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Abraham Verghese's "Cutting for Stone"

, Star Tribune

Excerpt from "Cutting for Stone"

  • October 6, 2012 - 4:36 PM

 

In this passage from "Cutting for Stone," Marion Stone is at a medical conference in Boston, where he sees the father who abandoned him at birth, for the first time. The elder Stone, also a doctor, is giving a presentation to a group, and has just read a letter sent to him by the mother of a dead patient, asking why no one had reassured her son as he lay dying.

As the moment stretched on, even the smallest noises were stilled until there was only the hum of the air conditioning. Thomas Stone's expression was reflective. Now, as if waking, he searched the room for a reaction, wondering if the letter struck a chord. When he finally spoke, it was in a quiet voice that was firm and commanded attention. He asked a question. I knew the answer because it was in his book, a book I'd read carefully and more than once.

"What treatment in an emergency is administered by ear?"

Surely, with 200 people in the room, at least 50 would know.

No one spoke.

He waited. The discomfort grew more acute. He spread his feet and put his hands behind his back. He appeared willing to stand there all day. He raised his eyebrows. Waiting.

Then he looked over to me, surprised to see a response from the row of dark suits. I felt his eyes bore into mine. It was only the second time he registered my being in this world; the first was when I was born. This time, I only had to raise my hand.

"Yes?" he said. "Tell us, please, what treatment in an emergency is administered by ear?"

All eyes were on me. I was in no hurry. None at all.

Thomas Stone probably never had a day of discomfort over Shiva, or over me. How unjust it was that his reward for his failings, for his selfishness, should be to command the respect, the awe, and the admiration of the people in this room. Surely you couldn't be a good doctor and a terrible human being -- surely the laws of man, if not of God, didn't allow it.

I met his gaze and did not blink. "Words of comfort," I said to my father.

The intervening years lay compressed between us as if by bookends. The others in the room looked from my face to his, distressed, uncertain if mine was the right answer. But no one else existed for me, or for him.

"Thank you," he said, his voice altered. "Words of comfort."

He left the room, but looked back at me once when he reached the door.

 

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