Another Day in the Frontal Lobe: A Brain Surgeon Exposes Life on the Inside

Katrina Firlik is a neurosurgeon, one of only two hundred or so women among the alpha males who dominate this high-pressure, high-prestige medical specialty. She is also a superbly gifted writer–witty, insightful, at once deeply humane and refreshingly wry. In Another Day in the Frontal Lobe, Dr. Firlik draws on this rare combination to create a neurosurgeon’s Kitchen Confidential–a unique insider’s memoir of a fascinating profession.

Neurosurgeons are renowned for their big egos and aggressive self-confidence, and Dr. Firlik confirms that timidity is indeed rare in the field. “They’re the kids who never lost at musical chairs,” she writes. A brain surgeon is not only a highly trained scientist and clinician but also a mechanic who of necessity develops an intimate, hands-on familiarity with the gray matter inside our skulls. It’s the balance between cutting-edge medical technology and manual dexterity, between instinct and expertise, that Firlik finds so appealing–and so difficult to master.

Firlik recounts how her background as a surgeon’s daughter with a strong stomach and a keen interest in the brain led her to this rarefied specialty, and she describes her challenging, atypical trek from medical student to fully qualified surgeon. Among Firlik’s more memorable cases: a young roofer who walked into the hospital with a three-inch-long barbed nail driven into his forehead, the result of an accident with his partner’s nail gun, and a sweet little seven-year-old boy whose untreated earache had become a raging, potentially fatal infection of the brain lining.

From OR theatrics to thorny ethical questions, from the surprisingly primitive tools in a neurosurgeon’s kit to glimpses of future techniques like the “brain lift,” Firlik cracks open medicine’s most prestigious and secretive specialty. Candid, smart, clear-eyed, and unfailingly engaging, Another Day in the Frontal Lobe is a mesmerizing behind-the-scenes glimpse into a world of incredible competition and incalculable rewards.

From the Hardcover edition.

Down the Memory Lane

When I was in high school, I got into this summer program for underprivileged kids. We’d work 4 days in a children’s camp near Floyd Bennet Field, and then for 1 day we’d spend a day in a training center.

The job was somewhat easy – a couple of hours cleaning and then helping camp counselors with activities. I mostly helped with fishing – casting the rods and baiting the hooks and such (I was the only one in the lot of us who had that skill). One kid even caught a fluke once. But everyone involved got a nice tan and a lot of fresh air.

The training part was a bit demeaning though. I remember how they staged a little game show where if you answered a question right, you got a condom. White for 1 point, red for 3 points and black for 5 points. Many of my co-workers already had children, so the idea was valid. But geeks like me usually don’t get to have sex in high school, so that was a bit demeaning. I am not even talking about the fact that the instructor chuckled when he assigned color values to the “prizes”.