Vanderbilt neurosurgeon Jay Wellons reflects on a life dedicated to healing | Books

Everything that moves us

When an editor at Random House read Jay Wellons’ essay for 2020 in The New York Times About the extraordinary effort to save a seriously injured young girl, he was so moved by the story that he contacted Wellons, chief of pediatric neurosurgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. The resulting book, Everything that moves us: a pediatric neurosurgeon, his young patients and their stories of grace and resilienceis a compelling account of the physician’s life and career.

The stakes are often high in Wellons’ medical field, and his stories reflect the serious realities of his work. In ‘Luke’s Jump’, a 12-year-old boy suffers a head injury during a sudden healing during a bicycle race. The father quickly comes to his son’s side, bundles him in his arms and takes him to a hospital. In the waiting room, as Wellons describes the procedure he will perform, he looks at the father’s shoes. “There, slightly higher, on the cuff of his jeans and as he walked over his socks, I could make out a vaguely familiar grayish color amid blood that had gotten on his clothes. It was brain matter. His own son’s brain matters. Mixed with blood and hair and dirt and grass, right there on his person.’ It is then that Wellons, currently early in his career as a surgeon, realizes the distinction between the urgent, adrenaline-fueled excitement of having surgery on a body and the sheer responsibility of being in charge of its survival. of someone’s child.

His passion for healing does not make him infallible. In ‘Rubber Bands’ he treats a little girl named Cheyenne who suffers from a subdural empyema – an infection along the surface of the brain. The surgery is going well and Cheyenne is on the road to recovery. It’s just months later that Wellons discovers he has left behind two rubber bands, instruments used to secure scalp tissue that has been cut and folded out of the way, in Cheyenne’s brain. When he informs Cheyenne and her mother of his mistake, Cheyenne’s mother says, “My baby is here because of what you did that day. … I don’t care if you left your car keys there, Dr. Wellons.’ Her gratitude is not unique. Many patients are so grateful for Wellons’ life-changing surgery that they have kept in touch with him over the years, often sending pictures or postcards with life updates.

everything that Iabout us focuses not only on medical drama of life and death. There are also more lighthearted personal memories. In “Family Charades,” Wellons describes a missed Christmas surprise:

Years before I was born, when my sisters, Eve and Sarah, were eight and four years old and lived with my parents in Richmond, Virginia, our father brought home a new color TV for Christmas. A huge thing, as deep as it is wide, with a dial for twelve channels. I imagine its weight is almost presumptuous. After persuading a friend from work to help and then struggling to bring it in one afternoon while the girls were out, Dad noticed it fit neatly under a table in the far corner of the den. The floor-to-ceiling tablecloth, he thought, would be all it took to complete the camouflage for the three weeks before Christmas.

Wellons’s father didn’t know that that table was Sarah’s favorite hiding place, who soon bumped into it as she crawled under the table. What follows is a double family deception by Wellons’ mother, who hides the fact that the girls watch television every day while Dad is away, and coaches her on how to behave in surprise on Christmas morning. Dad eventually learned the truth, but by then the story had circulated through the extended family.

In graceful, direct prose, Wellons recounts his experiences as a son, father, surgeon, friend and never-ending medical student, sharing some of the most intimate moments of both his personal and professional life. He willingly admits he’s made mistakes over the years, and he admits his worries about taking work home in the form of undue worry about his own children and the sudden accidents that left them on an operating table. could end up. Everything that moves us is the story of a dedicated surgeon, told with honesty and humility.

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