Page numbers differ between editions, but it is within chapter 2, "The Missing Finger," that the surgeon Dr. Thomas Stone reminisces about a question posed by an instructor he had in medical school.*
“What first-aid treatment in shock is administered by ear?” His answer, “Words of comfort!” had won the day.
The memory comes to him during a scene in which Sister Mary Joseph Praise, a nun, nurse, and coworker at Missing Hospital in Ethiopia, has to undergo an emergency cesarean section. It is Dr. Stone who finds Sister Praise in her room, where she “lay in agony,” her pulse “rapid and feeble.” He kneels beside her bed, struggling to understand why he, a doctor, is overcome with such strong emotions. A surgeon must have, above all, steady hands. Here, we see Dr. Stone reach for Sister Praise’s face with “an old man’s palsy.” The man commonly perceived as distant and cold has realized he loves this woman. His astonishment registers both emotionally and physically.
Dr. Stone’s eyes finally fall upon Sister Praise’s swollen abdomen. He is unable to believe that the nun could be pregnant, despite every indication that she is. He carries her to the operating theater, convinced she is suffering from a bowel obstruction. He thinks of his instructor’s question and his own response, words of comfort, but he is unable to summon any. Instead, Dr. Stone shouts for help.
*The quote appears on page 44 within the Kindle edition and could be expected to come within a few pages in other formats.
Verghese, Abraham. Cutting for Stone. Vintage Books, 2010.