An aging plastic surgeon afflicted with diabetes examines his life and is forced to confront death and the failures of his past. Dr. Moses Galen is a 69 year old California physician with a penchant for sex, Jaguars, and boxing but a fear of making commitments and experiencing a slow death. He spends a weekend with his girlfriend Linda, a trauma surgeon in her forties. After they have sex, he experiences chest pain that he mistakenly attributes to heartburn. Dr. Galen had coronary artery bypass surgery only three years ago and figures it should last at least ten.

He wakes up early in the morning to work out on his punching bag. His chest pain returns and is now accompanied by ventricular fibrillation. He realizes he is having a myocardial infarction and will die. Despite the pain and his fear, Dr. Galen continues to throw punches. He only hopes he can remain quiet enough not to awaken Linda. If she realizes what is happening, she might try to save his life.


While some readers may find this story too sexually explicit and even offensive, it is a fascinating portrayal of a doctor who has been successful in life except perhaps in all the ways it really matters. Raw and relentless seem to be the most fitting adjectives to describe both the story and its protagonist. Like many of his other short stories, author Thom Jones has created a character in Dr. Moses Galen who falls victim to raging levels of testosterone and life’s terrible ironies.

The author also reiterates some of his frequent themes: Pain transcends just about everything else. It is sometimes difficult to distinguish between pain and pleasure. The will to live is often the most powerful human characteristic. Life is tough like a fight and death is never easy.

Moses Galen is a man of many contrasts. He possesses the brute power of a boxer and the delicate touch of a plastic surgeon. His hands are adept at perfecting physical beauty and reconstructing bodies but also capable of inflicting pain and disfigurement in the boxing ring. He takes pride in his appearance and vitality even though he realizes that his body is being ravaged by diabetes. Much like the plastic surgery he performs, Dr. Galen realizes perhaps too late that his own life has also been superficial. The end of this story describing Dr. Galen’s effort at dying is as powerful as any image in literature.


This story was first published in Esquire.

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Cold Snap


Little, Brown

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