Cutting for Stone

She wondered if at its center the ocean had always been this way: smoking, malevolent, and restless. It tormented the Calangute, making it pitch and yaw and creak, wanting nothing more than to swallow it whole.

There was so much she did not know about medicine. In the middle of that ocean surrounded by the sick, she felt the weight of her ignorance.

name she took as a sign the patient had succumbed. She found eleven notebooks filled with an economical handwriting with slashing downstrokes, the text dancing just above the lines and obeying no margin save for the edge of the page. For an outwardly silent man, his writing reflected an unexpected volubility.

What did it say when a man had fewer clothes than books?

Dr. Stone was a dead weight and only the intercession of St. Catherine allowed her to drag him from bunk to floor,

Thomas Stone took charge now, setting up camp at Anjali’s bedside, but venturing out to examine every person on board, whether they consented to such probing or not. He segregated those with fever from those without. He took copious notes; he drew a map of the Calangute’s quarters, putting an X where every fever case had occurred. He insisted on smoke fumigation of all the cabins. The way he ordered the healthy crew and passengers around infuriated the sulking captain, but if Thomas Stone was aware of this he paid no attention.

Stone bullied the Scottish harbormaster who had pulled up alongside, telling him that if he didn’t bring a doctor’s kit, bottles of lactated Ringer’s solution for intravenous administration, as well as sulfa, then he, Thomas Stone, would hold him responsible for the death of all Commonwealth citizens on board. Sister Mary Joseph Praise marveled at his outspokenness, and yet he was speaking for her. It was as if Stone had replaced Anjali as her only ally and friend on this ill-fated voyage.

Dr. Thomas Stone, surgeon, did not need sleep.

Sister Mary Joseph Praise couldn’t move. She saw that her hands were red and beginning to throb. The pain felt like a gift, a blessing so palpable that it rose up her forearms and into her chest. What she couldn’t bear was the feeling that something vital had been plucked out and uprooted from her chest when he walked away. She’d wanted to cling to him, to cry out to him not to leave. She had thought her life in the service of the Lord was complete. There was, she saw now, a void in her life that she’d never known existed.

Aden was gateway to Africa; from Africa it was gateway to Europe. To Sister Mary Joseph Praise it looked like the gateway to hell.

you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.”

you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.”

“If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.”

As is so often the case with shy yet talented people, Stone was generally forgiven what Dr. Ghosh called his social retardation

and a crucifix as big as a revolver,

“Impossible!” said Stone, for the second time that day, and even though it was incorrect and hardly the thing to say,

“Your gaze encompasses all men, makes your most ordinary glance seem intimate, carnal,” Dr. Ghosh had told her, “as though you are ravishing me with your eyes!” Ghosh was a tease and forgot what he said as soon as the words rolled off his tongue.

Emperor Menelik had imported an electric chair, having heard the invention would efficiently get rid of his enemies. When he discovered it needed electricity, he simply used it as a throne.

He worked the dials and voltage levers until a spark leaped across the two brass conductors, producing a thunderclap. The fiery display had caused one paralyzed patient to leap off the stretcher and run for his life; Ghosh called that the Sturm und Drang cure.

When a close friend told her she always looked cross, she was surprised and a little thrilled that she could pull off such misdirection.

She drew others to her like acolytes only for them to discover she wasn’t recruiting.

She’d left behind Madras, left behind labels of caste, gone so far away that the word “Brahmin” meant nothing.

In the last few years she’d come close to defining the nameless ambition that had pushed her this far: to avoid the sheep life at all costs.

city built on top of a dormant volcanic crater, hell on earth, that was Aden, but at least it was duty-free.

A city built on top of a dormant volcanic crater, hell on earth, that was Aden, but at least it was duty-free.

the inverse chauvinism of Indians who could only admire things foreign.

She laughed at the strangeness of liking Ghosh so much, when she wanted so much to dislike him.

She had always assumed that she would have years to sort out the meaning of life. Now, it seemed she would only have a few seconds, and in that realization came her epiphany.

She was ashamed that such a simple insight should have eluded her all these years. Make something beautiful of your life.

understood for the first time that having a child was about cheating death. Children were the foot wedged in the closing door, the glimmer of hope

Only the Armenian shook his head at her, and smiled as if to say, This isn’t what you think it is. What an idiot, Hema thought.

Matron insisted the throwing was a good thing. “Feed him a ratchetless hemostat from time to time,” she said to Sister Mary Joseph Praise. “Otherwise he’ll keep it bottled up till it comes oozing out of his ears and we’ll have a right mess then.”

More than one etherized patient had woken in holy terror hearing Stone bellow, “I’ll need a pickax if you can’t give me more relaxation down here!”

He struck his head on the plastered surface, a head butt worthy of a mountain goat. His legs wobbled. He clung to the glass cabinet. Matron felt obliged to murmur “Completely useless” on the off chance that if his violence had meaning, God forbid it should fail for lack of its accompanying mantra.

He didn’t think of her as a person. She was simply knowledge embodied, embalmed, and personified.

on principle he would no more look up to a neurosurgeon than down on a podiatrist.

on principle he would no more look up to a neurosurgeon than down on a podiatrist. “A good surgeon needs courage for which a good pair of balls is a prerequisite,” he had even written in the manuscript of his textbook, knowing fully well that his editor in England would take it out, but enjoying the experience of putting those words on paper.

“The doctor who treats himself has a fool for a patient” was an adage he knew well. But what about a doctor who performed an unfamiliar operation on a loved one? Was there an adage for that?

Increasingly, since the publication of his textbook, Stone had taken to quoting from it, as if his own written word had greater legitimacy than his unpublished (and heretofore unspoken) thoughts.

The plane stopped, but the pilot continued arguing with the tower while dragging on a cigarette, even though he had made a big point of turning on the NO SMOKING light after they landed.

“They did not give me permission to land unless it is emergency. So I make an engine failure.” He shrugged as if modesty prevented him from accepting their accolades.

She turned her head toward the other passengers but, keeping her eye on Frenchie’s face, said, “Anybody have a sharp knife? Or a Gillette?” The rustle she heard might just have been the cremaster muscles of all the males on board involuntarily reeling their dangling sperm factories back up to shelter.

Sathyamurthy answered in the only English phrase he knew, “Goddamn China, kiss me Eisenhower

Adid had laughed like a man who’d never heard the word “worry.”

Wasn’t that the definition of home? Not where you are from, but where you are wanted?

Now he leaped forward and grabbed a scalpel from the tray. He placed a hand on Sister Mary Joseph Praise’s chest. Hemlatha thought of restraining him and then decided it wasn’t prudent to approach a man wielding a knife.

Stone had tried to drill a hole had aspirated some amniotic

the Emperor in his palace made plans for a state visit to Bulgaria and perhaps to Jamaica, where he had followers—Rastas—who took their name from his precoronation name of Ras Teferi and who thought he was God (an idea he didn’t mind his own people believing, but when it came from so far away and for reasons

the Emperor in his palace made plans for a state visit to Bulgaria and perhaps to Jamaica, where he had followers—Rastas—who took their name from his precoronation name of Ras Teferi and who thought he was God (an idea he didn’t mind his own people believing, but when it came from so far away and for reasons that he didn’t understand, made him wary).

Whenever she went on holiday in India, his life became unbearable because he was terrified that she’d return married.

What a bad idea it had been to give the Bible to anyone but priests, Ghosh thought. It made a preacher out of everybody.

It felt like a penance invented by the Jesuits.

Ignorance was just as dynamic as knowledge, and it grew in the same proportion.

Still, each generation of physicians imagined that ignorance was the special provenance of their elders.

After that first time I’ve never had unrubberized intercourse. Don’t you believe me? That is why I don’t understand this burning some mornings. And you, sir? Why don’t you use a condom, W.W.?” Gonad wore heel lifts that made him walk with an ostrichlike pelvic tilt. He teased his hair into a lofty halo that would one day be called an Afro. Now, he pulled himself to his full five foot one and said haughtily, “If I wanted to make love to a rubber glove I would never have to leave the hospital.”

Ferraro chatted in Italian and it didn’t matter that Ghosh knew only a few words; the conversation was offered as background music, not requiring a response.

One never doubted for a moment that it was Ferraro’s destiny to be a barber; his instincts were perfect; his baldness was inconsequential.

When Ghosh first met Helen, he’d fallen madly in love with her—for a few days. Every time Helen saw him she’d say, “Give me money, please.” When he asked for what, she’d blink and then pout as if the question were unreasonable. She’d say, “My mother died,” or “I need abortion”—whatever came into her head. Most bar girls had hearts of gold and eventually married well, but Helen’s heart was of baser metal.

she and Ghosh traded how-are-yous and I-am-wells,

Her name was Turunesh, but he decided to call her what he was in the habit of calling all women in Addis: Konjit, which meant “beautiful.” “I’ll have blessed St. George’s. And please serve one for yourself. We must celebrate.” She bowed her thanks. “Is it your birthday, then?” “No, Konjit, even better.” He was about to say, It is the day that I have freed myself from the chains of a woman who has deviled me for over a decade. The day I have decided my sojourn in Africa ends and America awaits. “It is the day I have set eyes on the most beautiful woman in Addis Ababa.”

The coming together of races generally produced the most exotic and beautiful fruit, however the core was unpredictable and often sour.

The only intimacy he’d ever had in India was with a young probationer by the name of Virgin Magdalene Kumar. Shortly after their three-month affair ended, she left her order and married a chap he knew (and presumably changed her name to Magdalene Kumar).

“We can’t finish if we don’t start so we better start if we’re to finish, yes?”

Men like him became stubborn with opposition, because their convictions were all they had.

It was a gamble. She had nothing to put on the table but the truth.

covering himself with a blanket still scented with her dreams.

She’d never worried particularly about Ghosh’s feelings, but now, at the graveside, she felt like a young girl who, while drawing water at the well, meets a handsome stranger—a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity—but she ruins it by saying the wrong thing.

No place ever came off well when a disease was named after it:

he fussed only when he heard Marion crying, as if to show solidarity.

For lack of lullabies, he reached into his repertoire of bawdy verse.

I stood firm. I didn’t trust Hema’s motivation: guilt leads to righteous action, but rarely is it the right action.

And no, she didn’t think there was a separate dog heaven, and frankly she did not know God’s opinion on what was the right number of dogs for Missing, but He had given her some discretion on this matter and that was not something she wanted to debate with me.

blood rushing to my face. I had

had forgotten how to be.

was with Genet, I felt the blood rushing to my face. I had forgotten how to be. For the rest of the

I had forgotten how to be.

I’d become aware of human complexity—that’s a kinder word than “deceit.”

How exciting to be able to touch a human being with one’s fingertips and know all these things about them. I said as much to Ghosh, and from his expression you would think I’d said something profound.

memory, even if it was not Shiva’s photographic kind. On page thirty-four I drew a child

What made someone a real surgeon, I asked. Ghosh didn’t hesitate: “Passion for his craft … and skill, dexterity.

It was as if he’d found his ideal spot, surrounded by pregnant women. There was much about my brother I did not understand.

‘The unexamined practice is not worth practicing.’

The only skill I had was to keep going.

We all need to be strong, for Ghosh’s sake. Panic does not serve us.”

I expected Ghosh’s big books to be unreadable. But I found that the bricks and mortar of medicine (unlike, say, engineering) were words.

None of us knew till then that Almaz’s vigil had included the family picture, and that whenever a car came or left the prison, she’d stand up and hold that picture up and smile.

Even if I didn’t have great faith in myself, I wanted her to have more faith in me.

What I finally understood in Kerchele is that neither my sister nor I realized that my father’s absence is our slippers. In order to start to get rid of your slippers, you have to admit they are yours, and if you do, then they will get rid of themselves.”

Now, the second caveat is relaxation. Very important. A barbiturate or narcotic might help. I recommend an ounce of Johnnie Walker Red or Black. I’m not particular. A wonderful relaxant. And yes, you might give one to the patient, too.”

I still loved her. I wished I didn’t.

of his new suits and new environment. When I was around him it was easy to be reassured. He’d always been upbeat, a happy soul. But now he was

For a man who prided himself on “the three Ls: Loving, Learning, and Legacy,” he’d excelled in all three.

Now and then Ghosh would grin and wink at me across the room. He was teaching me

Now and then Ghosh would grin and wink at me across the room. He was teaching me how to die, just as he’d taught me how to live.

The intellect of man is forced to choose perfection of the life, or of the work, And if it take the second must refuse A heavenly mansion, raging in the dark. William Yeats, “The Choice”

“Good! Then sign the bleeding contract, for

“Good! Then sign the bleeding contract, for the love of Mary, and I’m not even Catholic.”

Who is doing the case?” Dr. Ronaldo asked. “I am,” I said. Ronaldo spun a dial on the anesthesia cart, as if this news mandated a change in the gas mixture.

“Do you know the disadvantage of every-other-night call?” It was an imponderable question. I shook my head. He smiled and said, “You miss half the interesting patients.”

The schedule was brutal, dehumanizing, exhausting. I loved it.

“Do they listen?” He held up a finger. “Every year one does,” he said, grinning. “But that one makes it worthwhile. Even Jesus only did twelve. I try to get one a year.”

“Death is the cure of all disease, isn’t it? No one is prepared for news like this, no matter what. I’m sixty-five years old. An old man. I have had a good life. I want to meet my Lord and Savior.” A mischievous light flashed in his eye. “But not just yet,” he said, holding up a finger and laughing, a slow metronomic sound, heh-heh-heh … I found myself smiling with him. “We always want more, heh-heh-heh,” he said. “Ain’t that the truth, Dr. Stone? Lord, I’m a-coming. Not just yet. I’ll be right there, now. You go on, Lord. I’ll catch up with you.”

You try a BFO for a Triple A and you will be CDSCWP.” Canoeing Down Shit Creek Without a Paddle.

“The point is … clean living will kill you, my friend.”

“So what school are you from?” Constance asked. I’d overheard her say she trained in Boston, but it wasn’t at this institution. “I went to school in Ethiopia,” I said. If she could have moved one seat over, she probably would have.

I ENTERED HIS HOUSE using my penknife and the sort of ancillary surgical skills only a B. C. Gandhi can teach you.

Sharing his inner thoughts wasn’t something he had practiced. Not even with himself. I gave him lots of time. “What? You find it

Sharing his inner thoughts wasn’t something he had practiced. Not even with himself. I gave him lots of time.

No blade can puncture the human heart like the well-chosen words of a spiteful son.

A shapely leg in heels emerged, the skin a café au lait color, with a shade of nail polish that B. C. Gandhi called “fuck-me red.”

Tayitu, give everyone their money back, for today is a feast day. Our brother has come home. Tell me, ye of little faith, does any one of you need some other proof that there is a God?” Her eyes glittered like diamonds; her hands, palms up, reached for the ceiling. For the next few minutes I solemnly shook the hand of every person in the house.

I don’t mind the cold in Boston because every cold day reminds me how good it is to be out of Khartoum.

Now she knew. Now she knew that there were people in this world who kept their promises. Ghosh, whose deathbed she never had the time to visit, was one such person. I wanted the knowledge to shame her, to terrify her.

Here I knew about his future while paying him to tell me mine. “Well, Dr. Stone,” Appleby said, clearing

Here I knew about his future while paying him to tell me mine.

“Marion, remember the Eleventh Commandment,” he said. “Thou shall not operate on the day of a patient’s death.”

I’m ashamed to say I felt relief when the word came; only her death could ensure that we didn’t keep tearing each other apart for what remained of our lives.

over to Hema. Her face was aglow. She understood. What providence had brought us to this spot? Surely this was Ghosh announcing his presence, because Ghosh was the sort of man who could be counted on to know that Bernini’s Ecstasy of St. Teresa was minutes from our hotel, even if he’d never been to Rome before. Ghosh had brought us here, led us to this spot, not to see St. Teresa in marble, but to see Sister Mary Joseph Praise in the flesh, for that is what the figure was to me. I have come, Mother.

I insisted on learning her real name, and reluctantly she told me it was Naeema. But it was not a name she ever used; she had become the Staff Probationer even to herself.

concentration to finish my last surgical case—a routine vagotomy

He’d been dead more than a quarter century and he was still teaching me about the trust that comes only from true love.