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Abraham Verghese Brings His "Bedside Medicine" to BABEL

Author Abraham Verghese

If you or a family member have ever been a patient who feels lost without a map in the medical system; or if you have ever visited a foreign country or new city and felt out of place; or if you find yourself fully immersed in a career and yet can’t help daydreaming about writing a book, maybe even a runaway best-seller, then you should find your way to hear Abraham Verghese at Just Buffalo Literary Center’s BABEL series at 8pm on Tuesday, April 8.

Born in 1955 in Addis Ababa, Verghese grew up in Ethiopia, completed the majority of his medical training in India, and did his medical residency in the United States, where his insights into America’s class-driven medical system combined with the relationships he developed with his patients led him to pursue an MFA from the Iowa Writers Workshop.

Verghese is perhaps best known as the author of Cutting for Stone, a gripping tale that opens with the birth of twin brothers in an Ethiopian mission hospital, born to an Indian nun mother who dies in childbirth and the forbidding British surgeon who failed to save her—and that is just the opening! This complex narrative sweeps across continents and contexts, weaving together medical miracles with family saga, revolution with love and betrayal.

Drawing comparisons to the Odyssey and Shakespearean tragedy as much as to Chekhov, Naipaul, and Cormac McCarthy, Verghese’s much-beloved novel spent more than two years on the New York Times best-seller list and ranks on Amazon’s list of “100 Books to Read in a Lifetime.”

Most astonishing is the fact that Cutting for Stone is only Verghese’s first attempt at fiction. Previously, he published two best-selling memoirs: My Own Country: A Doctor’s Story, which chronicles his experiences in 1980s rural Tennessee during the emergence of the AIDS crisis, and The Tennis Partner: A Story of Friendship and Loss, detailing his friend’s losing battle with addiction.

AIDS and addiction don’t necessarily make for upbeat topics and yet Verghese succeeds in offering inspiring books, infused with the compassion and respect for individual lives which have defined his career as a physician.

As the founding director of the Center for Medical Humanities & Ethics at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio, Verghese distinguished himself as a path-breaker in advocating for patients’ rights, emphasizing the importance of “bedside medicine” in an era in which health care is too often synonymous with, as he describes it, “the sterile hallways of modern medical-industrial complexes, where physicians and nurses are hunkered down behind computer monitors, and patients are whisked off here and there for all manner of tests.”

Verghese has been working tirelessly to change that, not only in his teaching and medical practice but also in his writings. He has published extensively in the New England Journal of Medicine as well as in The New Yorker, Atlantic, and the Wall Street Journal on the need for reform, calling for a return to the treatment of patients as people rather than faceless files.

His commitment to patient care led to his recruitment by Stanford’s School of Medicine where he is currently Linda R. Meier and Joan F. Lane Provostial Professor, and Vice Chair for the Theory and Practice of Medicine.

Verghese will bring his unique perspective as cutting-edge physician and best-selling author to the BABEL stage at Kleinhans, followed by a Q&A with questions from the audience and a book signing. Just Buffalo will kick off the evening by announcing the 2014-15 BABEL lineup—one of the best-kept secrets in Buffalo.

For more information about Just Buffalo’s BABEL series or to reserve tickets, call 716-832-5400 or visit www.justbuffalo.org.

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