This is a wonderful short little book. I picked it up because Goodreads recommended it based on my reading history, and I’m glad I did. Wolf Pascoe is the pen name of an anesthesiologist (and blogger). In these 102 pages, he basically muses about his job.
Anaesthesia has a long history, starting with Ondine of Greek mythology, but a relatively short modern history, starting in the 1840s with the use of ether. Pascoe starts with that and from there intertwines his poetic and philosophical musings with more concrete discussion (although never too far from poetry) tasks and burdens that make up the duty of of the anesthesiologist: keeping a patient alive when they can’t do it themselves.
He’s frank about past failures, mistakes, and the steep learning curve of his career, comparing the anesthesiologist to someone guiding a traveler in a boat through the fog, knowing a waterfall lies ahead. Besides the technical details (srsly, why are human windpipes so complicated, evolution?!), it made me think for the first time about the odd role of the anesthesiologist. They don’t share the surgeon’s spotlight, but they do guide the patient through to the other side–first by bringing them closer to death, in fact.
It’s a quiet, thoughtful book, despite the handful of anecdotes that involve risky life-or-death decisions on his part. I think the thing that struck me the most was how much heart is behind this short memoir–it almost felt like a very good magazine article, but there’s a lot of emotional heft.
Rating: 4/5 and recommended for anyone who was even slightly intrigued by the above summary.