The Dressing Station: A Surgeon’s Odyssey
Jonathan Kaplan has been a hospital surgeon, a flying doctor, a ship’s medical officer and a battlefield surgeon. He has worked in places as diverse as Burma, Kurdistan, America, Mozambique, England and Eritrea. The Dressing Station presents a vivid, moving account of the varied faces of medicine he has encountered. In a mixture of reportage, confession and exposition Kaplan talks about the practice of medicine and of its shortcomings, because medicine is not always benign or balanced. At its extremes it is a process of treating the casualties, for life is a war, and being a doctor is serving in that war.
‘His account is born of two talents: to save lives and to bear witness. The result is a unique mixture of biography and reportage, both personal and clinical’ Time Magazine
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A New York Times Notable Book for 2002
Washington Post Book World Raves 2002
South Africa’s Alan Paton Award Winner 2002
South African Booksellers’ Choice Award for 2002
The Dressing Station is a searing portrait of devastation on the battlefield that “illuminates the consequences of war and the ambiguities of relief work at a time when these issues couldn’t matter more” (Caroline Fraser, Outside).From treating the casualties of apartheid in Cape Town to operating on Kurdish guerrillas in northern Iraq at the end of the Gulf War, Jonathan Kaplan has saved (and lost) lives in the remotest corners of the world in the most extreme conditions.In this story of unforgettable adventure and tragedy, Dr. Kaplan explores the great challenge of his career — to maintain his humanity even when that option does not seem possible. The Dressing Station is a haunting and elucidating look into the nature of human violence, the shattering contradictions of war, and the complicated role of medicine in this modern world.
“A unique mix of biography and reportage, both personal and clinical….[A] rare insight into the mind of a surgeon.” Sue Cullinan, Time Magazine
“Eloquent….Beautifully written….Provides a startling glimpse of battlefield surgery in those conflicts that CNN does not cover.”Abraham Verghese, The New York Times Book Review
“Kaplan…has a keen sense of the smaller moments that leaven the agonies of daily life.” Julian B. Orenstein, The Washington Post Book World
“[A] confident, gripping debut….[A]t the heart of these beautifully written adventures, a rich human drama unfolds as Kaplan makes superhuman efforts to uphold the Hippocratic oath…” Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
“[R]efreshingly unsentimental….His descriptions of surgery are unflinching… Kaplan gives us a remarkable self-portrait of the war junkie.” The New Yorker
“[H]is exploits as an aeromedical surgeon provide comic relief as well as occasional heartbreak. Knitting such episodes together are Kaplan’s skepticism about governments and publicity-seeking organizations, rage at man’s cruelty to man, and glancing humor. Remarkably engaging, though at times horrifying.” William Beatty, Booklist
“A surgeon’s graphic report on frontline medical work in one war-torn landscape of misery after another….Remarkable and God-awful.” Kirkus Reviews
“Exceptional….[Kaplan] is unafraid to look within at his own fears and motivations….The Dressing Station encourages respect for the author’s courage and wonder at the gift that can turn a bloody, messy world into writing that is so wonderful to read.” The Economist
“We all know that war is hell, but very few of us know that section of the inferno where the wounded and dying are taken. With his brilliant nonfiction debut, The Dressing Station, Dr. Jonathan Kaplan has remedied that….In composing this gripping memoir, Kaplan has performed a considerable redemptive act — not only for himself, but also for the ones he lost and writes about so movingly.” Michael Swindle, Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“The Dressing Station is a fast, gritty, shocking read, a parachute-drop of a book that is as fascinating as it is, at times, horrifying….Kaplan’s writing is spare, passionate, precise as the surgeon’s blade he wields.” Robin Kirk, Raleigh News & Observer
“For anyone who is interested in the practice of medicine beyond our shores, and the impact of conflict and poverty on the human condition, Kaplan’s book is a must. The Dressing Station is written with flowing prose and vivid description. He brings his story to a personal level, both from the physician’s and patient’s points of view.” Nancy Jacobsen, Rocky Mountain News
“Kaplan has brought a clinical certainty to his reporting: he exposes the humanity of the most gruesome events with a few unflinching strokes and re-creates the drama of the world’s makeshift emergency rooms in deft paragraphs. As a result, his book feels very much a document of our times.” Tim Adams, The Observer (UK)
Contact Wounds: A War Surgeon’s Education
Surgery carries more individual responsibility than any other field of medicine. Jonathan Kaplan studied medicine in South Africa and, after working in a black township and being drafted by the South African army, he chose exile rather than serve the apartheid state. He travelled the globe in search of sanctuary, experiencing riots, tropical fevers, political upheaval and a jungle search for a lost friend. Kaplan landed eventually in Angola and took charge of a combat zone hospital, the only surgeon for 160,000 civilians, where he was exposed daily to the horrors of war. As a volunteer surgeon in Baghdad, he treated civilian casualties amid gunfights for control of hospitals, gangs of AK-47 wielding looters stripping pharmacies, and militant Shi’a groups harassing doctors out of operating rooms.
Contact Wounds is an account of these travels. Immediate, haunting and wryly funny, the book is simultaneously a vivid illustration of how to mess up a promising medical career, and an account of survival – Kaplan’s own as well as that of his patients. Kaplan describes his attempt to find his place in a world entering a time of instability and war, and the way in which his qualifications in trauma and uncertainty have made him a specialist in this century’s changed requirements.