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Burma Surgeon

Burma Surgeon by Gordon S. Seagrave, M.D.

When the author of this book left for Burma with his young wife, the only surgical instruments he had were some broken ones salvaged from the wastebasket at John Hopkins.  He began his work in Burma as a medical missionary in the North Shan States.  Energetically he went to work, training native girls to become skilled nurses, and ingeniously developing his own skill in many different kinds of surgery.  When the hospital became too small and they needed larger quarters, he raised funds himself, and he and his wife, who also worked as a nurse, made plans for new buildings, the building of which he supervised and partly built.  Nothing would stand in the way of his work.  Malaria was contracted by both the doctor and his wife and often hindered them in the work, but it never stopped them or made them think of quitting.  Then the war came nearer.  The Burma Road was constructed and an airplane factory set up right near the hospital and settlement of Doctor Seagrave.  When the war actually came to Burma, he offered his services immediately and was made a major in the Medical Corp.  From that time on there was never a moment of rest for the doctor and his staff of native nurses.  Through bombings and fire they continued to care for the wounded and to perform emergency operations under tremendous strain.  General Stilwell ordered Doctor Seagrave and his unit to join the retreat with him, and the closing chapters of the book are Doctor Seagrave’s diary written of the days that he was carrying out those orders.

This is not so much a war book as an account of a tremendous job done by a doctor and his staff.  The work is described in a way that is interesting to the non-professional, for few technical terms are used.

What struck me especially when reading this book was the fact that although Doctor Seagrave was really a medical missionary, not much mention is made of the missionary angle of his work, even in the days prior to his war work.  This often seems to be the case with the work of medical missionaries—the physical element seems to outshine the spiritual.  The author seems a bit conceited in his account of his work, although he often tries to minimize his part in it.  But I suppose one must almost have a bit of conceit to even begin to write an autobiographical composition.