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

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

4.7 30
by Michael J. Collins

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When Michael Collins decides to become a surgeon, he is totally unprepared for the chaotic life of a resident at a major hospital. A natural overachiever, Collins' success, in college and medical school led to a surgical residency at one of the most respected medical centers in the world, the famed Mayo Clinic. But compared to his fellow residents Collins feels


When Michael Collins decides to become a surgeon, he is totally unprepared for the chaotic life of a resident at a major hospital. A natural overachiever, Collins' success, in college and medical school led to a surgical residency at one of the most respected medical centers in the world, the famed Mayo Clinic. But compared to his fellow residents Collins feels inadequate and unprepared. All too soon, the euphoria of beginning his career as an orthopedic resident gives way to the feeling he is a counterfeit, an imposter who has infiltrated a society of brilliant surgeons.

This story of Collins' four-year surgical residency traces his rise from an eager but clueless first-year resident to accomplished Chief Resident in his final year. With unparalleled humor, he recounts the disparity between people's perceptions of a doctor's glamorous life and the real thing: a succession of run down cars that are towed to the junk yard, long weekends moonlighting at rural hospitals, a family that grows larger every year, and a laughable income.

Collins' good nature helps him over some of the rough spots but cannot spare him the harsh reality of a doctor's life. Every day he is confronted with decisions that will change people's lives-or end them-forever. A young boy's leg is mangled by a tractor: risk the boy's life to save his leg, or amputate immediately? A woman diagnosed with bone cancer injures her hip: go through a painful hip operation even though she has only months to live? Like a jolt to the system, he is faced with the reality of suffering and death as he struggles to reconcile his idealism and aspiration to heal with the recognition of his own limitations and imperfections.

Unflinching and deeply engaging, Hot Lights, Cold Steel is a humane and passionate reminder that doctors are people too. This is a gripping memoir, at times devastating, others triumphant, but always compulsively readable.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Like the very best episode of ER, Collins' memoir races from one trauma to the next, keeping this reader spellbound all the way. Collins' life as a surgical resident is heartbreaking one minute and triumphant the next. You'll laugh and cry and cheer along with him as his epic journey to become a doctor races toward its gripping conclusion. I love this book and won't soon forget it."

- Augusten Burroughs, New York Times bestselling author of Dry and Magical Thinking

"One of the best, funniest medical memoirs I have ever read. Hot Lights, Cold Steel is at once darkly humorous and truly compassionate. Not since House of God has there been such a ferociously funny look at the world of hospital medicine."

- Michael Palmer, New York Times bestselling author of Fatal and The Society

"I adore this book. It's so polished and hilarious. It brought back all the stomach-churning anxieties of my own residency so vividly that I felt exhausted reading it. Dr. Collins has my highest admiration. I give this book a 10+!"

- Tess Gerritsen, New York Times bestselling author of The Surgeon and The Apprentice

Library Journal
Collins recalls his four-year residency in orthopedic surgery at the Mayo Clinic, which he tells us several times is "the most prestigious medical center in the world." His story alternates between the physical and mental demands of his training at the hospital and his attempts to create a home life with his wife, Patti, and their two young children. In humanizing detail and with little medical jargon, Collins recounts several cases in which he is both a participant and a student. Despite the best efforts of some of the world's best doctors, the patients involved often die. Offsetting these darker moments is Collins's relaxed style, which is punctuated by humor-frequently at his own expense. Easy to read yet thought-provoking, this memoir is an excellent introduction to the requirements of residency medical training. Buy wherever true stories of medical practice are popular or needed.-A.J. Wright, Anesthesiology Lib., Univ. of Alabama at Birmingham Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An orthopedic surgeon's down-to-earth, fast-paced, and frequently funny memoir of his residency. Collins admits he felt like "the dullest scalpel in the drawer" at the start of his time at the Mayo Clinic, he admits. In short, punchy chapters he chronicles his four-year journey from terrified junior resident to skilled chief resident. Although Collins notes that surgeons are not generally known for their introspective qualities (and his memoir reflects that), he nonetheless freely describes the emotions he felt making his first incision into a living body, witnessing his first patient death, and conducting his first solo operation. As he grew in competence, he grew in confidence. Surgeons fix things, and for a time Collins rejoiced in the ability to do that increasingly well. He thrived on the gratitude and admiration of patients whose bones he had set or whose joints he had replaced. But he came to realize that it wasn't in his power to fix everything, a point made in the stories of a young woman whose cancer could not be halted despite extremely disfiguring surgery and of a boy whose horribly mangled leg Collins failed to save. In other pieces, the surgeon touches on the ethics of the residency system, in which the patient's right to the best care conflicts with the resident's need to learn. While much of the action takes place at the Mayo Clinic, Collins also shares his personal life. With his wife producing a baby each year, he had to take a second job as an emergency-room doctor to feed his growing family. One old car after another died, each replaced by an equally aging wreck. The subzero Minnesota winters vied with perennial lack of sleep as worst physical indignity. Throughout,Collins depicts with a born storyteller's skill the camaraderie among young residents as they journey to medical professionalism. We see them together in and out of the hospital, joshing, competing, and supporting each other. Highly animated-and rich in encounters both sad and hilarious. Agent: Meg Ruley/Jane Rotrosen Agency

Product Details

St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.38(w) x 9.56(h) x 1.28(d)

Meet the Author

Michael Collins served as Chief Resident in Orthopedic Surgery at the Mayo Clinic. Currently he is an active partner in a busy surgical practice in Chicago where he lives with his wife Patti and their twelve children. This is his first book.

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Hot Lights, Cold Steel 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 27 reviews.
mikeyML More than 1 year ago
Review of Hot Light, Cold Steel on October, 27 2011 This was Dr. Michael Collins first book and he should win a rookie author of the year award for it. Hot Lights, Cold Steel is a nonfiction story about Dr. Collins road to become a Orthopedic surgeon. Dr Michael Collins grew up the oldest of oldest of 8 brothers. He worked his way their college working as a construction worker. He earned his undergrad degree at University of Notre Dame. After graduation he worked as a cab driver. After two years of blue collar work he was accepted into Loyola University Strich School of Medicine. After graduating from medical school and becoming a doctor Dr. Collins did hid orthopedic residency at Mayo Clinc in Minnesota. One of the main themes that appears throughout the book is that the patients is always the primary concern and should be treated with the up most respect. Hot Lights, Cold Steele begins with Dr. Collins first day of beginning his residency. Dr.collins comes into his residency without knowing the slightest clue of what it takes o become a orthopedic seurgeon. As the time moves forward Dr. Collins learns more about orthopedics and shapes him self into a great surgeon. Along the way of his residency he experiences seeing many successes and many failures. For example he as to do his first leg amputation he does it flawlessly, but when he goes back to check on the patient in a year he finds out that she dies. He was saddened that such a young girl could die at such a young age. But he didn't give up being a doctor he instead tried harder to help people and save more people's lives. This is what made him a great surgeon his die hard will. This book is a very memorial book for me because it gives me a side scoop of what I expect the medical world to be when I get older and want to do it for my profession. I suggest that this book to anyone that is interested in pursuing a medical career in the future. I now see the scarifies you must take in order to become a doctor. Before I read this book I just wanted to get into the medical procession for the money. But now that I read this book see that being in the medical procession is all about helping people. And that joy that you recive from helping a person is priceless. This book is a great read. As you are reading it you feel that you are at mayo clinc with Dr. Collins himself. This is because he uses such great descriptions of the scenery around him and the hospital. I really enjoyed this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
He's a very talented writer, witty and interesting. I enjoy reading about medical life and, so far, this has been one of the best books I've gotten.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I appreciated Collins' honesty about his limitations and his sense of homor. I enjoyed watching his expertise grow, especially as he moonlighted as an ER doc.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved it. A must read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great book
Pre-Med10 More than 1 year ago
One of the best books ever written! If you liked this one, you should consider reading "Blue Collar, Blue Scrubs".
bbmoen82 More than 1 year ago
I absolutely enjoyed reading this book. I recommend it to all of my friends because of it's humor and wonderful prose. Plus, it really brings a person into his life and the way he went about his residency.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I started this book in the evening and finished it by the next afternoon. I couldn't put it down. Dr. Collins describes situations so well that even if you aren't in the health profession, you understand the situation at hand. You desire to know the outcome of the problem he faces. I also enjoyed the softer moments of the book about his ever expanding family and their funny moments together. It's a great book and such a special gift to his loving wife. I've passed this book along to my colleagues who also enjoyed it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I absolutely loved this book. It was hard for me to put it down. It is funny and sad at the same time. Dr. Collins' road to become a surgeon at the Mayo Clinic was a roller coaster of emotion. I actually bought this book at Barnes & Noble while in Rochester, MN. I was vacationing there while visiting the Mayo Clinic.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was a 'can't put it down' read. I was completely glued to this story. From the medical stories, to the 12 children, It was the best medical biography I have read. I would recommend this to anyone. And I have !
Guest More than 1 year ago
Hot Lights, Cold Steel is one of the best books that I have ever read. Collins' description of his experience in residency is hilarious, horrifying, and compassionate. He transforms from a shy student, into a determined self confident leader. This book is so well written that it is hard to put down and leaves the reader wanting to know more. This book should be a requirement for anyone considering the medical profession. You will be glad that you read this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is to doctors what the book One L was to lawyers -- a gritty, honest account of the pursuit of a profession that few aside from those who've undertaken a similar path can possibly appreciate or understand in any meaningful way. The best feature of this book are the vivid anecdotes of patients who had the privilege of being treated by a very dedicated professional. I was brought to tears at least a half a dozen times which was not due to my being overly emotional (I am a heartless lawyer after all) but can be credited to the author who did a masterful job of making his patients feel real to the reader. I know that after reading this book I now have at least a clue of the level of personal sacrifice that must be made in the name of becoming a surgeon. This book should be required reading for anyone considering medical school.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Walks to the control center
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