Katrina Firlik is a neurosurgeon, one of only two hundred or so women among the alpha males who dominate this high-pressure, high-prestige medical specialty. She is also a superbly gifted writer–witty, insightful, at once deeply humane and refreshingly wry. In Another Day in the Frontal Lobe, Dr. Firlik draws on this rare combination to create a neurosurgeon’s Kitchen Confidential–a unique insider’s memoir of a fascinating profession.
Neurosurgeons are renowned for their big egos and aggressive self-confidence, and Dr. Firlik confirms that timidity is indeed rare in the field. “They’re the kids who never lost at musical chairs,” she writes. A brain surgeon is not only a highly trained scientist and clinician but also a mechanic who of necessity develops an intimate, hands-on familiarity with the gray matter inside our skulls. It’s the balance between cutting-edge medical technology and manual dexterity, between instinct and expertise, that Firlik finds so appealing–and so difficult to master.
Firlik recounts how her background as a surgeon’s daughter with a strong stomach and a keen interest in the brain led her to this rarefied specialty, and she describes her challenging, atypical trek from medical student to fully qualified surgeon. Among Firlik’s more memorable cases: a young roofer who walked into the hospital with a three-inch-long barbed nail driven into his forehead, the result of an accident with his partner’s nail gun, and a sweet little seven-year-old boy whose untreated earache had become a raging, potentially fatal infection of the brain lining.
From OR theatrics to thorny ethical questions, from the surprisingly primitive tools in a neurosurgeon’s kit to glimpses of future techniques like the “brain lift,” Firlik cracks open medicine’s most prestigious and secretive specialty. Candid, smart, clear-eyed, and unfailingly engaging, Another Day in the Frontal Lobe is a mesmerizing behind-the-scenes glimpse into a world of incredible competition and incalculable rewards.
The brain is my business," says Connecticut neurosurgeon Firlik. "Many of the brains I encounter have been pushed around by tumors, blood clots, infections, or strokes that have swollen out of control. Some have been invaded by bullets, nails, or even maggots." In these pages, a carpenter with a nail in his left frontal lobe goes home within a day of surgery; a boy develops a raging bacterial meningitis because his New Age mother gave him herbs instead of antibiotics for a routine ear infection; and an infant with hydranencephaly looks cute despite the absence of brain matter in his skull. Along the way, Firlik muses that a healthy brain has the consistency of soft tofu, and she flies solo in the OR for the first time as she saves an 18-year-old victim of a car accident who didn't buckle up. A woman in a male-dominated specialty, Firlik doesn't get worked up over minor things that can be construed as sexist; she finds that handling a patient's anxiety can be more complicated than the surgery itself, and she expects to be sued someday for malpractice. This witty and lucid first book demythologizes a complex medical specialty for those of us who aren't brain surgeons. (On sale May 2)