I'd only really viewed the surgical gods from considerably lower down in the food chain, so I was interested to see what life might be like for a woman supposedly on an equal footing but working
'in a world dominated by alpha males...where a certain moral ambiguity and clinical detachment are necessary tools for survival.'
Indeed they are, but Gabriel
Weston bravely and honestly challenges those pre-conceptions and her
own thinking around many of the situations she finds herself in. The
result is many portions of humble pie consumed and a self-effacing
account of life at the cutting edge (sorry) as Gabriel Weston walks her
reader through many of those staple scenarios of the TV hospital drama,
but with a personal touch that debrides (sorry, I can't stop myself,
it's all begging for it) those surface layers to see what really may
lie beneath in the mind of the doctor.
There's the inevitable kudos of those first days of being a medical student until the first resuscitation is required...and forget that promise because it's all reminded me of our first day in uniform.
We'd been nurses for about three days (and I discover that Gabriel Weston would have been about two years old in 1972) all standing chatting on the platform at Russell Square underground waiting for the train to take us back to our nurse's home in Belsize Park. There was a bit of a commotion and then the crowd of passengers around us parted like the Red Sea to allow us to take command of the situation and decide what to do next about the person who had jumped under the incoming train.
Whiter shade of pale doesn't come close and you know those emergency stairs at Russell Square that they tell you not to take because there are so many of them...
But in many ways this is what made this book so special for me, situations of my own that I could identify with, but it matters not whether you are medical or otherwise because so many of the central observations of Direct Red translate willingly to other life scenarios. It's a book about people and how they react to one another and what we all do to try and protect ourselves, whether being done to or doing unto others, this is humanity plain and simple.
Be ready with a strong stomach if this is not your thing because Gabriel Weston doesn't couch (sorry, that was unintentional) any of this prettily or euphemistically. There is plenty that will certainly make your eyes water, one scenario in particular an object lesson for Gabriel Weston in professional pride and quite how we may all compromise our integrity in its preservation whilst convincing ourselves and others that we are doing the right thing.
And prepare for great sadness too, expect to read what it might really be like to suffer a miscarriage for example, but any account that avoided such moments would not be truthful and nor would it have that ring of sincerity and honesty that Direct Red does which explains why it was longlisted for the Guardian First Book award last year.
Meanwhile here's an observation from Gabriel Weston and perhaps something to bear in mind if you ever find yourself in need of surgical attention.
'It is no longer enough to be technically proficient; nowadays, we need to be nice. And this presents the modern surgeon with a great challenge: how to combine a necessary degree of toughness with an equally important ability to be gentle.'I think I'll just settle for them being stunningly brilliant and proficient at what they do, I always like to check for a steady hand too, neat needlework skills are a bonus and then I'll be thankful for such small mercies and acts of kindness that may come my way, and to be honest, I'll forgive the rest.