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
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2007, 362 pages
    Sep 2008, 362 pages

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“I can’t find marks, but you understand this stuff. You’re losing marks on detail. The Krebs cycle—you know it better than I do. The problem is the way you study and write.” She said this not only to be kind, but because she found his answers elegant and insightful. Ming’s own responses were always factually complete in point form, convenient to check off for a perfect score. Fitzgerald seemed to disregard the assigned value of questions, and in some three-inch spaces he cramped his writing into tiny letters in order to include the essay-length breadth he felt was appropriate. In another section where a page was allotted, he wrote four lines and drew a diagram that, to him, encapsulated the entire issue.

It was Ming’s cousin Karl who had taught her the rules of academic success: be meticulous about details because it’s easier to lose two marks than to earn eight, understand what will be asked and prepare to deliver it, expect that the next test will be harder and that this is your reward for success. When Karl was eighteen and Ming was twelve, it was as a big favor to her father that her uncle had agreed to allow Karl to use some of his valuable time to tutor the B student, Ming. Karl was the shining boy who filled her uncle’s mantelpiece with academic trophies. He was on scholarship in his first year of university biology while Ming blundered through junior high.

Ming’s father impressed upon her the importance of learning from her cousin, of not bringing shame to her parents. She admired Karl’s easy confidence and the way he grasped everything he wanted—each award, each prize. He taught her a system—a way of breaking knowledge into manageable packages that might be related but didn’t have to be, that didn’t even have to matter, but the facts of which must be internalized, mastered, and displayed without so much as a momentary lack of confidence. To lose sight of any of these lists, subjects, or compartments would be to fail, and if you failed any part—whatever else had been learned would not matter when the time came to see if you would be allowed to write the next, tougher test. “Well, congratulations, Doctor Ming,” said Fitzgerald, his grin too wide. She knew he genuinely intended it, but that it was hard to smile through his frustration. “That’s a bit premature,” she said. She rolled his biochemistry final into a tube in her hand and said, “How was your Plato?” This was his humanities elective, and she did not take the same course so there could be no comparison.

“Top of the class,” he said.


“In the philosophy department, that’s a seventy-one.” “You need to strategize your electives,” she said. Hers was introductory psychology, a course that fulfilled its reputation of providing an easy A+.

“Next year,” he said. Each year, a few were admitted to medicine. Some rejected applicants decided that they had other things to do with their lives, and the remaining aspirants continued to fill out application packages and resubmit them. “I’ll be more strategic next year.” “If you don’t get in, no one deserves to get in. This grade point business is a stupid, arbitrary system,” she said, profoundly believing this as someone who had completely mastered it.

“I’ll be happy when you get in,” he said. “Really, truly. Lots of people say that, but I really will be pleased for you.”

“Thank you,” she said. Ming believed that he would be happy for her, though many would say so and it would be fake. She wanted to tell him about how she tried to save seats for him in the lectures without wanting him to see that she was doing so, about how she liked seeing him ride his bicycle around campus in the snow—pants tucked into his socks—and about how certain things scared her just enough that she couldn’t indulge her present impulse to lean toward him.

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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