Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures: Stories

Paperback | September 26, 2006

byVincent Lam

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Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures welcomes readers into a world where the most mundane events can quickly become life or death. By following four young medical students and physicians – Ming, Fitz, Sri and Chen – this debut collection from 2006 Scotiabank Giller Prize winner Vincent Lam is a riveting, eye-opening account of what it means to be a doctor. Deftly navigating his way through 12 interwoven short stories, the author explores the characters’ relationships with each other, their patients, and their careers. Lam draws on his own experience as an emergency room physician and shares an insider’s perspective on the fears, frustrations, and responsibilities linked with one of society’s most highly regarded occupations.

“I wanted to write about the way in which a person changes as they become a physician — how their world view shifts, and how they become a slightly different version of themselves in the process of becoming a doctor,” Lam explains. “I wanted to write about the reality that doing good and trying to help others is not simple. It is ethically complicated and sometimes involves a reality that can only be expressed by telling a story.”

In the book’s first story, “How to Get into Medical School, Part 1,” students Ming and Fitz wrestle with their opposing personalities and study techniques, while coming to terms with a growing emotional connection that elicits disapproval from Ming’s traditional Chinese-Canadian parents. Lam’s exceptional talent for describing scenarios with great precision is showcased in “Take All of Murphy,” when Ming, Chen, and Sri find themselves at a moral crossroads while dissecting a cadaver. Throughout the book, readers are treated to the physicians’ internal thoughts and the mental drama involved with treating patients, including Fitz’s struggle with self-doubt in “Code Clock” and Chen’s boredom and exhaustion in “Before Light.”

From delivering babies to evacuating patients and dealing with deadly viruses, the four primary characters in Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures are made thoroughly human by Lam’s insightful detail, realistic dialogue, and expert storytelling. The medical world is naturally filled with drama, but it’s the author’s ability to give equal weight to the smaller moments that really brings this book to life.

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From the Publisher

Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures welcomes readers into a world where the most mundane events can quickly become life or death. By following four young medical students and physicians – Ming, Fitz, Sri and Chen – this debut collection from 2006 Scotiabank Giller Prize winner Vincent Lam is a riveting, eye-opening account of what it means...

Vincent Lam was born in 1974 in London, Ont., into a family from the expatriate Chinese community of Vietnam. Four years later, they moved to Ottawa where he was raised on stories told by his father and the works of C.S. Lewis and Roald Dahl, and developed aspirations to become a writer. Acknowledging that he hadn’t seen enough of the ...

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:368 pages, 8 × 5.18 × 0.98 inPublished:September 26, 2006Language:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0385661444

ISBN - 13:9780385661447

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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Mhmm! It’s obvious why this was a prize-winner. I sailed through it, soaking up its wonderful insight into humanity during some of the most trying times.
Date published: 2014-11-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Mhmm! I loved the unusual 'voices' of the characters in this work. Couldn't put the book down. The pace seemed just right for the story that was being told.
Date published: 2014-01-21
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Fell short... "Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures" by Vincent Lam is a series of short stories told in perspective of four medical students and the lives as doctors. This book was recommended to me by a sales associate at my local chapters after I asked him to refer me to a novel that was different. "Different: was the only thing I expected out of this book that came through, everything else fell short. There were loads of potential in the novel but one major thing the prevented me from loving it or even liking this book was character development. I did not "care" for the characters. I was not emotionally connected or moved by there sadness, happiness or there life. I read for the enjoyment of learning a few facts here and there. Everything else was a disappointment.
Date published: 2010-08-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very Unique This is a very unique book. It tells of different medical situtations and the doctors involved. As I started the book I wasn't too sure if I was going to enjoy it , but it gets better as you continue. If you enjoy medical books or television shows this book is for you. It kept me intrigued right to the end.
Date published: 2008-03-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Page turner with good results I began reading this book thinking it was going to be a story about some med students and their time in medical school -- something similar to TLC's "Life in the E.R. - Interns". Vincent Lam surprised me in his consistency and depth into each of his characters. Not only did I get to follow four students through their struggles in school, but the reader is allowed a glimpse into their lives as professionals and adults, and the choices they have made to get there. It made them much more human and realistic. I was somewhat disappointed in the ending, and felt it was a little abrupt -- Lam could have tied up a couple of his main characters a little better, but overall, a fantastic read. I was thoroughly entertained in its entirety.
Date published: 2008-01-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Great Book This is an amazing book. The writing is wonderful, the characters seem so real you feel you know them and you get a real feel for the place and time. I highly recommend this book.
Date published: 2007-11-21
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Ugh I expected an excellent book -- after all, this won the Giller. Unfortunately, it's a series of stories about a group of unlikable people that I was entirely unable to connect with. Big disappointment.
Date published: 2007-07-05
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good read. I agree with the other reviews - the book is not the kind of read where you find yourself submerged in empathy with the characters. What makes this book unique is that it is a clinical study of the characters and events. The author is precise and detached in his language and the characters leave you with a slight metallic taste in your mouth or a squint as if they are being seen from a great distance. It is a little like reading a textbook on the subject rather than a work of fiction but I think that is part of what gives it such a strong connection to the subject matter. You wouldn't expect a book about medical students and the practice of medicine to read the same as say, One L. Different professions different styles. If you are looking to read an episode of ER though I would suggest you look again.
Date published: 2007-06-11
Rated 3 out of 5 by from A Great Start for Vincent Lam I liked the book, and found that it was generally good literature. However, I did find it hard to identify with any of the main characters. The book was somewhat cold, and lacked a certain chemistry between the medical students. Adding more warmth and humanity could've improved the overall entertainment value of the book immensely- but wouldn't haven't gotten Lam the Giller prize. I liked how the book was written honestly though, and appreciate that sometimes a zebra is just a horse.
Date published: 2007-02-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Deserves the Giller! A great read! The common threads that are woven through each story bring this collection together. I found it a fast read, and while some stories are a little more interesting than others, it was still a great book overall.
Date published: 2007-01-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from surprisingly tender I'm a nurse by background so was interested in seeing how Dr. Lam put together his stories of medical education - having been part of medical education for several years, it's nice to get a view from the other side. Plus, I had to admit I was a bit jealous that he should win the Giller prize after one novel... So in I plunged, into the stories of Ming and Fitzgerald and Chen and Sri, and I was overwhelmed. Each of the interconnected stories opens a window into some aspect of working in health care and being a patient - and each of the windows are flooded with light. Lam has captured the true essence of the pathos and joy and beauty and ugliness in each encounter with sensitivity and wisdom. Tales of working in the anatomy lab were exactly right on, in capturing the mixed feelings students have about working with cadavers and the additional pressures of trying to learn every miniscule little vein and nerve. Of all of the stories, the ones about SARS affected me the least, perhaps because the feeling around SARS was still too strong to write about coherently when this book was written. The tale of the nurses' lottery was done extremely well, and captured some of the fear and sacrifice during that time. I was surprised and charmed by this book. Read it. It will give you an understanding of what that new doc examining you the next time you go to a doctor's office has just passed through. Bear in mind, though, that not all doctors show Dr. Lam's depth of understanding of human motivations.
Date published: 2007-01-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Giller winner! The best part of this book is the fact that it is not "dumbed down" for the ordinary schmo. The stories in it are well written, and deserving of recognition. I'm glad I took the time to pick it up.
Date published: 2006-12-03
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disappointed The first couple of chapters were emotionally riveting and full of potential. Particularly since I am Chinese myself I was looking forward to a modern take of the 21st century Chinese Canadian experience (ie "no kitchen Gods", "myths and legends my grandma told", no "Third Aunt and Fourth Uncle"....) By about the fifith chapter I was wondering why this book won the Giller prize. Too many plotlines with unfulfilled emotiional development; too many matter of fact descriptions of medical emergencies. To the latter point - it would have been much more interesting to watch an episode of Trauma on TLC. The drama of some things just get lost in print. Very disappointed
Date published: 2006-12-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Fresh Read I too have only read the first 4 short stories but have so far been very impressed with Lam's writing style, the depth of understanding in his stories, and the cross over of characters and events from one short story to the next. Being the same age group as the characters and having friends in med school may add personal relevance to the stories; however, Lam is also touching on more universal experiences of loss, morality, etc. His collection is a refreshing read that I highly recommend. It is an excellent mix of short story and overarching narrative and provides fascinating and personal insight into the moral and emotional world of medicine.
Date published: 2006-11-30
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Dissonant This review is based on the first hundred pages or so (the first four stories), since I felt that was an appropriate amount of time spent waiting to be captivated, impressed, compelled to continue reading. Sadly I was not. Reading this book has helped me to define the saying "Don't let the truth get in the way of a good story". To explain: it is obvious that Lam has taken stories or anecdotes directly from what he has seen or heard in the medical field. With this I have no problem. But I can see where his desire to inform impedes on the story. To speak musically, the leitmotif of his Take All of Murphy is the scene where the characters suffer the moral dilemma of either satisfying medical procedure and cutting through the symbol (tattoo) of a man's life, or harmlessly slicing around it. An excellent idea (in fact it was someone's summary of that idea which moved me to pick up the book in the first place). Every little inflection and melody of the story should revolve around this moment. But Lam creates great discord by straying from the truth and trailing off into exposition. All of the italicised parts of this story (where we are shown snippets of past interviews and such) should have been cut. There is an overall sense of weakness in the prose. A lightness. There is no, shall I say, muscle to it. This critique serves well for the first four stories I read. Some had good ideas (for this Lam earns a star), but they were drawn out, lost somewhere in mediocre craft, poor pacing, and a missing sense for mood.
Date published: 2006-11-18

Extra Content

Read from the Book

How to Get into Medical School, Part IDesperate stragglers arrived late for the molecular biology final examination, their feet wet from tramping through snowbanks and their faces damp from running. Some still wore coats, and rummaged in the pockets for pens. Entering the exam hall, a borrowed gymnasium, from the whipping chaos of the snowstorm was to be faced with a void. Eyeglasses fogged, xenon lamps burned their blue-tinged light, and the air was calm with its perpetual fragrance of old paint. The lamps buzzed, and their constant static was like a sheet pulled out from under the snowstorm, though low enough that the noise vanished quickly. Invigilators led latecomers to vacant seats among the hundreds of desks, each evenly spaced at the University of Ottawa’s minimum requisite distance.The invigilators allowed them to sit the exam but, toward the end of the allotted period, ignored their pleas for extra time on account of the storm. Ming, who had finished early, centred her closed exam booklet in front of her. Fitzgerald was still hunched over his paper. She didn’t want to wait outside for him, preferring it to be very coincidental that she would leave the room at the same time he did. Hopefully he would suggest they go for lunch together. If he did not ask, she would be forced to, perhaps using a little joke. Ming tended to stumble over humour. She could ask what he planned to do this afternoon – was that the kind of thing people said? On scrap paper, she wrote several possible ways to phrase the question, and in doing so almost failed to notice when Fitzgerald stood up, handed in his exam, and left the room. She expected to rush after him, but he stood outside the exam hall.“Are you waiting for someone?” she asked.Shortly after they arrived at the Thai-Laotian café half a block from campus, Ming said deliberately, “Fitz, I simply wanted to wish you the best in your future endeavours. You are obviously intelligent, and I’m sure you will be a great success.”The restaurant was overly warm, and Fitz struggled out of his coat, wrestled his sweater over his head, leaving his hair in a wild, electrified state. He ran his hands over his head, and instead of smoothing his hair this resulted in random clumps jutting straight up.“Same to you,” he said, smiling at her almost excitedly.She watched him scan the bar menu. When she asked for water, he followed suit. She liked that.She said, “Also, thank you for explaining the Krebs cycle to me.”“Any time,” said Fitz.“I feel guilty that I haven’t been completely open,” said Ming. She considered her prepared phrases and selected one, saying, “It didn’t seem like the right time in the middle of exams.”“Nothing in real life makes sense during exams,” said Fitzgerald. He tilted in the chair but kept a straight back. Ming reassured herself that he had also been anticipating “a talk,” and so–she concluded with an administrative type of resolution–it was appropriate that she had raised the topic of “them.”She leaned forward and almost whispered, “This is awkward, but I have strong emotional suspicions. Such suspicions are not quite the same as emotions. I’m sure you can understand that distinction. I have this inkling that you have an interest in me.” She didn’t blurt it out, instead forced herself to pace these phrases. “The thing of it is that I can’t have a romantic relationship with you. Not that I want to.” Now she was off the path of her rehearsed lines. “Not that I wouldn’t want to, because there’s no specific reason that I wouldn’t, but I– Well, what I’m trying to say is that even though I don’t especially want to, if I did, then I couldn’t.” The waiter brought shrimp chips and peanut sauce. “So that’s that.”“All right,” said Fitzgerald.“I should have told you earlier, when I first got that feeling.”“You’ve given the issue some thought.”“Not much. I just wanted to clarify.”Fitz picked up a shrimp chip by its edge, dipped it in the peanut sauce with red pepper flakes, and crunched. His face became sweaty and bloomed red as he chewed, then coughed. He grasped the water glass and took a quick gulp.Ming said, “Are you upset?”He coughed to his right side, and had difficulty stopping. He reminded himself to sit up straight while coughing, realized that he wasn’t covering his mouth, covered his mouth, was embarrassed that his fair skin burned hot and red, wondered in a panicky blur if this redness would be seen to portray most keenly his injured emotional state, his physical vulnerability in choking, his Anglocentric intolerance to chili, his embarrassment at not initially covering his mouth, his obvious infatuation with Ming, or–worst of all–could be interpreted as a feeble attempt to mask or distract from his discomfort at her pre-emptive romantic rejection.Ming was grateful for this interlude, for she had now entirely forgotten her rehearsed stock of diplomatically distant but consoling though slightly superior phrases.“Hot sauce. I’m fine,” he gasped, coughing.There was a long restaurant pause, in which Ming was aware of the other diners talking, although she could not perceive what their conversations were about.She said, “I’ve embarrassed us both.”“I’m glad you mentioned it.”“So you are interested,” she said. “Or you were interested until a moment ago. Is that why you’re glad that I mentioned it?”“It doesn’t matter, does it? What you’ve just said has made it irrelevant. Or, it would be irrelevant if it were previously relevant, but I’m glad you brought up your feelings,” said Fitzgerald. He picked up the menu.“Don’t feel obliged to tell me whether I needed to say what I just said.”“It was great to study together. You’ve got a great handle on . . . on mitochondria.”The waiter came. Ming felt unable to read the menu, and pointed at a lunch item in the middle of the page. She got up to use the bathroom, and wondered in the mirror why she had not worn lipstick – not taken a minute this morning to look good. Then, she reminded herself that she should have actually taken measures to appear unattractive. Nonetheless, Ming examined her purse for lipstick, finding only extra pens and a crumpled exam schedule. When she returned, they smiled politely at each other for a little while. They ate, and the noodles fell persistently from Fitzgerald’s chopsticks onto the plate, resisting consumption. Ming asked if he wanted a fork, and he refused. After a while, as Fitzgerald’s pad thai continued to slither from his grasp, Ming caught the waiter’s eye, who noticed Fitzgerald’s barely eaten plate and brought a fork without Ming having to ask.Fitzgerald ate with the fork, and craved a beer.“We’re great study partners,” said Ming, still holding her chopsticks. “I want to clarify that it’s not because of you.” She had to get into medical school this year, and therefore couldn’t allow distraction. Her family, she said, was modern in what they wanted for her education, and old-fashioned in what they imagined for her husband. They would disapprove of Fitzgerald, a non-Chinese. They would be upset with Ming, and she couldn’t take these risks while she prepared to apply for medical school. The delicate nature of this goal, upon which one must be crucially focused, superseded everything else, Ming reminded Fitzgerald. He stopped eating while she talked. She looked down, stabbed her chopsticks into the noodles, and twisted them around.He asked, “What about you?”“What do you mean, me?” she said.“Telling me this. Did you feel . . . interested?”“I thought you might be.”“You might say that I’ve noticed you, but I accept the situation. Priorities.” The imperative of medical school applications carried the unassailable weight of a religious edict.“Very well,” she said, as if they had clarified a business arrangement.The bill came. Fitzgerald tried to pay and Ming protested. He said that she could get the bill next time and she insisted that they should share.

Bookclub Guide

1. Consider the personalities of Ming, Chen, Sri, and Fitz. Which character did you most identify with and why?2. In “How to Get into Medical School, Part 1,” Ming and Fitz talk about the “right reasons” to become physicians: service, humanity, and giving. What other motivations do you think they each had that weren’t vocalized at the time?3. In “Take All of Murphy,” what is the significance of how differently Ming and Chen treated the cadaver?4. What did you find to be the most compelling moral dilemma explored in this book?5. When Sri is trying to diagnose his patient Winston (p.125) Dr. Miniadis tells him: “You’ve heard that the sound of hoofbeats implies the presence of horses? It is true that we must look carefully for zebras, but for the most part we expect to find horses.” Discuss whether you think this advice helped Sri deal with his patient.6. Discuss the various scenarios in which the characters were forced to deal with death.7. What part of the story “Contact Tracing” surprised you the most, and why?8. Why do you think the author chose to tell some stories involving Chen (“A Long Migration,” “Before Light”) and Fitz (“Eli,” “Night Flight”) in the first person?9. What is your final opinion of Fitz?10. Which story did you enjoy the most and why?11. How have these stories made you look at doctors and other health care professionals differently?12. The book will be made into a TV series–which actors would you cast to play the four main characters?

Editorial Reviews

“[A] compelling first book of fiction. … It adds up to a running start at a high-voltage literary career.” —Toronto Star“Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures radiates the confidence you expect from a man whose other job is to make stalled hearts start. The advantage of fiction? Here, even the medical failures come to life, vividly.” —The Globe and Mail“Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures is a satisfying, engrossing read, partly because of the intrinsically fascinating subject matter, but also because of Lam’s patient characterizations and understanding of the human heart.” —National Post“There’s no information like inside information, and Lam puts his to good use … [his] fiction strikes a balance between clinical and emotional detail. . . . [An] impressive first book, by all appearances.” —The Ottawa Citizen"Vincent Lam crafts sentences that veteran writers will covet. His fresh and stunning talent will satisfy all readers who hunger for powerful stories."–Wayson Choy, author of All That Matters