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- Autobiography: science
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The Civil Subversant
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.