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A Lesson In Humanity

  • Apr 8, 2009
From: www.BasilAndSpice.com
Author & Book Views On A Healthy Life!

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.

5 Stars

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National Book Award–winner Nuland (How We Die) turns over his latest collection to the stories of more than a dozen specialists describing their most memorable patients. What is extraordinary about Nuland's compilation is not the medical heroics but the instances of fallibility and vulnerability that prove the doctor is not just human but caring. A bronchoscopist tells of a famed thoracic surgeon who botches a procedure to recover a small cap a child has swallowed Well, chappies, he chirped, here's my chance to demonstrate the procedure again. Rather like a double feature at the cinema, yes? When that, too, fails, the frustrated surgeon must do major surgery to rectify what should have been a 10-minute fix. Even the scoundrel who gets a nurse fired rather than be caught in his own impropriety shows a recognizable humanity in his hilarious retelling of barging into a procedure unwashed and unwanted, and being chased from the premises by a mad-as-hell surgeon. Nuland adds his own commentary after many of the stories, but it's just window dressing. Here's medicine as it's actually practiced—by humans awed by the privilege of both their practice and patients.(Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

The surgeon's tale --
The family physician's tale --
The dermatologist's tale --
The gastroenterologist's tale --
The obstetrician-gynecologist's tale --
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ISBN-10: 1607140551
ISBN-13: 978-1607140559
Author: Sherwin Nuland
Genre: Biography
Publisher: Kaplan Publishing
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