Bodies By Jed Mercurio (Random House), 359 pages, $19.95 paper. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Jed Mercurio has made a second career out of exposing the details of his first.
The British author trained as a medical doctor at Birmingham University and worked at various hospitals in the West Midlands before tapping his experiences for two BBC television dramas and now his first novel, Bodies.
This terse, gut-wrenching account of what goes on at a large English hospital follows an idealistic junior doctor from his first jittery IV to his exhausted disillusionment at the realization that medicine, contrary to what ER would have us believe, is just another industry.
Resign yourself to the fact that those attending to you are probably not kindly, all-knowing and infallible doctors but under-trained, over-stressed, sleep-deprived functionaries of a vast bureaucracy beset with as much incompetence and wrangling and as many hair-raising blunders as any other business.
A woman with misdiagnosed diabetes winds up drooling in a wheelchair; a boy with a dislocated shoulder loses most of the use of his arm. The narrator, out to make a difference and guilt-ridden over his own missteps, attempts to take action and winds up suspended.
As the narrator becomes more and more alienated from his girlfriend and his colleagues in the softer professions, he's increasingly drawn into the tightly knit and closed cabal of the medical community.
The narrator is left at the end with a tentative offer to come back to the hospital, and we get the sense that rage against the system may only be another rite of passage for those working in the overburdened world of medicine.
Mercurio balances his righteous concern for the state of health care with an admirable account of what it is to be an actual, fallible doctor.