“With this new book, Watts takes his place among the most eloquent of modern physician-writers, casting a clear and honest light on the medicine of today, its absurdities, its limitations, its power, and its grace. The Orange Wire Problem captures it all with a signature eloquence and wit. If you are a physician, it will give you new eyes. If you are not, it will offer you a deeper understanding of medicine as a way of life.”—Rachel Naomi Remen, author, Kitchen Table Wisdom and My Grandfather’s Blessings
“David Watts uses his considerable storytelling gifts to illuminate the mind of a doctor in his quest for the clues of diagnosis and treatment, while at the same time exercising compassion and empathy toward his patient. The informal and intimate style of the narratives is delightful.”—Richard Selzer, surgeon and author
“These lean, jazzy essays are the work of a keen and provocative physician-writer who, with great sensitivity and wonder, dissects moments down to bone. He challenges us to reexamine our understanding of healing and human connectedness, the stories we choose to tell others and ourselves, and the many different ways we try to anchor ourselves while swimming in uncertainty.”—Jay Baruch, author, Fourteen Stories: Doctors, Patients, and Other Strangers
“Humor and humanity, science and satire, you will find them all in these essays by a stomach doctor who gets into the heads as well as the guts of those who come for his down-to-earth counsel. Garlic and sapphires, they’re all there. A breezily good read for doctor and patient alike!”—Howard Spiro, M.D., founding director, Program for Humanities in Medicine, Yale University, and author, The Optimist: Meditations on Medicine
Western literature has had a long tradition of physician-writers. From Mikhail Bulgakov to William Carlos Williams to Richard Selzer to Ethan Canin, exposure to human beings at their most vulnerable has inspired fine writing. In his own inimitable and unpretentious style, David Watts is also a master storyteller. Whether recounting the decline and death of a dear friend or poking holes in the faulty logic of an insurance company underling, The Orange Wire Problem lays bare the nobility and weakness, generosity and churlishness of human nature.
With disarming candor and the audacity to admit that practicing medicine can be a crazy thing, Watts fills each page with riveting details, moving accounts, or belly-laughs. As the stories in this work unfold, we are witness to the moral dilemmas and personal rewards of ministering to the sick. Whether the subject is the potential benefits of therapeutic deception or telling a child about death, Watts’s ear for the right word, the right tone, and the right detail never fails him.
xiii Preface: What You Might Expect to Find Here
Facts and Lies
The Orange Wire Problem
Let Eagles Come
The Chart in the Window
Thank You Mr. Nicholson
Talking about Christmas
Silence Knows the Right Questions
One Cancer Cell
Telling the Truth in the Realm of Truth
Ghosts in the Machine
Is Something Wrong with Your Prostate?
The Soft Animal of the Body
Aspirin and Beauty
Notes from the Center of a Perpetual Breakdown
Ready for Anything
A Critical Distance
The Way We Know What We Know
The Case of the Missing Molecule
The Pill on the Shelf
Mother Teresa and the Problem of Care
The Doctor’s Pill
We were lingering in the outer office. He mentioned again, no biopsy. I knew that. And I knew there would be no chemotherapy.
Maybe it's like that Orange Wire Problem, I said.
Yes exactly, he said, and four years from now when we're all sitting around the campfire we'll remember the Orange Wire Problem . . .
And I thought to myself, my brother did that. Spoke of the time ahead as he was dying of lung cancer. Six months from now he had said, we'll be glad we did all those drug therapies—as if to speak of the future laid claim to the future.