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Under the Microscope

Under the Microscope 1

The Story of an Australian Medical Pioneer

by Earl Owen
Publication Date: 03/02/2014
5/5 Rating 1 Reviews
Under the Microscope is the story of an extraordinary man, his many life-changing inventions, and his exceptional life and special friendships.

Born into a family of doctors - on the paternal and maternal sides - with a birth defect that no one knew how to treat, Earl Owen was given a dose of radiation before anyone knew what radiation treatment could do to a human body, let alone a newborn baby.

Earl Owen's medical parents, aunts and uncles failed to notice that as he grew he walked with a limp and when he was eleven he had an accident in a school race, which left him in hospital for a year enduring a series of excruciating surgeries in an attempt to remedy his damaged bones. Whilst lying in bed alone in a dark basement room in the hospital, he decided he would grow up to be the a new kind of surgeon - one who would deal delicately and carefully with birth defects and would communicate sensitively with patients.

When he was discharged from the hospital he took up piano lessons and discovered he was a talented musician. As he came out of his teens, he had to decide whether to pursue a career as a concert pianist or a surgeon.

To say this man is a high achiever barely touches on his gifts and talents. He was one of the earliest, most inventive and enterprising pioneers of microsurgery; he designed instruments and microscopes for his operations; he did the first finger replacement on a child (for which he was sacked from the Sydney Children's Hospital, even though it was successful operation); co-led the team that completed the first successful hand transplant (whose recipient turned out to be an ex-con from New Zealand, who had lost his arm in jail); and trained the team that completed the first double-hand transplant.

Earl Owen was the first surgeon to be able to reverse vasectomies and complete fallopian tube ligatures (using his microsurgical prowess). And he designed the chairs in the Sydney Opera House!

He has done more in his eighty years than most of us could dream of and this book is his story in his words.
Autobiography: science
Publication Date:
Random House Australia
Country of origin:
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating

5 / 5 (1 Ratings)
  • The Civil Subversant

    by on

    Professor Earl Owen uses an economy of prose and a conversational, emotive style to tell us the story of his life.

    Disabled but not handicapped with a congenital defect, Owens mission is to make amends for the adverse experience he endured from a surgeon as a child and to advance the field of microsurgery, whom he may be considered the father of. At times he may be justifiably dramatic, This assault on all my newborn tissue was to seriously affect my growth and health, and this was my destiny.

    Independent of thought and dismissed as a troublemaker (a title he would never fully outgrow), Owen grew up in a Victorian household of doctors as a precocious and dextrous child. He operated before he was formally qualified to do so and soon realised that the practitioners of his day were limited by their bedside manner and available resources. Owen literally developed the tools and terminology to make his speciality happen. He never stops thinking from designing the chairs of the Sydney Opera House to his thoughts on brain transplantation, Owen is a visionary.

    Like all life stories, Owen arrived at many crossroads which would shape and define his path in life. Success accompanied him because he seized entrepreneurial endeavours (contrasted with an example of a peer who did not). From his motivation and passionate writing, it is easy to have an understanding of the man, though Owen is probably not an easy person to live with. He readily pointed out the shortcomings of patients wellbeing within the medical bureaucracy which rewarded him with dismissal as often as praise.

    Owen was frequently pulled in many directions; from research involving animal experimentation to advocating for thalidomide victims. There were few pursuits away from medicine, though Owen was also a keen farmer, pianist, golfer and occasional family man. When others were retiring, he was pioneering limb and face transplantation.

    Regrettably Owen was often let down by others, including an unsupportive first wife, ambivalent colleagues and patients.

    We are privileged that such a high achiever and man of ideas has taken the time to write about his life. Lesser people wouldnt dedicate their life to rectify the mistakes and conventions of the past. Ultimately this is a touching tale about a remarkable physician who healed himself and revolutionised a profession.