Another Day in the Frontal Lobe

"The brain is soft," writes Katrina Firlik in her book, Another Day in the Frontal Lobe (NYC: Random House, 2006). "Some of my colleagues compare it to toothpaste but that's not quite right. Tofu -- the soft variety, for those who know tofu -- may be a more accurate comparison." So begins the interesting tale of the residency of the first female neurosurgeon in America.

After briefly introducing her reader to the history of neurosurgery, Firlik moves on to describe the nature of her specialty, which she says is a combination of science and mechanics. Unlike neurologists and psychiatrists, who also deal with the human brain, it is the neurosurgeon's task to physically heal patients who have blood clots, tumors, and other traumas that afflict the brain and spinal cord. Thus, technical proficiency, accuracy, and speed on the part of the surgeon are essential for minimal impairment to the patient.

Of course, this book is filled with interesting anecdotes about unusual situations that the author encountered during her residency, such as the carpenter who sat quietly in the emergency room with a heavy-duty nail sticking out of his skull and the child whose new-age mother gave him herbs instead of antibiotics for an ear infection that developed into meningitis, to the infant with hydranencephaly who looked "cute" despite the absence of a brain in his skull.

This breezy autobiography ends with a glimpse into the high-tech future of neurosurgery. For example, according to the author, there will be a time when we can have "cognitive tune-ups," much like an automobile has a tune-up to maximize its performance. A neurosurgeon would implant a "neat little metal plug" in the patient's memory network and a small battery would provide constant low-grade electrical stimulation to enhance the person's ability to function.

I was a little disappointed with the book; although Firlik's story is informative and easy to read, her writing was a bit disorganized, and further, we never get to know the author very well as a person. Even though she comes across as a competent and confident doctor, but she never allows us to peek beneath her cool exterior. But overall, this is an interesting and informative book.

Katrina Firlik was the first woman admitted into the neurosurgery residency program at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, the largest -- and one of the most prestigious -- neurosurgery programs in the country. She is now a private practitioner in Greenwich, Connecticut, and a clinical assistant professor at Yale University School of Medicine. She lives in New Canaan, Conecticut, with her husband, a neurosurgeon turned venture capitalist.



More like this

Karin Muraszko – Pediatric Neurosurgeon --The first and only female to head an academic  neurosurgery department in the U.S. --Successfully handles her demanding surgical schedule despite having spina bifida (curvature of the spine) Of the approximately 4,920 neurosurgeons in the United States…
The patient lies on the operating table, with the right side of his body raised slightly. The anaesthetist sterilizes his scalp and injects it with Nupercaine to produce analgesia - the patient will remain fully conscious throughout the procedure. Behind the surgical drapes, three large incisions…
LOBOTOMY (from the Greek lobos, meaning lobes of the brain, and tomos, meaning cut) is a psychosurgical procedure in which the connections the prefrontal cortex and underlying structures are severed, or the frontal cortical tissue is destroyed, the theory being that this leads to the uncoupling…
An Edge essay by V S Ramachandran on What is self? It has recently been shown that if a conscious awake human patient has his parietal lobe stimulated during neurosurgery, he will sometimes have an "out of body" experience -- as if he was a detached entity watching his own body from up near the…

I read this book just after it came out, and I quite enjoyed it, but I also found that we didn't learn that much about Dr. Firlik. I was able to overlook that though, because she grew up in the town where I was born, so I felt that I had some tiny link with her.

A good read, overall.