Writer, M.D.: The Best Contemporary Fiction and Nonfiction by Doctors
Vintage, 2012 (2012)
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Reviewed by Rheta Van Winkle
riter, M.D. is a collection of short fiction and nonfiction, all of which was written by doctors. I believe the best-known of them all would be Oliver Sacks, who wrote
, which later inspired a play by Harold Pinter and an Oscar-nominated feature film. There are ten nonfiction stories, making up about two-thirds of the book and six stories that are fictional. I particularly enjoyed the true stories, which give the reader a chance to experience medical situations from the doctor's point of view, rather than the patient's. Several of the stories are written by surgeons and address the difficulty that people have learning how to cut into another person's body.
is a long story about the difficulty of cutting that is written by a pediatrician. It's about what it is like to have to dissect a human body in medical school. Pauline Chen may go into more detail than she needs to. A squeamish person would probably have some difficulty reading it. In fact, she mentions that some medical students dropped out of medical school during the period of time when they had to do dissections. This story answered some questions for me, though, as I have wondered how on earth doctors, who seem to delight in explaining in great detail what is wrong with you, learn so much about the human body. After all that time taking a body apart and memorizing each muscle, tendon, and bone, I suspect that remembering all of those terms would be easy.
discusses the new way in which doctors use tests for diagnosis compared to the old way (which this doctor learned) of examining the patient and listening to the patient describe their symptoms. This physician thinks that doctors rely too much on testing these days, and that all of those MRI's, CT scans or X-rays are being requested too frequently and unnecessarily.
he short fiction was varied in tone, from dark to sad to funny, in a quirky sort of way, in the short story
The Duty to Die Cheaply
. It tells about a doctor who is called on to take care of a patient aboard an airliner. He is reluctant to answer the page, with good reason, as it turns out. The last story,
, is told from the viewpoint of a young girl whose father is dying, and whose bossy aunt has taken over the household while she takes care of him. I really liked this tender account of a child losing a parent.
ost of the stories in this book, both fictional and nonfictional, were interesting to read. Although they might be enjoyed more by people in the medical profession, there were few technical terms. I enjoyed
and think the book provides a nice bridge between doctors and patients.
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