Beyond the Book: Background information when reading Cutting For Stone

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Cutting For Stone

By Abraham Verghese

Cutting For Stone
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  • Hardcover: Feb 2009,
    560 pages.
    Paperback: Jan 2010,
    560 pages.

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The Hippocratic Oath
The title, Cutting for Stone, refers to a line in the Hippocratic Oath, and to the last name of the three main characters, all of them surgeons. As Abraham Verghese quotes it, the line from the Oath reads "I will not cut for stone, even for patients in whom the disease is manifest. I will leave this operation to be performed by practitioners, specialists in this art." While this line refers specifically to surgery for bladder stones (which were quite prevalent in the 4th century BC), it's also a directive against surgery of all kinds. Ancient Greek physicians did not practice surgery, instead referring their patients to trained surgeons. Surgery was then considered a secondary skill, and surgeons were not trained in theoretical medicine as physicians were. Dissection was forbidden, and without precautions against contamination or the ability to anaesthetize, surgery was almost always deadly and certainly unbearably painful.

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