Healthcare Blog of Dr. Remo Aguilar

Mortal Lessons for a surgeon, my notes on the knife

in Medicine/Personal by

I rarely write book reviews.  For one, I don’t read reviews myself before reading any book I’m interested. Two, I  usually end up not flattered of the books I’ve read, something like bitin and wanting for more. Thus, recommending (or not) any book I’ve read is difficult for me.

Before I got into med school, I use to read (everywhere-rest room, bus ride, nooks etc) books to entertain. Then the rigors of medicine reduced this reading to a scientific exercise– that rigid, boxed, get-the-gist-then-memorize-acumen needed for medicine man like me. Now into semi leisurely private practice, I’m slowly picking up what’s left of my literary inclinations by reading books that entertain. Books, that put medicine in a literary perspective.

So when Gilbert Tan gave me this book- Mortal Lessons: Notes on the Art of Surgery, I was in for my big ‘reawakening” read. Time to jump start those comatose, literary brain cells that hibernate in my right hemisphere. I told Gilbert I would wait for my reading ‘groove” before starting to read this book. As soon as I got inside my car however, I took a sneaky a peek on some pages of the book.

Richard Selzer, is in fact, one of the author of our anatomy bible, that large book that could qualify as a 10kg dumbell,- Grays Anatomy Vol II Selzer also wrote for the New York times on one occasion, pondering about the tribulations of a malpractice ordeal.  The fact that he was a medicine man didn’t surprised me. I can name a few good books written by doctors turned famous writer. What brought my eyebrows up was the fact that Selzer is a surgeon. These steel cold knife wielders are one hell of writers. This is aside from the fact that there are only a few of them who actually writes about medicine in a modern Shakespearean (is there such?) style.

Well, try to read the table of contents or the introduction. The introduction page is entitled “The Exact Location of the Soul“. That got me into a frenzy of reading.

I’m not going to narrate what I read here. Go find yourself a copy. Or find your own Sir Gilbert. But I will tell you my thoughts when I’m done reading it. It would aptly be titled “post mortem of a literary corpse”.


Dr. Remo-tito Aguilar co-founded #HealthXPh. A board certified orthopedic surgeon, he is previously Chief of Clinics at St. Louis Hospital in Tacurong City and a consultant in Orthopedics at the Southern Philippines Medical Center in Davao City. Dr. Aguilar is a healthcare social media evangelist and writes his medical musings at The Cast & Curious (


  1. Lol on the post mortem of a literary corpse.There are many doctors turned writers who have captured my interest, the best for me include Erich Segal and Robin Cook to name a few. I would welcome a reading masterpiece from you if ever you get your hands on it. Hehehe. Dare?

  2. @Sheng, I use to have all paperbacks of Robin Cook's medical sci fi sleuthing books. Until everyone borrowed everything and now i've only got 2. Even my Erich Seagal Doctors disappeared from shelf..Someone seem to like books Ive read except my medical books..

    Once I am retired, i'd probably write my own book, and hopefully that's in this lifetime. LOL

  3. I enjoyed this article Remo, pero… bitin! haha. I am somewhat encouraged to read this book, but my list is already long, which BTW is mostly fantasy/sci fi books. Of the doctors turned writers, my definite favorite is Crichton. Maybe because he wrote about science, and not purely medicine. Perhaps (actually I know) I am tired of the realities of the medical world (all the drama, the action, and the emotions! It's too… personal) so I steer away from medical novels.

    Care to share a few passages of this book and how/why they strongly struck you?

  4. @Jill, exactly bitin.that would make you crave for more. This book is like anatomy and disease, written by a poet.

    And for one, I'd like some play of words to wake my naive soul…

    "Whilst bone, ah bone, is the pit of a man after the cumbering fresh has been eaten away"

  5. Pretty impressive… you really can tell if a person is in love with their profession, it's because they can write beautifully about it. 😀 I like how you said that he wrote about anatomy and disease like a poet. <– this thought.

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