Dr. Youn’s Book – In Stitches
Scrubs meets David Sedaris in this hilarious fish-out-of-water memoir about a young Korean-American nerd turned renowned plastic surgeon.
Dr. Tony Youn grew up one of two Asian-American kids in a small town where diversity was uncommon. Too tall and too thin, he wore thick Coke-bottle glasses, braces, Hannibal Lecter headgear, and had a protruding jaw that one day began to grow, expanding to an unthinkable, monstrous size. After high school graduation, while other seniors partied at the beach or explored Europe, Youn lay strapped in an oral surgeon’s chair where he underwent a life-changing jaw reconstruction. Ironically, it was this brutal makeover that led him to his life’s calling, and he continued on to endure the four horrific, hilarious, sex-starved, and tension-filled years that eventually earned him an M.D. Offering a window into a side of medicine that most people never see, Youn shares his bumpy journey from a shy, skinny, awkward nerd into a renowned and successful plastic surgeon.
Now, Youn is the media’s go-to plastic surgeon. He appears regularly on The Rachael Ray Show, and his blog, Celebrity Cosmetic Surgery, is widely read and the most popular blog by a plastic surgeon in the country. But it was a long road to success, and In Stitches recounts Dr. Youn’s misfit adolescence and his four tumultuous years in medical school with striking wit, heart, and humility.
For anyone who has ever experienced the awkward teenage years, who has struggled to find his or her way in college, who has been worried that their “calling” would never come, who wants to believe that their doctor really cares, or is just ready for a read that will make you laugh and cry at the same time, this book is for you.
Reviews for IN STITCHES:
In Stitches was named a 2012 Michigan Notable Book by the Library of Michigan!
In his first book Youn looks back from the cushy perspective of the plastic surgeon at his transformation, letting readers in on a secret: it wasn’t easy. Young Youn was an outcast, an “Asian American…in near wall-to-wall whiteness”; his adolescence was an accumulation of sour moments eventually leading to medicine. But the journey, as Youn describes it, is hilarious. A dedicated student, he spends much of his time with his roommates in the “nerd room.” He practices sutures on pig’s feet and chicken breasts. His roommates tutor him in matters of love and lust. Only two hours into his very first rotation, Youn loses his first patient; “Patients die. Get used to it. This is a hospital,” the attending barks at him. As Youn moves through specialty rotations, agonizing over what to select, his father urges him to make the right choice: pediatrics, for instance, means a life of “tiny people, tiny dollah!” Ironically, it’s a night during Youn’s Peds rotation that changed the course of his life. Youn’s description of his journey from high-school outcast to rock star plastic surgeon is full of fascinating stories and laced with self-deprecating humor in the midst of dark desperation, providing a refreshing insight into medicine.
USA Today: “Laugh out loud”
Detroit Free Press: “Readable, funny, disarming, and heartfelt”
Huffington Post: “In Stitches is a sometimes funny, sometimes painful, sometimes heartwarming recount of Dr. Youn’s experiences on the road to becoming a doctor… a Scrubs meets David Sedaris story-line…”
NPR: “A humorous but at times disturbing story of becoming a board-certified plastic surgeon.”
Lansing State Journal: “In Stitches is a fast-paced, mesmerizing autobiography that’s laced with dark humor and memorable scenes, including his discovery that a woman he’s dating works as a carnival fire-eater.”
Kirkus Reviews: ”Youn writes amusingly about his expectations… His hospital training experiences are described in humorous detail… [and] the story of his Korean family and his struggle to find his path have great appeal.”
Praise for IN STITCHES:
“Dr. Youn… is a cut above the rest!” –Rachael Ray
“Surprisingly warm and unquestionably witty” — Jen Lancaster, NY Times Bestselling Author of Bitter is The New Black.
“Brilliant and bouncy” — Dr. Drew Ordon, host of TV’s The Doctors
“At times I was in tears, at others I was laughing out loud” –Dr. Robert Rey, star of TV’s Dr. 90210
“A raucously funny and genuinely affecting account of what becoming a doctor is really like” — Dr. Audrey Young, author of What Patients Taught Me.
An excerpt from In Stitches:
What a pair.
Poking up at me like twin peaks.
Pam Anderson, eat your heart out.
Too bad they’re attached to a fourteen-year-old boy.
I ease the black marker out of my lab coat pocket and start drawing on my first surgery patient of the day. Phil. An overweight African-American boy. Phil has severe gynecomastia—in layperson’s language, ginormous man boobs. Poor Phil. Bad enough being fourteen, awkward, and a nonathlete in a tough urban Detroit school. Now he has to deal with breasts?
Two weeks ago.
I sit in my office with Phil and Mrs. Grier, his grandmother. Phil lives with his grandma, who’s raised him since he was ten, when his mom died. He’s never known his dad. Mrs. Grier sits on a chair in front of my desk, her hands folded in her lap. She’s a large woman, nervous, well dressed in a light blue dress and matching shawl. Phil, wearing what looks like a toga, sits on a chair next to her. He stares at the floor. “It happened fast,” Mrs. Grier says. “He shot up, his voice got deeper, he started to shave.”
She speaks in a low rumble. She looks at her grandson, tries to catch his eye. He can’t see her. He keeps his head down, eyes boring into the floor.
“Then he became quiet. Withdrawn. He would spend more and more time in his room alone, listening to music. He would walk around all day wearing his headphones. Seemed like he was trying to shut out the world.”
Mrs. Grier slowly shakes her head. “Phil’s a good student. But his grades have gone downhill. He doesn’t want to go to school. Says he’s sick. I tried to talk to him, tried to find out what was wrong. He would just say, ‘Leave me alone, Nana.’ That’s all he would say.”
Phil clears his throat. He keeps looking at the floor.
Mrs. Grier shifts in her chair. “One day I accidentally walked in on him when he was drying off after a shower. That’s when I saw . . . you know . . . them.”
Phil flinches. Mrs. Grier reaches over and touches his arm. After a moment, he swallows and says in a near whimper, “Can you help me?”
“Yes,” I say.
I say this one word with such confidence that Phil lifts his head and finds my eyes. He blinks through tears.
“Please,” he says.
The night before Phil’s procedure.
I can’t sleep. I lean over and squint at the clock on the nightstand. I twist my head and look at my wife, deep asleep, her back arched slightly, her breath humming like a tiny engine. I exhale and study the ceiling.
A shaft of light blinds me like the flash from a camera. My mind hits rewind, and I’m thrown backward into a shock of memory. One by one, as if sifting through photographs, I flip through other sleepless nights, a string of them, a lifetime ago in medical school, some locked in the student lounge studying, some a function of falling into bed too tired or too worked up for sleep. Often I would find myself staring at the ceiling then, the way I am now, talking to myself, feeling lost, fumbling to find my way, wondering who I was and what I was doing. The memory hits me like a wave, and for a second, just as in medical school, I feel as if I am drowning.
My eyes flutter and I’m back in our bedroom, staring blurrily at the ceiling. I see Phil’s breasts, pendulous fleshy torpedoes that have left him and his grandmother heartsick and desperate. I know that his emotional life is at stake and I am their hope. I know also that isn’t why I can’t sleep. I blink and see Phil’s face, and then I see my own.
I was Phil—the outsider, the outcast, the deformed. I was fourteen year-old Phil.
I grew up one of two Asian-American kids in a small town of near wall- to-wall whiteness. In elementary and middle school, I was short, shy, and nerdy. Then I shot up in high school. I became tall, too tall, too thin. I wore thick Coke-bottle glasses, braces, a stereotypical Asian bowl-cut hairdo, and then, to my horror, watched helplessly as my jaw began to grow, unstoppable, defying all restraint and correction, expanding Pinocchio-like, protruding to an unthinkable, monstrous size. I loved comic books, collected them, obsessed over them, and as if in recognition of this, my jaw extended to a cartoon size. I was Phil. Except I grew a comic-book jaw while he grew National Geographic breasts. Like Phil, I only wanted to look and feel normal. I just wanted to fit in.
It hits me then.
My calling—my fate—was written that summer between high school and college, the Summer of the Jaw. My own makeover foreshadowed my life’s work. Reconstructing my jaw showed me how changing your appearance can profoundly affect your life. Now, years later, I am devoted to making over others—helping them, beautifying them, changing them. I have discovered that plastic surgery goes beyond how others see you; it changes how you see yourself. On occasion, I have performed procedures that have saved lives. I believe that I will save Phil.
My mind sifts through my days in medical school, and in a kind of hallucinogenic blaze, I conjure up every triumph, every flub, every angst-filled moment. I remember each pulse-pounding second of the first two years of nonstop studying and test-taking, interrupted by intermittent bouts of off-the-hook partying. I see myself in years three and four, wearing my short white coat, wandering through hospital corridors trying to overcome my fear that someone—an administrator, a nurse, or God forbid, a patient—would confuse me for a doctor and ask for medical attention. I teetered a hair’s width away from those moments that might mean life and death, facing the deepest truth in the pit of my stomach: that I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. And neither did any of my medical-school classmates, those doctors in training who stumbled around me.
But things changed. Thanks to my small circle of close friends, my focus, work ethic, and drive to succeed, I slowly grew up. I entered medical school a shy, skinny, awkward nerd with no confidence, no game, and no clue. I came out, four years later, a man.
A smile creeps across my face. My eyelids quiver. I catch a last glimpse of the face of my younger self in the ceiling as it shimmies and pulls away. Sleep comes at last.
Phil’s surgery goes well. Ninety minutes, no complications. I lop off his breasts with a scalpel, slice off the nipples, then suture them back onto his now flat chest. I nod at his new areolas. They have decreased in diameter from the size of pie plates to quarters. I leave Phil stitched up and covered with gauze, a normal-looking high school freshman. Good news, Phil. You will not break new ground and become the first male waiter at Hooters.
I once saw an episode of Grey’s Anatomy in which a character suggested that she—and every doctor—experienced an “aha moment” when she realized she had become a doctor. That never happened to me. I experienced an accumulation of many moments. Some walloped me, left me reeling. Others flickered and rolled past like a shadow. They involved teachers, classmates, roommates, friends, family, actors playing patients, nurses, the family of patients, and patients themselves, patients who touched me and who troubled me, patients whose courage changed my life and who taught me how to live as they faced death, and of course, doctors—doctors who were kind, doctors who were clueless, doctors who were burned out, doctors who inspired me and doctors whom I aspired to be, doctors who sought my opinion and doctors who shut me down.
Thinking about all these people and moments, I see no pattern. Each moment feels singular and powerful. They stunned me, enveloped me, awed me, but more often flew right by me unnoticed until days, weeks, months, years later. Until now.
This is my Book of Moments.