Excerpt from Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures by Vincent Lam, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures


by Vincent Lam

Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures by Vincent Lam
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2007, 362 pages
    Sep 2008, 362 pages

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Sometimes, Fitzgerald closed his eyes and mouthed words while he memorized. Ming pretended to look out the window, allowed herself to briefly watch the halfimage of his reflection speaking silently. She could see that he was immersed in the material, that he was trying to get inside it. She admired this, and longed for Fitzgerald because of it. Ming had decided to be occupied primarily with the facts in her textbooks, and less with comprehension. Ionic channels were not a wonderful riddle to her, as she knew they were to Fitzgerald. They were simply a means to an end, that end being a perfect set of grades and a medical school admission letter. Hers was the more common attitude in the life sciences faculty, and so Ming regarded Fitzgerald as being pure and noble, if strategically unwise.

Midway through the exams, they grew into a twice daily session of going through questions. Fitzgerald proposed that they use these question sessions as breaks, and so they visited the library cafeteria twice a day. Ming considered going to the cafeteria to be an indulgent use of time, but she decided that it was acceptable as long as they discussed only academics, and as long as she didn’t spend too much time actually enjoying Fitzgerald’s company.

They ate, clarified the puzzles of cell membrane physiology, and talked about their need to become physicians. Others were not genuine, they agreed, and transparently wanted to become doctors for money and prestige. Ming and Fitzgerald wanted medicine for the right reasons, they told each other: service, humanity, giving. Because their motivations were clean, they were certain they deserved it more than those among them. They did not ask why they wanted to serve, be humane, or to give. These simply felt like the right motivations, and being correctly motivated should improve their chances of success. This was enough, and these sentiments felt easy and immune from questioning. If forced to reflect, both Ming and Fitzgerald would have had to admit that these convictions were, at their core, somewhat improvised. They did not challenge each other, but instead reinforced each other’s sense of moral correctness as a virtuous conspiracy of two. Their consuming ambition was the same as those of their classmates, but they agreed that most of the people around them were fake. Ming did allow that, although she did not want to pursue medicine for the money, earning a good living was important to her. “I like being obsessed by things,” said Fitzgerald one day. “It suits me.” He did not tell Ming that he supposed that if his attentions had happened to fall upon something other than medicine, he would have been equally engrossed with it.

Ming paced exams like a marathon. In a three-hour examination, she finished her initial draft within a strictly self-enforced two hours. For twenty minutes, she returned to uncomfortable questions she had indicated with a lightly pencilled star. After reworking her response she erased the star because she didn’t believe in changing an answer more than once. For another twenty minutes, she focused on the crucial phrasing of the questions, ensuring that her answers corresponded. They altered questions subtly from the previous years’ versions in an attempt to throw off those who studied from the prohibited, but widely available, pool of old exams. Ming was vigilant that a four-point question receive no more than four indisputably correct facts in the answer; it was possible to lose marks by including incorrect extra information. She sat straight, with her ankles crossed under her seat.

In her assigned seat behind Fitzgerald, Ming sometimes glanced up at him, saw him curled over his papers. In some sessions he wrote furiously until the procter came to take the paper from him. At other times, he finished writing within an hour and then fidgeted while everyone else worked. Fitzgerald constantly slipped his shoes on and off, and once accidentally kicked his right shoe two rows across. The proctor retrieved it, and pulled out the insole to check for any hidden papers before returning it to Fitzgerald with a recommendation that his shoes stay on his feet.

The above excerpt is the complete text of the short story "How To Get Into Medical School, Part 1" , pages 1-30 of Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures. Copyright (c) Dr. Vincent Lam, 2007. Reproduced with permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

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