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

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Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures

Stories

by Vincent Lam

Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2007, 362 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2008, 362 pages

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Instead, she said, “I’ll jinx myself, talking as if I’ll get in. Don’t say ‘Doctor Ming’ or it’ll end up being a joke.” She looked at her feet and said, as Karl had once told her, “We have to dissect your study techniques.” The following day, Ming went through Fitzgerald’s December finals and pointed out that he had mostly lost marks through a flagrant disregard for testable trivia. She introduced him to her scheduling system, in which each week was divided into a chart with halfhour time slots.

Monday
7:00: Wake up, wash.
7:30: Breakfast and pre-read a lecture chapter.
8:00: Bus to school.
8:30: Lecture.
9:30: Pre-read next lecture.
10:00: Second lecture.
11:00: Review morning lecture tapes while eating lunch.
12:30: Relax.
13:00: Third lecture.

Ming crossed out each time slot as it was completed. Fitzgerald’s note taking had previously been limited to what he felt was conceptually relevant, summarized by diagrams. Often, details were not included in the diagrams because they did not seem important to him.

A tape recorder and a yellow highlighter were the core of Ming’s system. After each lecture, she listened to her tape of it and ensured that every testable fact mentioned in the lecture was included in her notes. While studying, she highlighted notes as she committed them to memory, until her entire notebook was a glaring neon yellow.

“It’s not that concepts are unimportant,” Ming reassured Fitzgerald, “it’s simply that they’re not essential to scoring top marks.” She had mentioned that her cousin Karl was a surgical resident in Toronto, but did not explain that this was Karl’s study system. Why should she tell Fitzgerald, an “academic friend,” everything? Each night they spoke on the telephone—always at the end of the evening so that there was no disruption of the sacred studies, nor a time limit. Conversations began with questions about the day’s lectures, but veered off more and more often so that they had to remind each other of their primary obligation to help the other study. They talked about what they would do, see, and allow themselves once they had fulfilled their delayed gratification of becoming doctors. Ming thought of the two of them doing these things together, far away from her family, yet she was careful not to refer to “we” while discussing these fantasies. Although everything was fragile and crucial right now, it would all be perfect once they achieved the state of being medical students. It floated before them like a transcendental and elusive plane of existence. They allowed that it would be a challenging profession, but it felt obvious that once admitted, the difficult thing would be done.

Occasionally, they ate lunch in restaurants that did not have many windows. Ming was careful to place textbooks on the table, so that each other’s presence could be easily explained if she was seen by any of her cousins or family’s friends, who seemed to be everywhere on campus. Dinner or a movie were out of the question. Between classes, they studied in vacant classrooms. Once, while looking for an empty classroom, they both reached for an elevator button at the same time, and after their arms brushed, warm, went silently into the room, sat down, opened their books, and didn’t speak for an hour.

At night, the phone sometimes clicked softly, and then the sound became hollow with a shadow of breathing. When this occurred, Ming stopped talking and waited for the phone to click off. Fitzgerald learned to do the same. If the other line did not click off after several moments, Ming and her father would converse briefly in Cantonese, and then she would say to Fitzgerald in a voice that was halfway between meek library mouse and breathless seducer, “Thank you for helping me with my study problems,” and all three parties would hang up.

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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