grace and pluck. Occasionally, Lane's conjuring is amped up with unnecessary special effects (a hollow distortion when dialogue is heard over the phone) that would be distracting if both the author and the reader were anything less than solid and riveting. The combination of Lane and Lam is a winning one, a performance not to be missed. Simultaneous release with the Weinstein Books hardcover (Reviews, June 25). (Sept.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

This collection of linked stories revolves around four young multicultural Canadian medical students-Fitz, Ming, Chen, and Sri-as they attempt to balance their lives with the taxing demands of classes and residency in a highly charged emergency room. They deal with patients' ailments, from hiccups to a fatal heart attack in a massage parlor; in this case, the doctor, when talking with the family, has to find a "balance of professing humanity without invading privacy." Some stories ramble along with little action-one features the romance between Fitz and Ming, their breakup, and her eventual marriage to Doctor Chen-but most are action packed and insightful, including a psychological thriller about a patient who believes he has been poisoned by the neighbor who's secretly in love with him and another tale about an outbreak of SARS in the hospital that forces Fitz and Chen to come to terms with the possibility of their own deaths. Written in a straightforward manner and including a helpful glossary of medical terms, this is a good addition to every fiction collection.
—David A. Berona

Kirkus Reviews
A searing, perfectly paced set of linked stories that explores the careers and relationships of four Toronto doctors. Ming, Chen, Fitzgerald and Sri are young physicians whose lives intertwine both casually and intimately as they navigate the painstaking (and often painful) road to becoming physicians. We first meet Ming and Fitzgerald in Ottawa as they are studying for their pre-med exams and cautiously entering a relationship doomed by Ming's career-obsessed immigrant parents, the ghosts of abuse by her older cousin and, above all, the knowledge that Ming will be accepted to medical school and Fitzgerald will not. He does follow her, eventually, but not before she has linked herself with a more appropriate boyfriend, her lab partner, Chen. The tension between the characters pales, though, when they graduate and begin their careers. Each must face situations that test their abilities, their integrity and their strength. A paranoid mental patient, for example, who is obsessed with his neighbor and also convinced that she is trying to poison him, causes Sri to momentarily doubt his own sanity. And Fitzgerald wonders how to care, both physically and mentally, for a hostile patient brought to the hospital in shackles by unsympathetic police officers. When Sri is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, the tables turn on him, and his role as a life-saver ironically becomes futile when he cannot save his own. The stories culminate in a health crisis of a much larger scale, when Fitzgerald contracts the SARS virus from a patient, and then passes it to Chen, who examines him. The two wait in quarantine, once romantic rivals, now reliant on one another, and suddenly their profession seems to be at oncepointless and more important than ever. Tender insight into the fascinating emotional and social implications of a career that is, inherently, so much more than a job. Agent: Anne McDermid/Anne McDermid and Associates Ltd.
From the Publisher
“[A] compelling first book of fiction. … It adds up to a running start at a high-voltage literary career.”
Toronto Star

Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures radiates the confidence you expect from a man whose other job is to make stalled hearts start. The advantage of fiction? Here, even the medical failures come to life, vividly.”
The Globe and Mail

Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures is a satisfying, engrossing read, partly because of the intrinsically fascinating subject matter, but also because of Lam’s patient characterizations and understanding of the human heart.”
National Post

“There’s no information like inside information, and Lam puts his to good use … [his] fiction strikes a balance between clinical and emotional detail. . . . [An] impressive first book, by all appearances.”
The Ottawa Citizen

"Vincent Lam crafts sentences that veteran writers will covet. His fresh and stunning talent will satisfy all readers who hunger for powerful stories."
–Wayson Choy, author of All That Matters

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Product Details

Random House of Canada, Limited
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.10(d)

Read an Excerpt

Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures

By Vincent Lam

Random House

Vincent Lam
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0385661436

Chapter One

How to Get into Medical School, Part I

Desperate stragglers arrived late for the molecular biology final examination, their feet wet from tramping through snowbanks and their faces damp from running. Some still wore coats, and rummaged in the pockets for pens. Entering the exam hall, a borrowed gymnasium, from the whipping chaos of the snowstorm was to be faced with a void. Eyeglasses fogged, xenon lamps burned their blue-tinged light, and the air was calm with its perpetual fragrance of old paint. The lamps buzzed, and their constant static was like a sheet pulled out from under the snowstorm, though low enough that the noise vanished quickly. Invigilators led latecomers to vacant seats among the hundreds of desks, each evenly spaced at the University of Ottawa's minimum requisite distance.

The invigilators allowed them to sit the exam but, toward the end of the allotted period, ignored their pleas for extra time on account of the storm. Ming, who had finished early, centred her closed exam booklet in front of her. Fitzgerald was still hunched over his paper. She didn't want to wait outside for him, preferring it to be very coincidental that she would leave the room at the same time he did. Hopefully he would suggest they go for lunch together. If he did not ask, she would be forced to, perhaps using a little joke. Ming tended to stumble over humour. She could ask what he planned to do this afternoon -- was that the kind of thing people said? On scrap paper, she wrote several possible ways to phrase the question, and in doing so almost failed to notice when Fitzgerald stood up, handed in his exam, and left the room. She expected to rush after him, but he stood outside the exam hall.

"Are you waiting for someone?" she asked.

Shortly after they arrived at the Thai-Laotian cafe half a block from campus, Ming said deliberately, "Fitz, I simply wanted to wish you the best in your future endeavours. You are obviously intelligent, and I'm sure you will be a great success."

The restaurant was overly warm, and Fitz struggled out of his coat, wrestled his sweater over his head, leaving his hair in a wild, electrified state. He ran his hands over his head, and instead of smoothing his hair this resulted in random clumps jutting straight up.

"Same to you," he said, smiling at her almost excitedly.

She watched him scan the bar menu. When she asked for water, he followed suit. She liked that.
She said, "Also, thank you for explaining the Krebs cycle to me."

"Any time," said Fitz.

"I feel guilty that I haven't been completely open," said Ming. She considered her prepared phrases and selected one, saying, "It didn't seem like the right time in the middle of exams."

"Nothing in real life makes sense during exams," said Fitzgerald. He tilted in the chair but kept a straight back. Ming reassured herself that he had also been anticipating "a talk," and so--she concluded with an administrative type of resolution--it was appropriate that she had raised the topic of "them."

She leaned forward and almost whispered, "This is awkward, but I have strong emotional suspicions. Such suspicions are not quite the same as emotions. I'm sure you can understand that distinction. I have this inkling that you have an interest in me." She didn't blurt it out, instead forced herself to pace these phrases. "The thing of it is that I can't have a romantic relationship with you. Not that I want to." Now she was off the path of her rehearsed lines. "Not that I wouldn't want to, because there's no specific reason that I wouldn't, but I-- Well, what I'm trying to say is that even though I don't especially want to, if I did, then I couldn't." The waiter brought shrimp chips and peanut sauce. "So that's that."

"All right," said Fitzgerald.

"I should have told you earlier, when I first got that feeling."

"You've given the issue some thought."

"Not much. I just wanted to clarify."

Fitz picked up a shrimp chip by its edge, dipped it in the peanut sauce with red pepper flakes, and crunched. His face became sweaty and bloomed red as he chewed, then coughed. He grasped the water glass and took a quick gulp.

Ming said, "Are you upset?"

He coughed to his right side, and had difficulty stopping. He reminded himself to sit up straight while coughing, realized that he wasn't covering his mouth, covered his mouth, was embarrassed that his fair skin burned hot and red, wondered in a panicky blur if this redness would be seen to portray most keenly his injured emotional state, his physical vulnerability in choking, his Anglocentric intolerance to chili, his embarrassment at not initially covering his mouth, his obvious infatuation with Ming, or--worst of all--could be interpreted as a feeble attempt to mask or distract from his discomfort at her pre-emptive romantic rejection.

Ming was grateful for this interlude, for she had now entirely forgotten her rehearsed stock of diplomatically distant but consoling though slightly superior phrases.

"Hot sauce. I'm fine," he gasped, coughing.

There was a long restaurant pause, in which Ming was aware of the other diners talking, although she could not perceive what their conversations were about.

She said, "I've embarrassed us both."

"I'm glad you mentioned it."

"So you are interested," she said. "Or you were interested until a moment ago. Is that why you're glad that I mentioned it?"

"It doesn't matter, does it? What you've just said has made it irrelevant. Or, it would be irrelevant if it were previously relevant, but I'm glad you brought up your feelings," said Fitzgerald. He picked up the menu.

"Don't feel obliged to tell me whether I needed to say what I just said."

"It was great to study together. You've got a great handle on . . . on mitochondria."

The waiter came. Ming felt unable to read the menu, and pointed at a lunch item in the middle of the page. She got up to use the bathroom, and wondered in the mirror why she had not worn lipstick -- not taken a minute this morning to look good. Then, she reminded herself that she should have actually taken measures to appear unattractive. Nonetheless, Ming examined her purse for lipstick, finding only extra pens and a crumpled exam schedule. When she returned, they smiled politely at each other for a little while. They ate, and the noodles fell persistently from Fitzgerald's chopsticks onto the plate, resisting consumption. Ming asked if he wanted a fork, and he refused. After a while, as Fitzgerald's pad thai continued to slither from his grasp, Ming caught the waiter's eye, who noticed Fitzgerald's barely eaten plate and brought a fork without Ming having to ask.

Fitzgerald ate with the fork, and craved a beer.

"We're great study partners," said Ming, still holding her chopsticks. "I want to clarify that it's not because of you." She had to get into medical school this year, and therefore couldn't allow distraction. Her family, she said, was modern in what they wanted for her education, and old-fashioned in what they imagined for her husband. They would disapprove of Fitzgerald, a non-Chinese. They would be upset with Ming, and she couldn't take these risks while she prepared to apply for medical school. The delicate nature of this goal, upon which one must be crucially focused, superseded everything else, Ming reminded Fitzgerald. He stopped eating while she talked. She looked down, stabbed her chopsticks into the noodles, and twisted them around.

He asked, "What about you?"

"What do you mean, me?" she said.

"Telling me this. Did you feel . . . interested?"

"I thought you might be."

"You might say that I've noticed you, but I accept the situation. Priorities." The imperative of medical school applications carried the unassailable weight of a religious edict.

"Very well," she said, as if they had clarified a business arrangement.

The bill came. Fitzgerald tried to pay and Ming protested. He said that she could get the bill next time and she insisted that they should share.

Excerpted from Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures by Vincent Lam Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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What People are saying about this

Margaret Atwood
Direct in style, unsparing though compassionate in observation, subtle in emotion, and occasionally gruesome in humor, Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures follows four medical students from widely different backgrounds as their stories intertwine, as their illusions shatter, and as the meanings of many lives expand around them. The good news is that doctors are human beings. The bad news is that doctors are human beings. The other good news is that this book marks a stunning debut.

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Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
MsAnthony More than 1 year ago
Great writing but disappointing ending. Captivating beginning, suspenseful middle, and weak ending for such a great beginning and middle. The stories hardly relate so you're reading several different stories in one book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I got this at the library on a whim. The reader is awesome, does so many accents so well. The title threw me off, it's not about that. There are a series of short stories andout medical students. I'm listening to it twice in a row, it's that good. I listen to a ton of books on cd and this is my favorite. I will look for more books read by Christopher Lane, he is awesome!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago