I’m editing a biography of an accomplished pediatric heart surgeon. The author had interview access to many of the parents of the children with damaged hearts, and he was also allowed to be in the operating room when sometimes superhuman attempts were made to repair that damage. What struck me (and terrified me too) was how with a factual narrative accounting of the bleak medical outlook for these tiny patients and the sophisticated efforts to save them, the book and its stories relentlessly pulled me into its emotional center.
I don’t have any children, so it wasn’t a reflex empathetic response. I think it was the unvarnished way the writing described the terrible conditions of these kids, born with severe defects in their hearts, and of the waves of terror and tedium that followed for the parents in attending to their care. Or helpless in the face of it. And then, in the operating room, a day of reckoning.
Vulnerability is the story’s core: here were children as young as three weeks old getting open-heart surgery, children as young as four years old getting heart transplants. The vulnerability of these tiny kids, the vulnerability of their parents—it was breathtaking. That emotional magnet in the writing pulled and pulled, no matter that some of the material was also technical and dry. [Read more…]