Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

Richard Selzer on writing

“knife” photo by pikimota on Flickr. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Someone asked me why a surgeon would write. Why, when the shelves are already too full? They sag under the deadweight of books. To add a single adverb is to risk exceeding the strength of the boards. A surgeon should abstain. A surgeon, whose fingers are more at home in the steamy gullies of the body than they are tapping the dry keys of a typewriter. A surgeon, who feels the slow slide of intestines against the back of his hand and is no more alarmed than were a family of snakes taking their comfort from such an indolent rubbing. A surgeon, who palms the heart as if it were some captured bird.

Why should he write? Is it vanity that urges him? There is glory enough in the knife. Is it for money? One can make too much money. No. It is to search for some meaning in the ritual of surgery, which is at once murderous, painful, healing and full of love.

Richard Selzer, Confessions of a Knife: Meditations on the Art of Surgery, 1981

Related article
The surgeon storyteller: a last interview with Richard Selzer

Highlighted in Frontispiece Volume 4, Issue 3 – Summer 2012

Summer 2012



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