in Hmm Weekly
on May 13, 2020

MARK DODSON, M.D., sat down at the dinner table in his house in an elegant Salt Lake City neighborhood called The Avenues and ate a meal that his wife cooked from scratch. He doesn’t so much remember the meal, but he says it was likely fish or chicken—followed by water, which he knows to be true because that is the way she runs their household; like clockwork, every breakfast and dinner is made from scratch followed by water.

Dodson, 58, has been working as a gynecological oncologist for 25 years. He would do the surgery at LDS Hospital in the Avenues, which is only two stoplights away from his home. 

The next day, he would perform surgery on me—“the debulking,” he and his medical colleagues called it. “Taking out people’s organs is what every surgeon dreams of doing,” he said afterward. “This is what I do for fun. I knew yours was going to be huge. It’s a surgeon’s dream because the potential of being cured by what I do is real. I do 25 or so of these kinds of surgeries a year. The rest are simpler.”

After dinner, Dr. Dodson drank his espresso and reached into a plastic bag for a few dark chocolate Dove medallion chocolates. Then he read a good book. That night it was The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York, by Deborah Blum.

“They would poison people and find ways not to be found out,” Dodson said. “That led to the development of the medical examiner’s office. That used to be a very political job. People paid the medical examiner’s office not to notice that someone had been poisoned with carbon monoxide, for example.”

Dodson is a red-headed man with blue eyes and a physique shaped by regular core-strengthening exercises and faithful time on his elliptical. He grew up with the flowering dogwoods in the backwoods of Tennessee, where he was raised by a full-time schoolteacher who, in addition to working, made breakfast and dinner three times a day, seven days a week.

“My father worked, too, but I saw that women work twice as hard to get to where a man has to get,” Dodson said. “That is why I specialized in female surgery. I want to help women.”

As it always does, sleep came easily to Dodson—“within 2–3 minutes of laying my head on the pillow,” he told me. The room was dark without noises, the Sealy Posturepedic mattress and pillow delightfully firm. He had to get up only once, to take out Ricki, his 8-month-old standard poodle, for a bathroom break. 

“I always sleep well,” Dodson said. “The scary part for me is what I can’t control. I knew I wasn’t going to lose you on that table. The scary part for you is what you can’t control.”

“How Did You Sleep Last Night?” is an ongoing series.