Excerpt of Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese
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Now, in my fiftieth year, I venerate the sight of the abdomen or chest laid
open. Im ashamed of our human capacity to hurt and maim one another, to
desecrate the body. Yet it allows me to see the cabalistic harmony of heart
peeking out behind lung, of liver and spleen consulting each other under the
dome of the diaphragmthese things leave me speechless. My fingers run the
bowel looking for holes that a blade or bullet might have created, coil after
glistening coil, twenty-three feet of it compacted into such a small space. The
gut that has slithered past my fingers like this in the African night would by
now reach the Cape of Good Hope, and I have yet to see the serpents head. But I
do see the ordinary miracles under skin and rib and muscle, visions concealed
from their owner. Is there a greater privilege on earth?
At such moments I remember to thank my twin brother, ShivaDr. Shiva Praise
Stoneto seek him out, to find his reflection in the glass panel that separates
the two operating theaters, and to nod my thanks because he allows me to be what
I am today. A surgeon. According to Shiva, life is in the end about fixing
holes. Shiva didnt speak in metaphors. Fixing holes is precisely what he did.
Still, its an apt metaphor for our profession. But theres another kind of
hole, and that is the wound that divides family. Sometimes this wound occurs at
the moment of birth, sometimes it happens later. We are all fixing what is
broken. It is the task of a lifetime. Well leave much unfinished for the next
Born in Africa, living in exile in America, then returning at last to Africa, I
am proof that geography is destiny. Destiny has brought me back to the precise
coordinates of my birth, to the very same operating theater where I was born. My
gloved hands share the space above the table in Operating Theater 3 that my
mother and fathers hands once occupied.
Some nights the crickets cry zaa-zee, zaa-zee, thousands of them drowning out
the coughs and grunts of the hyenas in the hillsides. Suddenly, nature turns
quiet. It is as if roll call is over and it is time now in the darkness to find
your mate and retreat. In the ensuing vacuum of silence, I hear the high-pitched
humming of the stars and I feel exultant, thankful for my insignificant place in
the galaxy. It is at such times that I feel my indebtedness to Shiva.
Twin brothers, we slept in the same bed till our teens, our heads touching, our
legs and torsos angled away. We outgrew that intimacy, but I still long for it,
for the proximity of his skull. When I wake to the gift of yet another sunrise,
my first thought is to rouse him and say, I owe you the sight of morning.
What I owe Shiva most is this: to tell the story. It is one my mother, Sister
Mary Joseph Praise, did not reveal and my fearless father, Thomas Stone, ran
from, and which I had to piece together. Only the telling can heal the rift that
separates my brother and me. Yes, I have infinite faith in the craft of surgery,
but no surgeon can heal the kind of wound that divides two brothers. Where silk
and steel fail, story must succeed. To begin at the beginning ...
Excerpted from Cutting for Stone by
Abraham Verghese Copyright © 2009 by Abraham Verghese. Excerpted by permission
of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this
excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the