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Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures

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Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures invites us into a world where the ordinary becomes the critical in a matter of seconds. A formidable debut, it is a profound and unforgettable depiction of today’s doctors, patients, and hospitals.

Provocative, heartbreaking, and darkly humorous, Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures introduces readers to a masterful new voice in fiction. A practicing ER physician, Vincent Lam delivers a precise and intimate portrait of the medical profession in his fiction debut. These twelve interwoven stories follow a group of young doctors as they move from the challenges of medical school to the intense world of emergency rooms, evacuation missions, and terrifying new viruses. Winner of the prestigious Giller Prize, Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures marks the arrival of a deeply humane and preternaturally gifted writer.

Fitz, Ming, Chen, and Sri are the four ambitious protagonists of Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures. They fall in love as they study for their exams, face moral dilemmas as they split open cadavers, confront police who rough up their patients, and treat schizophrenics with pathologies similar to their own. In one harrowing story set amidst the 2003 SARS crisis, which the author witnessed firsthand, two of these doctors suddenly become the patients.

Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures invites us into a world where the ordinary becomes the critical in a matter of seconds. A formidable debut, it is a profound and unforgettable depiction of today’s doctors, patients, and hospitals.

368 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2005

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Vincent Lam

15 books182 followers

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5 stars
1,507 (15%)
4 stars
3,528 (37%)
3 stars
3,163 (33%)
2 stars
1,048 (11%)
1 star
272 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 655 reviews
Profile Image for Kyla.
1,009 reviews14 followers
March 20, 2009
3.5 - I'm really. really surprised this won the Giller Prize. Another case of a Doctor writes a book based on his work history and the critics swoon, because it's not a world typical writers come from or an arena that they cover. A novelty act, almost. Some stories are interesting, but again, I would add it's not because of the writing per se (which is readable but plain, not spare plain, just plain plain), as much as the backstage peek at a Dr.'s life. Also, it just makes me mad when other professions think they can be a writer - anyone can be a writer, stupid - and then includes a faintly insulting Glossary of medical terms at the back. Defining stethoscope, for instance. I think readers - even not genius doctor/writers like yourself sir, have heard of a stethoscope. And if they haven't, they probably have a dictionary or Google handy, thanks anyway.
Profile Image for Sue.
613 reviews24 followers
October 23, 2011
This is an extremely interesting book, especially if you are acquainted with anyone who has endured the appallingly stressful rigors of medical school and lived to tell about it. Written by an author who has done just that, this book is a work of fiction that interweaves the stories of several aspiring young doctors and follows them through their professional lives. Along the way, he reveals them to be intelligent, ambitious, complicated, and very, very human. In other words, he tells his story like it often is, and not like we would wish it to be. (CAUTION: If you were once a fan of Marcus Welby, M.D. -- that was a TV show, for those of you too young to remember -- you will HATE this book. No character in it is all-wise, all-sacrificing, or constantly a paragon of medical virtue. They are, instead, human, and therefore behave both wisely and stupidly, kindly and selfishly -- just as we all do, if we are honest enough to admit it.)

If you choose to read this book, be sure to give it time to really "grow on you." Usually when I read a book, I know within the first 50-100 pages what rating I am likely to give it by the time I'm finished. (Though, for any authors out there reading this, note that I DO continue to keep an open mind!) This book surprised me by continuing to draw me in more and more as its story (really, it's plural -- stories) progressed. I thought the author was particularly skillful in the way he introduced each vignette -- at first, I was never sure how this piece of the individual's tale was going to fit into the story as a whole. By the end of the book, however, I was fully satisfied that I had seen enough of each character's struggles and gifts to give me a sense of their unique personality and how they had changed -- for good and for bad -- during their lives.

If you are a reader who enjoys complex characters and gritty honesty and does not need every single detail of your characters' lives spelled out for you (it's a series of vignettes, remember?) then I would definitely recommend this book to you. And I will be sure to read more of Vincent Lam's work.
Profile Image for Allegra S.
627 reviews9 followers
July 26, 2014
So the last 100 pages picked up a bit and it wasn't as bad as I originally thought, but it wasn't great. The last two stories were really good concepts (doctors and nurses sick during the SARS epidemic, and what it feels like to really work an overnight ER shift) but I'm still not a fan of the style of writing. I think his best literary choice was to leave Ming and her stupid relationship problems out of the second half of the book!

I have two big problems with this book. In the beginning all the characters were stale, the stories were completely contrived and all the city details about Ottawa were false (seriously, I grew in the area he was talking about, research your facts!). So it was really hard to actually pick up the book and read it. And secondly, throughout the book the dialogue seemed so phony that I had trouble connecting with the characters and couldn't really imagine what they were experiencing, which is why I bought the book in the first place (following a group of university kids to med school and then their jobs).

I enjoyed the story ideas about the old Chinese grandfather (which only made me want to get 'The Jade Peony' out of the library) and Winston because the story twists were actually somewhat interesting, but I feel that someone else could have taken these ideas and written much better and comprehensive story lines.

My recommendation: don't bother.
Profile Image for Graham Wilhauk.
697 reviews46 followers
September 17, 2017
This book was so good and so disappointing at the same time.

The first 100 pages of this intertwined short story collection knocked my socks off. The way that Lam introduced these characters and their situations and lives was incredible. However, what did Lam do as an author to keep the reader's interest? Well, he dropped a ton of potential storylines in order to go completely episodic and only decides to go back to the plots introduced at the beginning in the last 60 pages of the book at a very fast pace. Besides the first three stories and the story "Contract Tracing" which was the only story past page 100 that I LOVED, these stories weren't very good. I was stunned at first to see this book at a 3.47 average rating on Goodreads. I was loving it so much at the time that I was confused on why it had such a poor average rating out of 7,000 ratings. After finishing the book, I can DEFINITELY see why. It did rebound a little bit at the end when things started to wrap up, but the middle chunk and the last story itself were incredibly poor. In short, this collection was extremely mixed. Unless if you are fascinated by the idea of this book, I say skip it.

I am giving this one a 3 out of 5 stars.
Profile Image for Mike.
Author 2 books20 followers
July 5, 2016
Sorry Mr. Lam, sorry Giller Prize panel. I tried hard to like this, pushing through all the way to page 150, but I realized I don't really care what happens to these two-dimensional characters, or whether a theme suddenly pops into view. The anecdotes are interesting, mainly for the inclusion of the author's behind the scenes medical knowledge but I can't really see where it's going.
Oh - and the medical glossary at the end? You feel you have to define abdomen? Or vocal cords? Please.
I have lots of other books waiting on my TBR shelf, all applauding as I move this one to 'did not finish' .
Profile Image for Rosa.
213 reviews33 followers
October 24, 2007
This book has all kinds of impressive blurbs on the back cover, including praise from Margaret Atwood and Sherman Alexie himself (who has never struck me as the easy to please type) - I initially sought it out because of a really favorable review in Entertainment Weekly. Maybe all the hoopla led me to expect too much, but I just didn't see what the big deal was. Lam is a very skilled and nuanced writer, but it still seemed like most of the stories were more driven by plot than by character development, so that in the end it wasn't that much different from watching one of the better episodes of ER. I think people find Lam's perspective engaging because you really get a sense that doctors are human beings with real flaws like the rest of us (the author is an actual ER doctor at a hospital in Toronto) - they lose their tempers, get their hearts broken, sometimes feel completely powerless, etc. I just didn't see a real difference between his four protagonists (all doctors, all somewhat interchangeable). Anyway, I'm not saying that plot-driven books can't be worthwhile, just that I'm a characterization gal, and this one didn't convince me to switch parties. Lam is an ethnic Chinese (Cantonese - raise the roof!) who was born and raised in Vietnam, and his next novel is going to be a multigenerational saga about a family in Saigon - I would definitely read that, because he really does have an interesting perspective and a way with words.
Profile Image for Czarny Pies.
2,488 reviews1 follower
March 8, 2018
Ça vaut vraiment la peine de lire cet accueil de nouvelles qui raconte des épisodes dans les vies de quatre de jeunes médecins pendant leurs années à l'université et les débuts de leurs carrières .On le lit surtout parce que l'auteur qui est médecin urgentologue donne un aperçu d'une caste sociale que l'on voit normalement de l'extérieur. Si l'on ne croit pas que les docteurs ne constituent pas un groupe particulier l'intérêt de ce livre sera beaucoup moindre.
On devra lire "Bloodletting and Other Miraculous Cures" si on s'intéresse à la ville reine, car le roman crée extrêmement bien l'ambiance torontoise au début du vingt-en-unième cycle.
Je ne suis pas d'accord avec les nombreux lecteurs de GR qui ont trouvé la deuxième moitié du roman qui traite de la vie professional des jeunes médecins beaucoup moins bon que la première moitié qui traite des aventures amoureuses des personnages. C'est simplement que bien des gens trouvent que l'amour est plus intéressant que la pratique quotidienne d'un métier.
August 6, 2020
Overall a little disappointing. The character development in the few chapters is promising, but as soon as the doctors enter the field all character development completely stops and the characterizations become inconsistent. What we are left with is what feels like an accurate window into an emergency room with minimal embellishment in the way of narrative, literary prose or character development, not that this is neccesarily negative. The world he offers the reader is both interesting and boring: a lot of administering CPR to people who are already dead, a lot of bravado,
Profile Image for Anna Engel.
601 reviews2 followers
February 2, 2014
The "story" is told via vignettes that feature the various medical students introduced at the beginning of the book. This is lazy on the author's part because he doesn't have to develop a story or its characters. He merely places them in situations, lets them do their doctor thing, and moves on. The writing itself is plain (but plain-plain, not stylistically so) and lacks any real sense of style or personality.

The inter-character relationships are not well-developed. I disliked almost all of the characters, particularly Fitz. Ming is unlikable, obsessive, and mean. Also, I didn't care for any of them.

The only aspect of the story I enjoyed was the medicine. The rest was slightly above mediocre storytelling.
90 reviews1 follower
January 28, 2013
If I could give this book six stars, I would. This is a series of short stories/essays loosely connected through a group of medical students/doctors in the Toronto area. If you have some medical background you will no doubt identify with some of the vignettes (and not have to check the glossary at the back for definitions of some of the technical terms) but this would be a fascinating read for anyone. It justly deserved the Giller Prize.

I borrowed this book from the library after reading and enjoying The Headmaster's Wager. My plan is to buy a copy now, because it deserves to be read and reread.
Profile Image for CynthiaA.
722 reviews28 followers
January 6, 2020
A series of medically-themed short stories. Well-written and authentic, with the characters intertwined throughout. Doctors are humanized, make good decisions and bad decisions, question their career choice, just like the rest of us. I gotta tell you though, this book does NOT make me trust a doctor more.
7 reviews
January 6, 2016
Thoroughly enjoyed the book right from the first story. I love Lam's writing style that gripped my attention and didn't let go; written mostly in plain English, the book is a very accessible view into the world of budding doctors. The perspectives of the stories felt like a camera zooming into and out of the characters' personal lives- sometimes written in first person and other times adopting an omniscient third person narrator- I didn't really chart the changes but I felt that it not only tied the different main characters together but gave the readers a fuller perspective on their lives. The stories also seem to move from personal ones to stories of patients and these stories are interwoven- what I like about this is that you see the doctor's shift of focus, where there is a great deal of focus on the patient's lives (as their patients become the doctor's focus, over their personal lives for a while). After patient-centric stories, the stories pan back to career hazards and the comfort of personal life, echoing doctors' constant shifts between selfless work and personal life. Finally, what I love most is that his writing is practical yet nuanced, mimicking the practical worldview doctors must have in order to get through their education and careers.

The book humanises doctors, who seem to always have to act their roles in front of everyone they encounter (an idea from the book), and shows readers that doctors are much more than just their title. The dark humour, the questioning of their acting, the clear hopelessness of certain cases that they still have to attend to, the moral questions, the problem with caring too much, the imminent death that people seem to think that doctors are immune to - the alcoholic heartbroken doctor, the doctors who died, the doctors who got married: these are the things that show the reader a world we rarely see. Great for readers who know a doctor/med student personally; a loved one of mine is a medical student, and so many parts of the book reminded me of her, making me think that for a moment I can see through her (future) eyes.

Anyway, my favourite shorts were Winston and Contact Tracing, the latter made me rather emotional as the doctors and nurses had to undergo something so chillingly in their faces- an epidemic that I was too young to feel the weight of when it happened - the storytelling was really heartbreaking and reminiscent of a dark time for those in the medical field.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Steven Buechler.
477 reviews11 followers
June 7, 2012
A great examination of how doctors are normal people too. I just wish I had known about the Glossary of terms in the back of the book when I had started reading it.

Page 324
5:25 - Suddenly awake
"Dr. Chen."
A face, a curtain pulled aside, I can't see who.
"Dr. Chen!"
"Yeah I'm awake!" A panic, a heart-pounding proclamation, "I'm awake." Did I say that twice? I'm not sure what I said and what I dreamt.
"Brady at thirty. Pressure of fifty on nothing, ETA three minutes."
The voice I think it's a nurse. Where're my glasses? Did I fall asleep? Of course I did - that strange instant sleep I can't remember happening, where one second I had the awareness of waterfalls and curtains, the now this fuzzy face-voice. Shit, where are my glasses? Brady at thirty Probably new heart block. Stumble into shoes. My feet night-swollen, I stuff my wallet, my Palm Pilot into pockets. The nausea. Where the heck - Oh screw the glasses. No, I need the glasses. I can't run this thing blind.
Sick feeling.
I stand at the sink. Heave, dry heave, spit, gargle a little water Feels a bit better. Stunned, echoing awakeness. Brady. Jeez, couldn't wait a few hours? I feel around the tray, then the cart next to it. I pad around until I feel the wire of my glasses. Aha! Once on my face , the make the light glaring, hard. Now that I can see, I realize my headache.
Profile Image for Meg.
95 reviews1 follower
May 22, 2022
Done this godawful school book. I will say that it wasn’t as a bad as other school books (cough cough Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime) but by no means was it good.
The characters? Not likeable
The stories? Left unfinished
And now I have to analyze it for English?! No way. Screw that
Profile Image for Kaija.
552 reviews
April 26, 2017
I'm not sure why, but I avoided this book a for a long time. I heard how good it was, but I just wasn't drawn to it.

I actually regret not reading it sooner. This was the author's first book (he has since written several more). A doctor by profession, he decided to write about what he knew.

Each chapter you follow someone new, but with whom you've been introduced albeit briefly. It's like following a friend of a friend. You know they exist, but not much more than that. The characters were well developed, especially for usually only getting a chapter, or two.

I always hate when I don't think characters are real people. They're either perfect, or so terrible that you don't know they could exist. That does not happen in this book. Each person is someone I could see knowing. A good person, but maybe not the best person.

I did want to know more about different characters. I think the point was not to give too much away, so I think it mostly worked. I did have an issue with the ending because I felt like I hit a brick wall on turning to the last page. I felt like it was left unfinished. Maybe that's the point, but as a result that's my biggest draw back to this book.

I am interested in reading more from this author to see he has progressed.
Profile Image for Ronald Leung.
64 reviews13 followers
September 22, 2019
I generally approach books about medicine with some trepidation, given it is already so familiar, but I very much enjoyed this collection of linked short stories. It follows a 4 medical students who go on to become residents and staff physicians and providing slices of the essential flavours of a career in medicine: stress and possibly burnout with glimmers of human connection throughout. Everything from the earlier parts of the novel when the characters are working to get into medical school towards the latter bits of the SARS outbreak and subtleties of the emergency department are well-written in an unflashy way. The particular choice of which of the 4 characters get to narrate with each story also seems particularly nuanced as various voices fade in and out of the overall arc of the story.
Profile Image for Raven.
208 reviews1 follower
October 13, 2017
This book wasn’t at all what I expected, however if I had read the description on the back of the book it may have helped me be more prepared. It was a good read, I have definitely had a few of the same experiences and feelings in my medical career that these doctors experienced. I don’t know if would have understood or enjoyed the book as much as I did if I didn’t have a medical background. Lam used a lot of medical terminology, I know that there is a glossary in the back but using it would definitely interrupt the flow of the stories, and if he didn’t use this terminology the stories wouldn’t have been as realistic. I would definitely recommend this book to my fellow health care workers.
Profile Image for Sara G.
1,744 reviews
January 10, 2021
This book was sadly disappointing. I'm surprised it won the Giller Prize. I really liked this author's The Headmaster's Wager and loved that Percival Chen shows up as a minor character in one of these short stories, but ultimately most of the book was just sort of dull and dry. They're a loosely connected set of stories around doctors, following the same people from medical school applications up through later in life careers. The story "Contact Tracing" about SARS was painfully timely with the COVID situation right now, but there's not much else memorable here.
Profile Image for Estibaliz79.
1,774 reviews66 followers
May 1, 2012
Como dice Margaret Atwood al referirse a esta novela, lo bueno es que los médicos son seres humanos; lo malo, que son seres humanos...

Un retrato de la vida de estos profesionales, construida en torno a lo que en realidad no dejan de ser una serie de relatos, a los que varios personajes comunes (todos médicos, por supuesto) dotan de coherencia y unidad.
Profile Image for Lisa.
12 reviews
April 22, 2017
Interesting read but overall fairly depressing and I felt like there were some stories left unfinished at the end.
Profile Image for Marsha.
51 reviews
March 15, 2021
This was a fascinating book giving us an amazing insight into the world of physician trainees and emergency doctors and the challenges that they experience. Each chapter is its’ own story yet there is continuity across the chapters that involve the four central and interconnected characters. Many of the stories were touching and the author’s insights into human nature are both fascinating and tender. As a reader, I cared about each of these personalities and their individual challenges. A couple of the chapters were quite medically graphic and a little harder to take in, such as the chapter on autopsies. Given the timeliness of my reading this book while we are experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic, the chapter on the SARS epidemic and its appearance in Toronto was fascinating and disturbingly prescient. Although I like the idea of closure when I’m reading novels or short stories, I understood that it was the author’s intention to leave us wondering about the patients’ and the doctors’ eventual outcomes. After all, this nicely mirrors the experience of medical professionals working in hospitals and emergency rooms as they may never fully know what has happened to some of their patients after their work has been completed.
All in all it was very poignant and touching. My only disappointment was in the choice of focus for the last chapter. I turned the last page and was surprised to realize that the book was over. It was a very anticlimactic ending and I would’ve liked to have a final chapter that offered a bit more of a conclusion for the book. But otherwise I really enjoyed this collection of stories.
Profile Image for Paméla B..
146 reviews37 followers
May 20, 2022
So this book fell into my life at a weird point, but it was necessary I think. I feel like the characters flip from being cardboard cut-outs at the start to incredibly human by the end. This book made me laugh, almost had me tear up, and it has left me with more questions about what happened with these characters.

Vincent Lam has a nice writing style, melding the medical world he lives in with some lovely imagery and metaphors sprinkled in. I look forward to rereading this collection with sticky notes in hand to mark off those beautiful moments so I may find them again in the future.

One drawback for me is some of the stories felt they didn't have an ending, they felt more like a vignette into the characters instead of a full short story. But that was the fault of my expectations, not the stories. I feel now that I am reflecting on it, having vignettes works well: the characters are busy doctors who spend fleeting moments with their patients, so we don't know their whole lives, we only know these little snippets.

Profile Image for Matthew Arora.
8 reviews
September 27, 2022
Writing from the perspective of a resident doctor.

Dr. Vincent Lam does a great job describing the longitudinal journey of a doctor, from undergrad to staff life. He really explores the mentality of many 'pre-meds', adding on the unique struggle of POC as pre-meds (and in medical school). I have yet to read a book about medicine that does either of these.

He also does a great job accurately exploring the dark, cynical sides of medicine, which is something many authors do, but nonetheless he did it well.

Lastly it was interesting for me to read about the SARS pandemic and it's similarities to the covid pandemic, especially as a young doctor who trained mostly during the covid pandemic.

All in all, a great easy read that explores some unique perspectives in medicine, and validates the challenges of a career in medicine.
Profile Image for Yolanda | yolandaannmarie.reads.
412 reviews9 followers
February 15, 2023
This is a multi-pov novel filled with a rotation of peculiar characters, who are at times awkward but in an enticing way.
It’s also a very medical heavy book, but reads more like a medical drama tv show than a textbook or lecture.

There’s probably only a small niche of individuals who will really enjoy this, and I’d say I fall in the middle of that herd.

The beginning was really strong for me, I quite enjoyed Ming as a character and wished more of the book was focused on her. Things started to lose me around halfway with the “Winston” and “Afterwards” chapters… it started to lean towards feeling more like a short story collection rather than one cohesive narrative.

This Canadian lit is set in Toronto and has range of diverse characters.
Profile Image for Lindsay.
135 reviews6 followers
October 15, 2018
The overall idea this book offers is very interesting. It was fun to see the different experiences and situations that doctors could undergo. But that being said I felt as though the first half of the book was based primarily on random character relationships and background that actually had little to do with the overall story.

The end of the book was more interesting than the beginning. Although it was a unique read, it won’t be one at the top of my list.
Profile Image for Krystina.
35 reviews
January 23, 2019
A word of warning to the still reading: If you picked up this book because you were excited about the premise and are really interested in medicine, but now you're stuck somwhere in the dreary middle of the "Winston" chapter, or considering giving up on this book entirely after the first 100 pages, I hear you girl. Muscle through. The last few stories will reward you.
It's a slow start for sure, but I'm glad I decided to finish this one.
45 reviews
June 6, 2023
Quick read that does a good job capturing the feeling of being a medical student and, towards its end, of working in a hospital. The section told through dictation and the overnight ER shift chapter stand out as some of its best moments. I went back and forth a lot on my rating for this one, because it did keep me up past bedtime which is usually a five star criteria, but I feel it didn't spend enough time in its best parts and spent a little too much time meandering in its weakest sections.
22 reviews
January 3, 2022
70% of the book focused on patient stories which were pretty dry and had very similar tones. The interesting parts were the interactions between the 4 main doctors which rarely happened after the beginning. Also, the descriptions of scenery were verbose. A highlight was that it was set in Toronto so I recognized every street and highway (lakeshore blvd!).
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