Sunday, May 13, 2012

Doctors and Magic

Doctors and Magic

Do you believe in magic?  Sure, no, yes, maybe, it depends on how you define magic are all acceptable answers.  But for the most part I think we, as physicians, tend to be skeptical.  It comes from a lifetime of requiring proof in making the decisions that affect our patient’s lives I suspect.  I wrote about my own personal loss of magic some time ago, and yes I believe in the magic of love.  I believe in the magic of innocence and beauty of the tenderness of Christmas mornings, and tooth fairy nights.  But I don’t much worry about wizards, or witches, or vampires, or evil magicians pitted in old feuds from Arthurian times.  Maybe I’m just obtuse.
I have a group of e-friends I enjoy very much.  I don’t know any one of them personally, but if I have the opportunity on M-W-F from 3-4 pm CST I log into #LitChat and share with other writers and readers from around the globe.   Last week we had begun discussing the book The Night Circus by Erin Morganstern and one of the participants allowed that in her book club, which was primarily composed of physicians, no one seemed to get it.  I felt bad.  I’d started the book when it was first published, and here it was three months later and I still hadn’t gotten a third of the way through it.  The problem was, I didn’t know why. 
Why had I stalled out?  It was beautifully written with luxurious description that creates a magical world straight out of a Tim Burton movie.  The plot revolves around two children selected as participants in an ancient feud and bound to one another in a battle to the death; no matter how long the contest takes.  They both receive different arcane training in the ways of magic until they are grown and then set on a collision course in the contest venue of the night circus, a magical circus that appears and disappears from place to place around the world.  That’s about as far as I got.  It was kind of like surgeons and internal medicine residents on night call appearing mysteriously in the various wards of the hospital to battle with one another over the true manner of healing.
I can hear the voices thundering through those cold gray green halls.
Zanziber, resplendent in his blue scrubs with contrasting Betadyne stains cascading down his thighs declares. “The only way to heal is with cold steel.  Surgery is the only way.  He has a perforated ulcer.”
And then Mortimer, rheumy eyes dull, places his stethoscope in the pocket of his yellowed white coat and responds to the challenge; “You wouldn’t know healing if it bit you on the ass.  It’s pancreatitis.  Look at his blood chemistries.”
Fire flies from Zanzibar’s eyes.  “Chemistries be damned, there is rebound, and where there is rebound is a surgical abdomen.”
And that was my problem with the book.  While it might have been magic for some, it was learned ritual for me, the IV or the blade.  You want arcane magic get a psychiatry resident involved in a case.  A life and death struggle that involves death by exhaustion is nothing to and old-school surgery resident.  The book didn’t take me anywhere that I hadn’t already been intellectually, but now that I had been called out I was damned and determined that I was going to finish it.  I will spare you any further plot details, to keep from ruining the plot for you, but suffice it to say that in the end it all returned to my own personal viewpoint on magic, that it exists in the relationships we pursue and the love we share with one another along the way.  All in all, it was worth the read.  It is a triumph of descriptive writing with a plot worthy of Shakespeare.  Perhaps a plot derived from Shakespeare, but that doesn’t detract from the writing.   


  1. I'm glad you finished THE NIGHT CIRCUS. While it wasn't a meaty story, what enchanted me most was the imaginative life of the circus itself and the people within. I was drawn into the black and white circus tents to discover what happened within, to feel the magic that held the circus together, to place a wish on the Wishing Tree or to wander among the tents and warm my hands before the bonfire. While the competition of arcane magic between Marco and Celia supports the arc, I was most profoundly moved by how Celia and Marco, both children raised devoid of love and warmth, found the magic of love in one another.

  2. You certainly have a unique perspective...perhaps if you tried to view the plot (the magic, etc.) metaphorically? That being said, I did not like this book! The characterizations were empty for me, and I think if you have characters the reader can believe in and root for, the specifics of the world and plot don't matter. But that's just me, always dealing in the magic of relationships and love...maybe we're alike it that way :).