A FirstLook Book Review: The Soul of Medicine: Tales from the Bedside (Kaplan/ Apr 2009) by Sherwin B. Nuland
In a twist on his usual style, Sherwin Nuland has penned a rather unusual collection of medical stories. Gathered during his thirty years in practice, and presented in the fashion of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, Nuland takes readers inside the hospitals of our country, exploring poignant memories from his own and his esteemed colleagues' recollections.
The accounts are sometimes gruesome, light-hearted, and all are memorable. Various doctors from Nuland's past were interviewed --ranging from a chest surgeon, an anesthesiologist, and an obstetrician, to the gastroenterologist, and a cardiologist--19 tales in all. Some are told in the first-person narrative and others have a commentary added to a tale. (Identities of physicians and patients have been hidden.) Most of the physicians who related their stories are past the end of their careers, enabling them to give detail and experienced perspective. "By and large, they deal with a period that drew to a close in the 1970s, when the bionic wonders of ultramodern medicine began ..."
The first narrative, a surgeon's, begins with a hardened street-wise teenager with a chest full of "pus," from which the origin was unknown. Not a minor problem, in this instance it was an anomaly in the medical world; its diagnosis and elimination were fascinating reading. As in the many situations relayed in the book, the patient, because of his particular illness or disease, had become the teacher of the doctor.
These narratives are "lessons of humanity itself" Nuland writes, "with all its wondrous gifts and its failings." Medical doctors, being both professionals and people, are viewed in the book as multi-sided individuals, with real fears, friends, and faults, just as we all have.
The relationship between physician and patient, as illustrated in The Soul of Medicine, hits the heart of the matter when Nuland clearly shows that a "transaction between doctor and patient is a transaction in personal and professional ethics."
What can be learned from this? Doctors must still rely on their own sound judgment. The Soul of Medicine is a compelling and classic book, suitable for both the physician and the public.
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Kelly Jad'on (KellyF)
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