"The Knife" by Richard Selzer

I don’t believe I’ve ever read a doctor’s account of a surgery. I was surprised that Selzer is so sympathetic to the patient’s position. I would expect a doctor to be comfortable with his tools, but Selzer is as wary of the scalpel as the anesthetized patient on the table. Unlike H.G. Wells’ Dr. Moreau, Selzer fears the power of the knife and the submission that it effects.

Selzer explores the different roles that a doctor can play: “I must confess that the priestliness of my profession has ever been impressed on me”; “And if the surgeon is like a poet, then the scars you have made on countless bodies are like the verses into the fashioning of which you have poured your soul”; “But mostly you are a traveler in in a dangerous country, advancing into the moist and jungly cleft your hands have made.”

That last description intrigues me the most; it fits with Selzer’s wariness of the scalpel. Not only does the doctor fear his tool, but the body that he meant to heal. When our bodies fail us, they can feel foreign, treacherous. We expect doctors to make sense of the treachery, reclaim our bodies for us. But Selzer seems to fear our insides as much as we do.