Naturopathic Summer Read: Cutting For Stone

While suffering through the damp, dark remaining months of 2nd year of naturopathic medical school, camped out in middle-of-nowhere North York, I began to have intense emotional cravings for summer.  

In Canada, summer is a cherished season.  When it hits, we live it as if it’s always warm here – cafes open, fruits and vegetables fill our plates, summer dresses and sandals come out and people start to light up their barbecues and head for the beaches.  It’s almost impossible to fathom that, mere months ago we were huddled under down feathers, chugging back hot cocoa.

For me, summer has always meant a break from the day-to-day routine of cold weather and classes.  It represents the opportunity to try something new, to travel and to spend more time on self-care.  However, one of the things I’ve always enjoyed most about summer is that I have four full months to tackle my summer reading list.

As a child I would participate in the Toronto Public Library summer reading program, camped out in my backyard tree house, I’d read until my eyes buzzed.  My being would ooze into those of the characters in my books and I would cease to be aware of my own existence.  Years later, things are pretty much the same, except that I’ve substituted the tree house for a sidewalk cafe.

Starting my summer reading meant that I finally had the chance to open one of my Christmas books: “Cutting for Stone” by Abraham Verghese, M.D.  The author is a surgeon who teaches at Stanford University and this is his brilliant first novel.  When I opened the book and read the first page, the rich, flowing prose engulfed me.  Dr. Verghese proves not only to be an accomplished surgeon but an excellent writer who can weave a captivating plot and complex characters by using a thread of poetic similes like “the big rain in Ethiopia had ended, its rattle on the corrugated tin roofs of Missing Hospital ceasing abruptly like a chatterbox cut off midsentence.” I was immediately hooked.

The book satisfies a love for medicine, as he uses medical philosophy as glue for his themes.  It details the main character’s journey to become a doctor while living in a mission hospital, called “Missing Hospital” in exotic Ethiopia, during the time when Haile Selassie ruled as emperor. For the budding naturopath, it’s an artful way to brush up on a review of diagnostics and the philosophy of healing.

From the book; “I grew up and found my purpose and it was to become a physician.  My intent wasn’t to save the world as much as to heal myself.  Few doctors will admit this, certainly not young ones, but subconsciously, in entering the profession, we must believe  that ministering to others will heal our woundedness.  And it can.  But it can also deepen the wound.”

Written in the kind of romantic, colourful way that I adore, with a plot that centres on tropical medicine, living in a foreign nation and features an intriguing story, this book has everything I love in a fictional novel.  It’s almost a shame I happened to start my summer reading with it, because it will be a hard one to top.

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2 thoughts on “Naturopathic Summer Read: Cutting For Stone

  1. It’s funny because I remember one of our first classes in first year the prof (I can’t remember which class nor which prof) asked why we’d come to CCNM and the answer – though I held my hand up at one point but was never picked – was to heal myself. It’s been a selfish pursuit, really. In the end I hope to help others too! Might as well make a paycheck right? 😉 It’s funny too he’s not the first MD to write a great book – The Kite Runner is another good one! (By an MD) maybe this means I too can someday still satisfy my love for writing and the arts and not just be a sciency nerd / doc!

    1. I think it’s important to be on the journey of self-healing, especially when one is going into the business of helping other people start on that journey. There is a reason addictions counselors are usually people who are recovering from addictions themselves (and not people with active addictions!) When you have goals that are similar to those of your patients isn’t it easier to relate to them and impart them the information you’ve learned while trying to improve your health? PS: I hear you about writing the Great Canadian Novel. Maybe after retirement… See you at the Nobel Prize in Literature ceremony when we’re in our 80’s (yet another reason why being healthy is important, I’ve a lot to get done in this life, as do you)!

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