Body of Work: Meditations on Mortality from the Human Anatomy Lab

Body of Work: Meditations on Mortality from the Human Anatomy Lab

by Christine Montross
     
 

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A "gleaming, humane" (The New York Times Book Review) memoir of the relationship between a cadaver named Eve and a first-year medical student

Medical student Christine Montross felt nervous standing outside the anatomy lab on her first day of class. Entering a room with stainless-steel tables topped by corpses in body bags was initially unnerving.

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Overview

A "gleaming, humane" (The New York Times Book Review) memoir of the relationship between a cadaver named Eve and a first-year medical student

Medical student Christine Montross felt nervous standing outside the anatomy lab on her first day of class. Entering a room with stainless-steel tables topped by corpses in body bags was initially unnerving. But once Montross met her cadaver, she found herself intrigued by the person the woman once was and fascinated by the strange, unsettling beauty of the human form. They called her Eve. The story of Montross and Eve is a tender and surprising examination of the mysteries of the human body, and a remarkable look at our relationship with both the living and the dead.

Editorial Reviews

Rachel Hartigan Shea
Montross was a poet before she was a doctor, and her language in Body of Work, an exceptionally thoughtful memoir about the first semester of medical school, is as precise as her scalpel cuts become by the final exam…We should be grateful, too—especially those of us who squirm away from the physical truths of our existence—for this beautiful book and the glimpse it offers of a place off limits to anyone without Montross's clearsighted courage.
—The Washington Post
New York Times Book Review
Eloquent and persuasive. . . . The author dissects her own emotions as deftly as she does . . . the cadaver, her pen as revelatory as her scalpel.
Washington Post
An exceptionally thoughtful memoir . . . [a] beautiful book.
Entertainment Weekly
Unflinching . . . insightful . . . sparklingly lucid.
Mary Roach
Medical professionals will find much to comfort, but also to challenge, themselves in these pages. The book is of even more value to patients. I will no longer complain so readily about a doctor who seems uncaring. Montross makes us aware of the profound and unavoidable dilemma at the core of doctoring: physicians must place themselves at the midpoint between “excessive emotional involvement with patients and a complete lack of empathy.” Montross describes her struggles to tread this shifting, fragile ground. During a conversation about whether to suspend the treatment of a dying cancer patient, the man’s daughter says to her, “If this were your father, what would you do?”
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Though it never goes for the gross-out effect, this memoir is not for the squeamish. "You begin to learn to heal the living by dismantling the dead," says Montross, and though her recollections encompass all of her medical training, the narrative backbone of the story is her semester-long dissection of a human cadaver, from opening up the ribcage to removing the brain from the skull. Montross was a poet and writing teacher before she decided to become a doctor, and she peppers her account of the dismantling of her cadaver, Eve—so named because she has no belly button—with arresting imagery: to test the heart's semilunar valves ("little half-moons that work passively and without musculature"), she and another student take the organ to a sink and run tap water through it. Performing her own dissection leads Montross to explore the history of studying anatomy through corpses, which brings tantalizing detours to medieval Italian universities and saints' shrines. But she also recounts her earliest encounters with living patients, such as a heart-wrenching consultation with a man suffering from Lou Gehrig's disease, who can communicate only by blinking. Her thoughtful meditations on balancing clinical detachment and emotional engagement will easily find a spot on the shortlist of great med school literature. (June 25)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
From the Publisher
"[Raudman's] tone, like Montross's writing, is often irreverent and dryly funny, without ever being disrespectful." —AudioFile

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780143113669
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
05/27/2008
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
320
Sales rank:
240,297
Product dimensions:
5.37(w) x 8.01(h) x 0.65(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

Thomas Lynch
The table and the blade, blood and bodies, dissection and discernment -- such are the properties of the medical arts. From her hands-in, hands-on study of parts, whole persons emerge in Dr. Montross's wonderfully curious text. Here are ample doses of metaphor and good medicine. (Thomas Lynch, author of Booking Passage, The Undertaking and Bodies in Motion and at Rest)
Edward Hoagland
This is a book about crossing the bar. The anatomies discussed here are diverse and gripping, and remind me of the essays of Richard Selzer, which is a high compliment indeed. (Edward Hoagland, author of Compass Points)
Jerome Groopman
This is a new voice in medical writing: lyrical, insightful, introspective. Montross, by probing deeply into the hidden recesses of the body, brilliantly illuminates the soul. A welcome debut. (Jerome Groopman, MD, Recanati Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, author of How Doctors Think)
Katrina Firlik
How lucky we are that a poet decided to become a physician. Although all physicians share a personal history of countless hours in the human anatomy lab, only a rare few, I suspect, would be able to so deftly illuminate this transforming and peculiar experience. Montross is a master of detail, so much so that I was shocked to find myself hovering over my own cadaver in medical school again, holding a scalpel as if for the first time. (Katrina Firlik, MD, Neurosurgeon and author of Another Day in the Frontal Lobe)
Richard Selzer
The physician, like the sculptor, approaches the human body with reverence and admiration. Carried a little further, it becomes worship. In Body of Work, an unflinching memoirist conveys the process, both emotional and intellectual, by which human anatomy is mastered by the doctor-to-be. It should be read by anyone with aspirations for a life in medicine. (Richard Selzer, author of Mortal Lessons, The Doctor Stories and Letters to a Young Doctor)
From the Publisher
"[Raudman's] tone, like Montross's writing, is often irreverent and dryly funny, without ever being disrespectful." —-AudioFile

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