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IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

March 28, 1993|ALEX RAKSIN

O. R.: The True Story of 24 Hours in a Hospital Operating Room by B.D. Colen (Dutton: $20; 214 pp.). Playing to public anxieties and frustrations about American medicine, Newsday's senior science and medicine correspondent B. D. Colen begins this portrait of a huge operating room complex in New York by fulminating against how hospitals put patients "at the mercy of a system that seems designed for the comfort and convenience of everybody but them." It would be hard to imagine a more unrepresentative beginning, however, for "O.R." is about as enthusiastic and uncritical as medical journalism gets. This is not to say that we don't often share in Colen's admiration: While profiles of other medical specialties (e.g., neurology and oncology) often leave us less awe-struck at medicine's ability to effect miracles, most of the surgical specialties do genuinely and routinely give life. There are, nevertheless, significant problems with Colen's decision to piece this book together as an uncritical "album of snapshots": It leads him to lose the thread of potentially engaging stories, for one (e.g., we see a mother and father comforting their comatose teen-age son but never find out whether he survives) and it allows him to generalize from idle comments he has picked up in hospital hallways.

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