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The Healing Blade: Neurosurgery on the Edge of Life and Death

The Healing Blade: Neurosurgery on the Edge of Life and Death

by Edward J. Sylvester

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In a splendid, often riveting account of high-tech procedures and personalities at the forefront of modern brain surgery, Sylvester ( Target: Cancer ) takes readers into the famed Barrow Neurological Institute at Phoenix, Ariz. There a staff of elite surgeons, led by director Robert Spetzler and equipped with the latest image-scanning machines and measuring techniques, pushes the frontiers of neurosurgery. The author's precise prose and apt imagery bare the interaction between staff members and patients linked by this exact and problematic surgery, illuminating the NASA-like preparation and teamwork involved in such procedures as hypothermic arrest, when the patient's blood is first chilled and then drained from his body for up to an hour. Focussing on Spetzler and the demands of his work, Sylvester offers an immediate, thorough and lucid chronicle. (Jan.)
Library Journal
Sylvester, journalist and author of Target: Cancer ( LJ 1/86), adds to the burgeoning popular literature on the brain. He shifts comfortably among several foci (the human brain, the patient, technology, the surgeon), creating a gripping portrait of modern surgery. (David Noonan in his Neuro , LJ 3/1/89) was less effective at managing these multiple topics.) At the center of this portrait stands Robert Spetzler, the talented world-famous head of neurosurgery at Phoenix's Barrow Neurological Institute. Spetzler is especially renowned for his finesse in handling ``standstills'' in which the patient's temperature is drastically lowered, the heart brought to a standstill, and surgery completed. Despite a rough, occasionally careless style, Sylvester knows how to maintain an effective rhythm and tell a good story. From a literary standpoint, Mark Shelton's Working in a Very Small Place ( LJ 6/1/89) and Steve Fishman's A Bomb in the Brain ( LJ 11/1/88) should be primary selections. But where interest remains high, The Healing Blade would make an appropriate third choice for public libraries.-- Laurie Bartolini, Lincoln Lib., Springfield, Ill.
William Beatty
This is primarily the story of neurosurgeon Robert Spetzler, director of the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix. Sylvester shows Spetzler treating a variety of patients suffering from accidents, diseases, or congenital defects. Throughout, Sylvester emphasizes that Spetzler takes each case as an intellectual and physical challenge, a pitting of his skill and capability against the worst the country and the world can offer. A pioneer in microsurgery, Spetzler developed the standstill operation with hypothermic arrest and has used it on more than 100 patients with giant or hard-to-reach aneurysms and other major problems in the brain. This work has not been hidden under an Arizonan basket, and several of the patients, such as Timmy Mathias and the Siamese twins Hassan and Salem, have received international media attention. Sylvester has done a first-rate job in bringing Spetzler alive as a human being and as an operator (in the operating room as well as in medical and institutional politics) and in making neurosurgery and the anatomy and physiology it deals with understandable.

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Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group
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