Direct Red

A Surgeon's View of Her Life-or-Death Profession

Publisher: Anchor Canada
In this powerful and sometimes shocking account, a surgeon reveals her experience of hospital life with rare frankness.

In her mid-twenties, Gabriel Weston - an arts graduate with no scientific qualification beyond high school-level biology - decided to become a surgeon. She enrolled at night school, then went through many years of medical school and surgical training.

Now in her late thirties, she has achieved her ambition and is working as a surgeon in a British hospital. "But I have never quite managed to shake off the feeling that I am an imposter,"she says. "Even when operating, it sometimes seems like I am on the outside looking in."

Direct Red is the result of those observations. It is a superbly written, startlingly raw account of her experience of life in a hospital. All her own doubts, mistakes, and incongruous triumphs are faithfully recorded. It is also a revealing and at times chilling account of what she sees around her. The world of surgery is secret and closed - or was until now.

I knew that this man needed to be opened up immediately. I phoned the on-call consultant, offering to meet him in theatre.

"Not so fast," he objected. "You youngsters are always in such a hurry." When he finally did concede that we needed to go to theatre, he picked up a coffee on the way.

Physiology forced pace on the situation: once we cut the man open, we were confronted with the sight of the hollow cavern of the patient’s abdomen filling with blood as quickly as a basin fills with water.

This consultant did not have a clue what to do; didn’t know the simplest emergency measures. He dressed his incompetence in a mannered slowness of action. It took him almost an hour to admit he wasn’t coping, at which point he shouted at the scrub nurse: "Get me another surgeon! Any surgeon!"

The night taught me the paramount value of a quick response.

From the Hardcover edition.



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More praise for Direct Red:
"Gabriel Weston's exactitude of expression is rare and uncanny, the more so for the sense one gets that this is a world in which the moral value of truthfulness is ambiguous. Her description of the struggle to remain individual and hence moral is her real achievement. This, to me, is what female writing has to do, and she does it with style and humour and beauty."
— Rachel Cusk

"A curiously thrilling read, written with an elegance of expression heightened by both its clarity and economy. Weston slices into sentences with scalpel-like precision."
The Guardian (UK)

"Like an episode of House, but without the close up shots of furrowed brows … the writing is colourful, even artful…. Gabriel Weston the writer has serious talent — were she penning TV scripts, doctor shows might very well be a little more watchable."
National Post

"If Gabriel Weston wields her scalpel as confidently and precisely as she does her pen, she is a masterful surgeon indeed…. A haunting and ultimately hopeful account of her journey to self-understanding, acceptance and preservation…. Weston's language is elegant, her images powerful, her references to art and literature effective. But her memoir is outstanding because it bears witness to the human capacity to honestly interrogate and learn from the past."
Winnipeg Free Press

"Gabriel Weston succeeds in illuminating a medical world too darkly dim, and she does it by answering the question so many people have of their doctors: 'Just who is it behind that mask?' In Weston's case, it is a woman who is honest, deeply brave, and to the fortune of both her readers and patients, richly human."
— Dr. James Maskalyk, author of Six Months in Sudan

From the Hardcover edition.