Behind the Mask by David Gelber, MD

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Title: Behind the Mask
Author: David Gelber, MD
Genre: Nonfiction, medical memoir
Publisher: Ruffian Press, 2011
Source: NetGalley

Shows like E.R. and House have captured audiences for years, bringing people into the complex, harried world of the hospital. Gelber, a general surgeon and blogger, demystifies and explicates the inner workings of a surgery (and the surgeons who perform them) in a series of short essays that cover pre, during, and post-surgery, as well as a few humorous sketches thrown in for fun.

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this book, to be honest. When I saw it on NetGalley several months ago and requested it, I felt like it was something I should read as a future medical professional, but didn't expect to be entertained. I imagined the book would be more like a textbook - I would learn some things, get some good lessons from it, write a review, and move on. However, many of Gelber's sketches piqued my interest and drew me in to the OR, a place I've never considered working, and his humorous chapters at the end of the book had me laughing out loud as I read it on the treadmill.

Dr. Gelber describes the experiences of late-night calls to the hospital, breaking tragic news to patients, getting sprayed by an unclamped blood vessel, and choosing which hair covering to wear before entering the OR with personality and clarity. While I am not the best judge of whether the text was too weighed down with jargon, as I am familiar with most of the terms he used, he seemed very conscientious about explaining various diseases and procedures and also included a glossary at the end of the book. He kept his anecdotes simple and interesting, choosing experiences that were illustrative of the concepts he was trying to explain.

I also appreciated his chapter on nurses, in which he quoted a chauvinistic, albeit talented, surgeon that had been his mentor and had advocated being more specific in medical orders because nurses were supposed to follow orders, not think. Um, excuse me? I was getting a bit riled up until Dr. Gelber explained that he thought this was a chauvinistic approach and that nurses' critical thinking skills were essential in providing the best care to patients. Thank you, Dr. Gelber. He is married to a nurse, and I imagine his wife ascertained from the beginning that her husband didn't view nurses as humble handmaidens scurrying to follow the handsome doctor's command.

There were several grammatical errors in the book, which may have been partially because I was reading an advance copy that had not been edited. They were distracting at times, although I tend to be a bit more forgiving of such things with memoirs - I feel it goes with the territory, whether that is as it should be or not.

Overall, this was an enjoyable read and a good glimpse into the life of a surgeon. It has a few flaws, but is a good choice for readers who have a strong interest in the subject.

3.25 stars

Warnings: None


  1. Thank you so much for taking the time to review my book. I hope you have a successful career in the medical world. Sorry about the grammar. I think most of the errors are fixed in the final version.

    Dr. Gelber

  2. Dr. Gelber -

    It was a pleasure to read. And I can't imagine writing an entire book without making grammatical errors - I am sure there are many in my post.

  3. I saw this on Netgalley. You make it sound interesting.

    So funny about the hair coverings! Honestly, choosing which hair covering to wear before going into the OR is one of the most stressful things ever. Haha! Surgery and high-risk obstetrics, I can handle with ease. Those awful hair coverings...ugh.



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