Book Review: Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures by Vincent Lam

Kirkus Reviews
January, 2007

S everal lives intertwine in this frank, slice-of life portrayal of the medical profession. Recognizing that the characters —early career doctors and a few patients—represent extreme interpretations of himself, Vincent Lam, an emergency-room physician based in Toronto, humanizes the profession, each character a portrait of the personalities and rich internal conflicts prevalent in the field. "Because medicine has so much to do with these really visceral basic things, life and death and hope and sometimes disappointment, it's a profession that forces people to ask some difficult personal questions," he says.

"It can require quite a perspective shift." Fitzgerald, a young man whose raw passion leads him somewhat blindly into medicine, stumbles after unrequited love and tempers his difficult job with black humor and alcohol. Two sparring characters, Sri, a sensitive-minded student, and Ming, at times represent polar notions of how one might view a medical situation: "empiric, scientific and ultimately dispassionate," says Lam, or "as something which is mysterious and unpredictable and ultimately very ambiguous."

For each character, their instinct carries both triumphs and flaws. Perspective shifts drop the reader in and out of characters' lives with revealing encounters—a mother undergoes a cesarean without anesthesia to save her child, a doctor dies from exposure to SARS patients, a wounded criminal uses his means to hurt the officers that assaulted him. Says Lam of the story's moral dilemmas, "to not feel vulnerable is to miss one of the most important and valuable lessons that one should learn from medical training, that life is actually pretty fragile and sometimes we can do something about it and sometimes we can't. That's been an important lesson for me."

© Kirkus Reviews 2007