THE WORK OF HUMAN HANDS is by and large a fascinating account of the life work of Hardy Hendren, a physician born in 1926, and still operating in the 1990’s. He has earned the nickname of “Hardly Human” by conducting operations for eighteen hours at a time, with only brief breaks.
The book centers on one particular case, concerning a baby who has the fictionalized name of Lucy Moore, to protect the privacy of her family. The little girl was born with an extreme deformity called cloaca, which is a situation in which all waste products, as well as sexual discharges, are channeled into a single opening, as is the case with many animals, including reptiles, birds, and some fish. The book is quite graphic and specific about the surgical procedures necessary to allow Lucy to lead anything like a normal life.
Hendren’s life story, and those of many of the doctors that have trained him and those whom he has trained, are also recounted in THE WORK OF HUMAN HANDS. And this is actually the major problem of the book. While a fascinating read, the story tends to get tedious at times.
There is entirely too much emphasis on Hendren’s early life, for example. We do not need to know in such great detail the time Hendren spent in the navy in World War II as a pilot. The laborious history of Children’s Hospital is overdone, as is the tremendous praise the author has for Hendren and his hospital. There is a tendency for the reader to want to get past the commercials, and back to Lucy, the real story.
Generally, though, this book is worth reading, whether or not the reader is particularly interested in medicine. Details of operating procedures which are not normally available to the lay public are shown, and certainly, we are given a portrait of an astounding man.
It might have been better, however, if this book had been two books: one a biography, and the other a particular medical story.