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

by Michael J. Collins
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

by Michael J. Collins

Paperback(First Edition)

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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 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312352691
Publisher: St. Martin's Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/24/2006
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 510,187
Product dimensions: 5.45(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.85(d)

About 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. Hot Lights, Cold Steel is his first book.

Reading Group Guide

Discussion Points:

1. Throughout the book, Collins struggles to find a balance between being a dispassionate, effective doctor and one that cares for his patients' emotional and physical needs. Do you think that doctors should separate these aspects of their treatment? On page 51, for example, did you agree with Dr. Collins' decision to speak with Jeff's father about his other son's suicide risk?

2. How did Dr. Collins' work affect his relationship with Patti and their children? Have you ever had a job that's impacted your personal life? In what circumstances would you accept these interferences and in what circumstances would you change careers?

3. Dr. Collins also consistently struggles with trying not to judge the actions of his patients. On page 123, what was your reaction to Jason and his return to smoking (and what it did to his hand)? Would you have taken Dr. Wilk's advice to heart and apologized to Jason for judging him? Later in the book, on page 177, Dr. Collins refrains from passing judgment on the drunk driver who killed the little boy. Is this a sign of Dr. Collins' growth?

4. Another common thread in Hot Lights, Cold Steel is Collins' perceptions of the intersection of philosophy and medicine. On page 153 he writes, "No one cares how philosophically perceptive their surgeon is. They just want someone to fix them." Do you agree with this assertion? In what ways would a "philosophically perceptive" surgeon help or harm his patient?

5. Dr. Collins also speaks of his difficulties with the death of a teenage patient, Sarah. On page 256, when she dies, he struggles with the pain that his treatments caused her. Do you believe that treatment should ever be discontinued so that patients can live out the rest of their lives in peace? If you were Sarah, would you have requested to go through the surgery? Taking this notion a big step further, do you agree with doctor-assisted suicide? Why or why not?

6. On page 168, Dr. Collins struggles to come to terms with his position on cosmetic surgery. He writes, "What I seemed to be saying was that babies with cleft lips and soldiers with burned faces deserve cosmetic surgery, but middle-aged socialites with double chins do not. But who was I to impose my value system on middle-aged socialites?" What is your position on cosmetic surgery? Is it ever acceptable? When and why?

7. Did your perception of doctors and the medical world change after reading this book? How?

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