A Fullness of Uncertain Significance: Stories of Surgery, Clarity, & Grace
The book is a collection of sixty stories and essays drawn from the arc of Dr. Campbell's career, beginning with his first days working as an emergency room nursing assistant to the near-completion of his career as a head and neck surgeon.
The stories will resonate with physicians and healthcare providers at all stages of their careers, as well with medical students who are trying to better understand what it might be like to be a surgeon. Non-medical readers will discover that surgeons are more than their depictions on Scrubs or Gray's Anatomy.
Through these well-crafted, poignant, sometimes funny, and always insightful stories, Dr. Campbell shares with the reader what his patients and their families shared with him, having never forgotten what it felt like to be a beginner.
Published in 2021 by Ten16 Press.
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"These stories blend my loves of patient care, resident education, and narrative medicine. I have been gratified by the reaction of readers and hope this book inspires others to share their stories, as well."
- Bruce H Campbell, MD FACS
What Readers are Saying
In this tender and candid collection of short essays, Dr. Bruce Campbell illuminates how much medicine is truly the sacred act of holding vigil with and for our patients. Through his reflections, we get a glimpse of how surgeons hone their instincts, grow through challenges, and cope with disappointment as they navigate the uncertainty inherent in medicine. Through his polished lens, the reader understands how even in the pressurized world of surgery, heavy with the responsibility of healing through a scalpel’s cuts, there are moments of intimacy that are filled with grace.
—Rana Awdish, MD, FCCP, FACP, author of In Shock: My Journey from Death to Recovery and the Redemptive Power of Hope
Dr. Bruce Campbell turns his scalpel on his own history as a surgeon, probing the medical field past, present, and future. His vibrant stories illuminate the fundamental human underpinnings of medical science, bringing to light the glories, tragedies, imperfections, and uncertainties we must all grapple with. Eminently readable and richly satisfying.
—Danielle Ofri, MD, PhD, Clinical Professor of Medicine at New York University School of Medicine, Editor-in-Chief of Bellevue Literary Review, and author of When We Do Harm: A Doctor Confronts Medical Error
Dr. Campbell’s reflections will resonate with those who treat cancer patients as well as those who have had cancer themselves. Medical students and residents will also be inspired by his life’s journey as a surgeon and teacher, aspiring to their own joyful and meaningful lives in medicine.
—Julie Ann Freischlag, MD, FACS, FRCSEd(Hon), DFSVS, CEO Wake Forest Baptist Health, CAO Atrium Health, Dean of the Wake Forest School of Medicine, and 2021-2022 President of the American College of Surgeons.
In this rich collection of stories and essays, Dr. Campbell reflects on his years of caring for patients and training young doctors to follow in his footsteps. With compassion, humility, and shimmering prose, he shares the joys, pains, and somber responsibility of being a surgeon.
—Gayle Woodson, MD, surgeon, educator, and award winning author of After Kilimanjaro and Leaving La Jolla
Bruce Campbell is no average surgeon and no ordinary writer. He takes the excellence of his medical trade and weaves the challenges, exhilarations, and tough decisions of surgery into beautiful prose. Here is one who clearly doesn’t reduce patients to a diagnosis, but who sees them as whole persons worth getting to know. The chapters in this book are like windows into the humility and generosity of a man I’d like to have as my personal physician.
—Peter W. Marty, editor/publisher of The Christian Century
With his willingness to delve beneath the surface, Bruce Campbell has created a deftly interwoven series of lessons gleaned from poignant moments of a fulfilling surgical career. In a warm, compassionate, and honest voice, Dr. Campbell delivers to the reader not just insights on medicine, but truths about humanity.
—K. Jane Lee, MD, author of Catastrophic Rupture: A Memoir of Healing
Humorous and humble, serious and sublime, these lean essays offer a glimpse behind the surgical drape to show what it’s like to be a cancer surgeon over the course of a long, rewarding career. From Campbell’s first invitation into the “inner sanctorum” of the O.R. as a nurse’s aide while in college, through tender interactions with patients, to his projections about the profession when he is long gone, this smart, sensitive surgeon illustrates how doctors can listen to, care for, and learn from their patients. He courageously goes to the “hard places” as well as sharing those special moments that make it all worthwhile. Early in the collection, Campbell writes, “Besides being a surgeon, I am also a human being.” This beautiful book is about both.
—Kim Suhr, MFA, Director of Red Oak Writing and author of Nothing to Lose
In lucid and succinct vignettes, Dr. Campbell illuminates the myriad of emotions and sensations that accompany a life in surgery. These stories of persistence, camaraderie, shame, grief, guilt, and regret vantage point of experience. These ideas serve as the springboard to discuss unique, personal insights whose wisdom is of import to anyone in the healing profession. With elegant and engaging prose, Campbell beautifully expresses the honor it is to be a physician.
—William Lydiatt, MD, Chief Medical Officer Nebraska Methodist and Women’s Hospitals and Professor of Surgery, Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska
“Over the years, I have made an uneasy truce with failure,” says Campbell in the opening pages of his debut anthology, and yet his stories are anything but. Captivating, heart-wrenching, inspiring—he chooses his words as meticulously as he conducts his surgeries.
And it’s just like a surgeon to keep you up in the middle of the night. “One more story,” you’ll tell yourself, but with Campbell’s reflections, it’s hard to stop. There’s a familiar ease with which he flourishes his pen; everything falls away, and it’s almost as if you’re sitting across the table from him as he recalls. You laugh when he laughs, you cry when he cries, and you wait as he waits. His memoir of stories is sure to become a rite of passage for future doctors and patients alike, enjoyable little tunes that all hum together in a harmony of sound.
Turning the last page of Campbell’s novel, I succumb to my own “fullness of uncertain significance”—I have been charged to seek meaning, to reflect, to sit in the silence of his reverberating truths.
—Olivia Davies, MD, poet, writer, and dermatology resident at Massachusetts General Hospital
The words “clarity” and “grace” take on heightened significance in this honest yet lyrical set of essays by Bruce Campbell. The immediacy and intensity of these stories immediately swept me into the consulting room and OR. I felt as if I were a privileged witness to an almost sacred encounter between surgeon and patient. Subtle language lays bare a primal relationship. It is impossible to read this book and not be changed by the experience.
—Carol Scott-Conner, MD, PhD, Professor Emeritus of Surgery at University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine and author of A Few Small Moments: Short Stories
Dr. Bruce Campbell sets a new milestone for doctor-writers. As an otolaryngologist and head and neck surgeon, he treats patients with the most advanced and aggressive cancers imaginable. Internists like me wonder how head and neck surgeons like him do it; this book gives me the answer. Dr. Campbell brings luminous sight to his work. His writerly gifts let him capture the delicate and the solemn, the tragic and the everyday dimensions of illness. Not a set of doctorly instructions (though instruct it does), A Fullness of Uncertain Significance: Stories of Surgery, Clarity, & Grace lays open the profound mysteries and truths and awe about this life of ours. These stories will change lives.
—Rita Charon, MD, PhD; Bernard Schoenberg Professor of Social Medicine and Professor of Medicine; Chair of the Department of Medical Humanities and Ethics; Executive Director of Columbia Narrative Medicine, Columbia University, New York City; Co-author, Principles and Practice of Narrative Medicine
In this compelling, insightful, and beautifully written compendium of stories, Bruce Campbell shares the lessons he has learned, and continues to learn, throughout his medical education and his years as a highly successful surgeon, faculty member, and teacher. A Fullness of Uncertain Significance is refreshingly honest and introspective, exploring not only many of the desirable outcomes when he had been faced with a broad array of professional challenges, some potentially life-and-death, but also those outcomes that were less than he had hoped for. Readers will appreciate the author’s willingness to reveal that, “As a surgeon, I have made mistakes that have hurt people. This should not surprise anyone since, besides being a surgeon, I also am a human being.” Providers, teachers, and students of health care in every field and at every level of service will benefit greatly from what the author has accurately labeled “Stories of Surgery, Clarity, & Grace.” This isn’t merely a book about one man’s life as a surgeon. It is a book about the need for understanding and compassion when dealing with others, especially those in distress.
—Myles Hopper, PhD, JD, author of My Father’s Shadow
In this collection of essays, Dr. Campbell pulls the reader into his Milwaukee otolaryngology clinic, the operating room, and his medical work in Kenya. He tells story after story with wonder, humour, and affection. He looks back on his medical training and fantasizes about medicine in the mid-twenty-first century. He lets us in on his unique vantage point on humanity, and does so with such humility and grace that his own humanity is never in question.
—Martina Scholtens, MD, author of Your Heart is the Size of Your Fist