Sunday, January 3, 2016

A Beautiful Report by Karl Ove Knausgaard on Awake Craniotomy in Albania

I'm not a big fan of Karl Ove Knausgaard, and I hated his two-part introspective travelogue for the New York Times Sunday Magazine in March 2015, but I loved his reportage in today's Magazine. He follows the British neurosurgeon Henry Marsh to Albania, where he performs two "awake craniotomies" - brain surgery performed while the patient is awake - that saves the lives of two patients. Knausgaard can be a wonderful writer when he forgets about himself for a moment and allows himself to focus on the world, which he does in this piece. He can of course not completely resist the temptation to (over)step into the story, but he treads lightly enough and his presence mostly helps us understand and connect to the events he is covering.

Here is an example:

"The silence was total. The single focus of attention was a head clamped in a vise in the middle of the room. The upper part of the skull had been removed, and the exposed edge covered in layer after layer of gauze, completely saturated with blood, forming a funnel down into the interior of the cranium. The brain was gently pulsating within. It resembled a small animal in a grotto. Or the meat of an open mussel. Two doctors were bending over the head, each of them moving long, narrow instruments back and forth inside the opening. One nurse was assisting them, another was standing a few yards away, watching. A whispery slurping sound issued from one of the instruments, like the sound produced by the tool a dentist uses to suck away saliva from a patient’s mouth. Next to us was a monitor showing an enlarged image of the brain. In the middle, a pit had been scooped out. In the center of the pit was a white substance, shaped like a cube. The white cube, which appeared to be made of firmer stuff, was rubbery and looked like octopus flesh. I realized that it must be the tumor."
(Karl Ove Knausgaard, The Terrible Beauty of Brain Surgery,
New York Times Sunday Magazine, Jan 3, 2016)