The Butchering Art:
Joseph Lister’s Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine
By Lindsey Fitzharris
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017

Speed and spectacle typified British surgery in the first half of the 19th century. The operating theater no doubt got its name from the audience it drew from curious laypeople right off the streets although naturally the first rows and floor area were crowded with medical students. A surgeon might not be able to operate until he had enough space. Frustrated audience in the back rows yelled, “Heads, heads!” when people in front obscured their view.
We forget the major impacts that our understanding—of science, medicine and technology, for instance—have had on culture. The Butchering Art reminds the reader that even such details as how people got hurt, how they endured large tumors over years of growth or operations for the same, and what they believed did and did not cause illness have radically altered. We would be shocked at what people argued about over the dinner table and at staff meetings!
Just before the mid-19th century, “Hospitalism” was a coined phrase understood to refer to the increase of infection and suppuration brought on by “the big four” killers in hospitals: gangrene, septicemia, “pyemia” (development of pus-filled abscesses) and erysipelas (a streptococcus infection of the skin, i.e. St. Anthony’s Fire).
Those in the medical field knew that hospitalism was a highly likely recurring event at large urban hospitals but they did not know why. Because infections were so prevalent in big hospitals, some doctors were proponents of patients being treated in their own homes or at the doctors’ offices. Understandably, however, it was easier for doctors to perform surgeries and for nurses to watch over patients in big hospitals, but within those confines, medical staff argued about how contagion spread, giving rise to two groups—“contagionists” and “anti-contagionists.”
Contagionists believed in contagion that went from person to person. Contagionists had an assortment of theories, including invisible bullets of disease. Anti-contagionists indignantly pointed to the squalor of the living conditions of the poor as well as the disgusting state of streets in large urban areas (London) Miasma was blamed for the spread of disease.
Set against this background of ideas comes Joseph Lister, upon whose life Lindsey Fitzharris brings her own microscope study upon the life of Joseph Lister, the British surgeon of Quaker background who was noted (and knighted) for his studies and promotion of antiseptic surgery and sterilization. However, in The Butchering Art, the author begins with Robert Liston, who was noted for his speed and dexterity, if not for the survival rate of patients (poor at best) due to the fact that no one yet understood how infection occurred. Since there was nothing to render the patient unconscious either, the best surgeons were fast. Liston, Fitzharris tells us, “could remove a leg in less than thirty seconds.” Speed had its drawbacks, as when Listen sliced off the testicle along with the leg being amputated.
Joseph Lister, as it happens, was witness to Liston’s use of ether, giving rise to the claim that patients would not suffer pain during surgery. There was still nothing yet that could prevent their falling prey to infection, which was expected. Pus was part of the healing process, but the healing process often led to death.
This fascinating book held me in its grip. Fitzharris does a wonderful job of coloring in the concepts of the culture, depicting the smells and images of England and Scotland, all while demonstrating that there was both wondrous good and nearly insurmountable ego involved in the medical profession—and either trait could kill a person as easily as cure. How a surgeon like Lister ever got the rest of the medical field to listen, (for there is hardly any profession less proud than that of surgeons) when the principles he applied saved lives  put others in his shadow, is a true marvel. #TheButchering Art #NetGalley @fsgbooksProfessional Reader


Res007 copy-7Available on Amazon Kindle and Nook.

Cheeking My Meds by Francis Coco
Published February 20, 2017
Available in paperback or as an Amazon/Nook ebook

41kVH7cQymLHow our parents treat us when we are young shapes our worlds and morale. Francis Coco visits this theme in her astonishing revelations of an adolescent girl—herself—committed in the 1980s to a psychiatric hospital for teenagers. Her voice is fresh and endearing; she wears her heart on her sleeve and describes the truth without flinching.

Love for daddy springs out of the first paragraphs, raw and true. She describes “Gordon’s” coolness and looks for ways to please him. But not every father would jump to commit his daughter to a psychiatric ward on the recommendation of a single therapist. What’s going on?

Francis Coco knows how to hold the reader. The story never stalls. Every kid she meets at the hospital is described without malice or nastiness. Why, we wonder, would Gordon put his nice kid here? The bag handed to Francis, full of tangled clothing thrown in by Veronica, the woman who lives with Gordon and Francis on his houseboat, feels like a lead.

Hospital rules bar breakfast, but staff is kind enough to give the girl drugs. We are off to a galloping start. When the first reason for Francis’s commitment is revealed—something any sane teenager might do—we start to wonder why people have children.

Adults who cannot cope with their emotions and desires and who have children anyway may abuse or neglect them. If the children react or run away, they get a free pass to a psychiatric ward. There, they get drugs.

What makes this a perky, funny, and delightful read is the author’s clear, strong voice. The narrator, Francis, has the cynical brilliance of a latter-day female Holden Caulfield (Catcher in the Rye). Cheeking My Meds is a reference to hiding medication somewhere in the mouth rather than swallowing—and a brilliant metaphor for what adults must learn to do with insults/injury if they want a healthy emotional life. Oh, the irony!

This enthralling book has had two covers! Both work for me. 35120844

It is important to ignore people who say we will not succeed. Every endeavor is important and instructive, but beyond that, we each have inside of us the potential for meaningful success.

Success can mean achieving our goal. It can also be acquiring knowledge, experience or skill. Success can be learning humility and that not all is within our control. The most wonderful people in life–the ones we love the most–have suffered. Ergo, a kind of success. Such will be loved. Such will try harder. Such will inspire others to try harder.

Nothing save that which is not worthy to begin with is out of our grasp.

Both of my children have shown me the truth of this lesson, but I cast my mind back to Omar’s third grade teacher. She predicted failure. Omar rubbed her the wrong way. I tried to do what she wanted, to make my son what she wanted him to be, until one day she snapped and said something so cruel to me over the phone that I broke down in tears.

Years later, when Omar won the President’s Education Award for getting nothing but straight A’s from 4th to the end of 6th grade, a teacher’s aide informed me that the third grade teacher had come stealthily to my son every day and whispered to him that he would fail in 4th grade.

Since I knew she had set the entire class against him, through making him her whipping boy, I asked for him to be taken out of GATE at the beginning of 4th grade. I was on campus for every school lunch, adjusting my own college teaching schedule. It was hard, but we succeeded.

That was a dozen years ago. Today he has a master’s degree in engineering science.

We must not let the negativity of others drag us down or cripple us. We must not let their predictions of failure be our reality. IMG_3714



PondOnce upon a time three Koi fish lived in a pond in California. They grew very big. The biggest of them was a white fish. Sometimes he liked to swim up onto the shelf of the pond where the backyard dog, a whippet name Jojo, could easily snatch him in his teeth.

Indeed, one day, Jojo's beloved master, David, found his doggy with the Koi in his mouth. "Bad dog!" Said David. Jojo let the koi drop. David had the kindness to scoop Mr Koi up and put him back in his pond.

Mr. Koi might have suffered more from indignity than bodily injuries. Within days he was showing off how much stronger and bigger he was than the other two koi fish. Splash! Splash! Mr. Koi was always jumping. Maybe he fantasized himself a dolphin in the Atlantic or a flying fish in the Red Sea.

There came a morning when David was not at home and Mr. Koi jumped too far. He jumped right out of the pond. He landed on the grass, wiggling madly for notice. Where was the man of the house? Where, for that matter, was the creature with four legs who knew how to pick a fish up in his mouth and possibly take him back to the pond's edge?

Jojo watched the flopping koi but stayed away. He didn't like being called a bad dog.

When Julia went outside to feed the fish and the dog, she found a dreadful sight. She found a once proud white koi covered in flies and dead as a door nail on the grass.

She looked at Jojo.

"Did you do this?" She asked.

Jojo cowered and slunk away, thinking "Damned if I didn't and damned if I did!"

And you, dear reader, were expecting to read that pride goeth before a fall.dead Coy


wow ok, well I’m trying and if you think its “stolen” then I guess so, English is not my strong suit I don’t enjoy reading and writing on things that I don’t enjoy. This class is a little too complicated your expectations are too high for me or an average college student I don’t plan on becoming an English major either. I cant finish this class with an F I have too much riding on this semester. I have family issues, people to take care of with a full class load it gets overwhelming but I don’t consider myself a cheater never have. Your going to make your decision based on your discoveries but I’m going to continue to try and finish this ONE English class I have to take for my degree.ogling-clipart-1


Thank you for writing back. I am not against you. There is a reason I chose these writings; they have to do with systems in which people live together. While you may not be interested NOW, you do live in a society and you are governed. Someday you may think about those issues and have, at least, some points of reference: a system of authority vs. a system of leniency.

When I say I am not against you that means I am here to help, to guide. I hope you read this far because you seem to be angry. Try to cut your teachers as much slack as you want us to cut for you. Here is the way your letter should have been phrased (with periods to make sentences):

Dear Ms. Teacher,

I really didn’t mean to plagiarize. I don’t feel confident writing and that is why I took lines off the internet. These are tough subjects but I am trying to understand. Will you allow me to resubmit my paper? I really need to pass this class because it is a requirement.


Abashed Student

What do you think? Does this seem like a good letter? Or does angry seem more effective?

The Spirituality of Jane AustenHow well do Jane Austen lovers really know the motivation of the author who unleashed a burgeoning industry that has moved from the revenues of printing press and movie land to hats, party catering and greeting cards? Apart from re-writes of Pride and Prejudice, prequels, sequels and screen adaptations whose genres start with period drama, spill into horror (thanks to the unleashing of zombies)–and may well yet burst into outer space—all we know is that the limits of Austen commercial fare are constricted by nothing but the creativity of the human spirit.
Yet how much do we understand Jane Austen’s spirit, the one that set her published works on the road to immortality, though she, frail human, died at the age of 41? Paula Hollingsworth, author of The Spirituality of Jane Austen makes a persuasive argument that the beloved British novelist’s motivation was fueled by spiritual considerations, which had the good sense to not be overtly religious.
Using every Austen novel published and some not published, Hollingsworth shows how well the mistress of novel-writing understood her own characters before the action began, building them into a story arc that would keep the reader entertained and guessing while sending the message she intended from the beginning.Elizabeth-Benentt-jane-austen-952991_1024_764.jpg

For instance, Sense and Sensibility is in many ways a Taoist tract:  it is about the balance between emotions and logic. The novel shows how, “when rightly used, sense brought balance and self-control.” Only when used without understanding does sense “lead to callousness and rigidity.”

Jane Austen,  Hollingsworth shows us, made her entire novel about staying in the middle, keeping a balance, and what happens when that is not achieved.

Excess of grief, while welcomed by Mrs. Dashwood in regard to her daughter at the death of Mr. Dashwood, seems to bring all considerations to a grinding halt. Austen demonstrates that if Elinor, also suffering, had not “exert[ed] herself” she would not have been able to “consult with her brother” and receive guests with due attention.

A character of excess is Marianne.  She is the most difficult of the people with whom Elinor must deal because, unlike their mother, she can never be awakened to the destructive element of her excessive emotions. Though she stays awake all night, refuses to eats, suffers from headaches and shows inability to acknowledge kindness from others, even accusing Elinor of coldness as those given to emotional excess are wont to do, Marianne does not demonstrate beneficial character development until her total embrace of misery drives her to a “near-death experience.”

In the same book, those characters who show no development, resting in materialism, like John and Fanny Dashwood, have no spirituality at all.

The theme of money was recurrent in the Austen books, and Hollingsworth takes on its analysis at the end of her study of Pride and Prejudice. It is not the amount of money but the attitude towards it that demonstrates the happiness level of the various characters. Thus Lydia and Wickham are always in need of it, spending too much because they desire too much. Hollingsworth goes through the character list, explaining how their attitudes about money reflect in their personalities. Austen is so good at characterization that she does not fail in her depiction of a single person to demonstrate the effects of money on ego and sense of self-worth, which, in a negative sense, become crucially isolating.

Hollingsworth’s acknowledgement of Austen’s criticism of the Church and those hypocrites who seek to pretend they represent it takes clear form in the character of Rector Collins, lap dog of Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Collins has a skewed sense of “forgiveness,” as can be seen in his recommendation to Mr Bennet, telling him to “throw off your unworthy child from your affection for ever.” To Collins, one forgives and damns simultaneously: a peculiar sort of forgiveness, bringing no unity of family. Hollingsworth scores Pride and Prejudice “highly as a spiritual book”  and does a stupendous job of proving she is right.

The Spirituality of Jane Austen will cause anyone who reads it to speak knowledgeably of the novels of Austen. Writers will rejoice to drink at this well of inspiration!