Contributor Post Created with Sketch. The Doctors, and Other Great Journalism

 

Screen Shot 2016-08-12 at 14.58.49Looking for summer reading? Conor Friedersdorf has published links to 100 great pieces of long-form journalism at The Atlantic. I haven’t read them all, but every one I’ve read so far has been terrific. (Don’t click on that link if you thought you’d get something useful done today. You’re welcome.)

I found two pieces especially riveting. The first, by Henry Marsh, a British neurosurgeon, is called The Aneurysm:

… I carefully cut the gossamer veil of the arachnoid around the great artery that keeps half the brain alive. The arachnoid, a fine layer of the meninges, is named after the Greek word for a spider, as it looks as though it was made from the strands of the finest spider’s web.

‘What a fantastic view!’ says Jeff. And it is, because we are operating on an aneurysm before a catastrophic rupture and the cerebral anatomy is clean and perfect.

‘Let’s have another retractor,’ I say.

Armed now with two retractors I start to prise apart the frontal and temporal lobes, held together by the arachnoid. Cerebro­spinal fluid, known to doctors as CSF, as clear as liquid crystal, circulating through the strands of the arachnoid, flashes and glistens like silver in the microscope’s light. Through this I can see the smooth yellow surface of the brain itself, etched with minute red blood vessels–arterioles–which form beautiful branches like a river’s tributaries seen from space. Glistening, dark purple veins run between the two lobes leading down towards the middle cerebral artery and, ultimately, to where I will find the aneurysm.

‘Awesome!’ Jeff says again.

The story is incredibly suspenseful. (I won’t tell you how it ends.) I was struck by this passage:

… We have achieved most as surgeons when our patients recover completely and forget us completely. All patients are immensely grateful at first after a successful operation but if the gratitude persists it usually means that they have not been cured of the underlying problem and that they fear that they may need us in the future. They feel that they must placate us, as though we were angry gods or at least the agents of an unpredictable fate. They bring presents and send us cards. They call us heroes, and sometimes gods. We have been most successful, however, when our patients return to their homes and get on with their lives and never need to see us again. They are grateful, no doubt, but happy to put us and the horror of their illness behind them. Perhaps they never quite realized just how dangerous the operation had been and how lucky they were to have recovered so well. Whereas the surgeon, for a while, has known heaven, having come very close to hell.

Just reading about it makes me nervous. People who are temperamentally suited to neurosurgery as a career must be completely different from me. It’s no job for the anxiety-prone, clearly.

The next story that I highly recommend is also about a doctor, but in a completely different setting. James Verini spent time in Sudan’s Nuba mountains with Doctor Tom Catena, who runs the only functional hospital in Nuba:

Necessities at other hospitals are luxuries at Mother of Mercy, where almost everything—towels, instruments, medicines, uniforms, bed frames, pencils—must be flown on cargo planes from Kenya to the refugee camp in Yida and then driven to the hospital in cargo trucks. (The roof was brought in piece-by-piece from Italy over the course of a year.) The drive can take several hours or several days, depending on the state of the roads and the whims of the Antonov pilots. Other things the staff improvises.

Catena started Mother of Mercy with a small group of foreigners. He took on Nuban employees gradually. “There was nobody who could do anything,” he said. The war had closed most schools, and many of the local hires had no formal education. Others had grown up in refugee camps. They had never seen a sponge, much less a syringe. Now there are 200 people on staff, almost all Nuban. Some, like Rashid, are naturally talented. Catena’s anesthetist, who never got past the third grade, trained on the job. Others struggle to catch on. During the cleaning of the ward, he found a nurse—not for the first time—pouring water over an electrical socket. …

It’s a very moving piece of writing. It’s hard not to feel that one’s own life is morally inadequate after reading it. I also thought the photography and the use of video were particularly well done in this story. Look closely at all the photographs — you’ll see some things you don’t expect.

Anyway, have a look and tell me which stories grabbed your eye, and why, and whether it was worth the time.

There are 13 comments.

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  1. Tom Meyer, Common Citizen Contributor

    Conor’s been doing this for a while and it’s a really great service. I’m looking forward to doing some reading.

    • #1
    • August 12, 2016, at 7:03 AM PDT
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  2. Flagg Taylor Member

    Claire,

    I have an idea. Why don’t you do a podcast and call it “The Journalist”. It would focus on people who do real reporting in foreign lands. Talk to them about how they do what they do. How do they prepare for a story? How much background do they know beforehand? How do you get and cultivate good contacts? What are the secrets to conducting a good interview? I’m thinking of people like Michael Totten. This first occurred to me when the Ben Rhoads (“they literally know nothing”) story exploded.

    • #2
    • August 12, 2016, at 7:08 AM PDT
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  3. The Reticulator Member

    Flagg Taylor:Claire,

    I have an idea. Why don’t you do a podcast and call it “The Journalist”. It would focus on people who do real reporting in foreign lands. Talk to them about how they do what they do. How do they prepare for a story? How much background do they know beforehand? How do you get and cultivate good contacts? What are the secrets to conducting a good interview? I’m thinking of people like Michael Totten. This first occurred to me when the Ben Rhoads (“they literally know nothing”) story exploded.

    Podcasts are the enemy of journalism.

    • #3
    • August 12, 2016, at 7:21 AM PDT
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  4. The Reticulator Member

    Just what I need. More things to read, when I already have a stack of books to finish. Some of those are books I first learned about on Ricochet.

    I hate to pollute this thread with another issue, but I’m going to do it anyway. I still don’t get notifications of Claire Berlinski’s new articles, even though I follow her. Well, sometimes I get them, but it’s rare. I do get notifications of articles from other Ricochet people I follow. I’ve reported this problem over in the Bugs group, where it has been ignored. Before I make myself (more) obnoxious about this issue over there, I’d like to know whether other people are having this problem, and with Claire’s posts in particular. I presume Claire has a large number of followers than most people, and maybe the problem has something to do with that.

    I sometimes go a long time without checking the main feed. Sometimes the only reason I come here is to see if Claire has a new post up. All the podcast stuff that gets in the way sometimes makes checking the main feed a less than pleasant experience. I understand that for some people, the podcasts are more important than the articles, so that’s not likely to change. But if notifications worked, it would make it easier for those of us who don’t do podcasts.

    • #4
    • August 12, 2016, at 7:34 AM PDT
    • Like
  5. Flagg Taylor Member

    The Reticulator:

    Flagg Taylor:Claire,

    I have an idea. Why don’t you do a podcast and call it “The Journalist”. It would focus on people who do real reporting in foreign lands. Talk to them about how they do what they do. How do they prepare for a story? How much background do they know beforehand? How do you get and cultivate good contacts? What are the secrets to conducting a good interview? I’m thinking of people like Michael Totten. This first occurred to me when the Ben Rhoads (“they literally know nothing”) story exploded.

    Podcasts are the enemy of journalism.

    I don’t see why.

    • #5
    • August 12, 2016, at 7:37 AM PDT
    • Like
  6. The Reticulator Member

    Flagg Taylor:

    The Reticulator:

    Flagg Taylor:Claire,

    I have an idea. Why don’t you do a podcast and call it “The Journalist”. It would focus on people who do real reporting in foreign lands. Talk to them about how they do what they do. How do they prepare for a story? How much background do they know beforehand? How do you get and cultivate good contacts? What are the secrets to conducting a good interview? I’m thinking of people like Michael Totten. This first occurred to me when the Ben Rhoads (“they literally know nothing”) story exploded.

    Podcasts are the enemy of journalism.

    I don’t see why.

    When I said journalism I meant print journalism, but then I don’t think of the other stuff as real journalism. But I meant it in the sense that time and emotional energy spent on podcasts is time and emotional energy that she does not spend on her writing. I wouldn’t presume to decide for Claire how she should balance these things, though, other than to toss my statement out as a caution that she will evaluate for herself.

    • #6
    • August 12, 2016, at 8:12 AM PDT
    • Like
  7. Doctor Robert Member

    The Aneurysm is a beautiful story, how wonderfully it encapsulates the art and stress of being a surgeon. Thank you for bringing this collection to our attention, Claire. I can’t wait to read more.

    • #7
    • August 12, 2016, at 9:38 AM PDT
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  8. Flagg Taylor Member

    The Reticulator:

    Podcasts are the enemy of journalism.

    I don’t see why.

    When I said journalism I meant print journalism, but then I don’t think of the other stuff as real journalism. But I meant it in the sense that time and emotional energy spent on podcasts is time and emotional energy that she does not spend on her writing. I wouldn’t presume to decide for Claire how she should balance these things, though, other than to toss my statement out as a caution that she will evaluate for herself.

    Well, the podcasts don’t have to be as frequent as the rest of the ones on the feed. And the questions Claire would ask would be mostly the same with each interviewee. She would probably want to do a little sampling of the reportage of the author, but she does that already. So I don’t see this as adding significantly to her workload. And she gets to share trade-talk with really smart, interesting people. WIN-WIN!

    • #8
    • August 12, 2016, at 9:39 AM PDT
    • Like
  9. Flagg Taylor Member

    Flagg Taylor:

    The Reticulator:

    Podcasts are the enemy of journalism.

    I don’t see why.

    When I said journalism I meant print journalism, but then I don’t think of the other stuff as real journalism. But I meant it in the sense that time and emotional energy spent on podcasts is time and emotional energy that she does not spend on her writing. I wouldn’t presume to decide for Claire how she should balance these things, though, other than to toss my statement out as a caution that she will evaluate for herself.

    Well, the podcasts don’t have to be as frequent as the rest of the ones on the feed. And the questions Claire would ask would be mostly the same with each interviewee. She would probably want to do a little sampling of the reportage of the author, but she does that already. So I don’t see this as adding significantly to her workload. And she gets to share trade-talk with really smart, interesting people. WIN-WIN!

    How about one podcast every 6 weeks or so? You could go region by region or just seek out really well-traveled, thoughtful people like Totten. Sorry–I’m like a dog with a bone now!

    • #9
    • August 12, 2016, at 9:44 AM PDT
    • Like
  10. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor

    Flagg Taylor:Claire,

    I have an idea. Why don’t you do a podcast and call it “The Journalist”. It would focus on people who do real reporting in foreign lands. Talk to them about how they do what they do. How do they prepare for a story? How much background do they know beforehand? How do you get and cultivate good contacts? What are the secrets to conducting a good interview? I’m thinking of people like Michael Totten. This first occurred to me when the Ben Rhoads (“they literally know nothing”) story exploded.

    I like the idea. Mike and his wife Shelley stayed in my apartment last month and kitty-sat for me. We actually probably had the conversation — in person — that you want to hear. I can ask him if he’d like to do it, sure. Why not?

    • #10
    • August 12, 2016, at 12:30 PM PDT
    • Like
  11. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor

    Doctor Robert:The Aneurysm is a beautiful story, how wonderfully it encapsulates the art and stress of being a surgeon. Thank you for bringing this collection to our attention, Claire. I can’t wait to read more.

    Are you a surgeon, too?

    • #11
    • August 12, 2016, at 12:31 PM PDT
    • Like
  12. Flagg Taylor Member

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Flagg Taylor:Claire,

    I have an idea. Why don’t you do a podcast and call it “The Journalist”. It would focus on people who do real reporting in foreign lands. Talk to them about how they do what they do. How do they prepare for a story? How much background do they know beforehand? How do you get and cultivate good contacts? What are the secrets to conducting a good interview? I’m thinking of people like Michael Totten. This first occurred to me when the Ben Rhoads (“they literally know nothing”) story exploded.

    I like the idea. Mike and his wife Shelley stayed in my apartment last month and kitty-sat for me. We actually probably had the conversation — in person — that you want to hear. I can ask him if he’d like to do it, sure. Why not?

    Yes!!

    • #12
    • August 12, 2016, at 12:52 PM PDT
    • Like
  13. Patrick Chiles Inactive

    Wired’s two-parter on the Silk Road case was especially interesting. I’d be shocked if there isn’t already a movie in the works.

    • #13
    • August 12, 2016, at 12:55 PM PDT
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