Thursday, October 01, 2015

Two books

I'm often asked to read books and post reviews here, and I thus find my bookshelf overly full.  I just can't get to them all.  (Indeed, I just donated a few dozen books--some read and some never opened--to one of our local hospital management degree programs!)

I recently received two requests, and frankly, I was hesitant.  For one thing, I am friendly (in the internet virtual kind of way) with the authors, and when friendship is involved little good can come of an honest review. For another, the topics were troublesome and likely to be a bit timeworn--yet another book styled as a guide to personal health and yet another autobiography about the trials and tribulations of being a doctor.

Well, what a relief!  They are both very good, and I am pleased to recommend them to you.

An Illustrated Guide to Personal Health

Tom Emerick and Robert Woods, with some important help from illustrator Madi Schmidt, offer 40 common sense steps to improving your health.  Don't worry.  You don't have to adopt all 40, but you might like to.  As the authors note:

Alas, medical care can really only deal with about 20 to 25 percent of the things that cause you to die before your time.  The remaining 75 to 80 percent [other than genetics] of health risks come from . . . factors . . . you alone can control.

With good humor the authors warn:

As you read this book, you will see a lot of repetitive redundancy, over and over.  Why? We are trying to inculcate you with certain principles.

Much of what we have written here is documented science.

Some of what we wrote here is less science than a merger of philosophy and personal observations.

And then the final disclosure:

Some people do almost everything wrong their entire lives, and we mean everything, and live to be age ninety. 

I'll let some of the chapter headings titillate your interest. To find out more, buy the book. Don't worry.  It's short.

Avoid Hand Dryers in Public Restrooms

Avoid Antibacterial Soaps and Gels

Let Kids Play in Dirt

Don't Take Multivitamins

Envy is a Killer

Brush and Floss Your Teeth Regularly

Retirement Can be Bad for Your Health

Medicine Man, Memoir of a Cancer Physician

As first glance, Peter Kennedy is the stereotypical overly intelligent young man who dives into his medical school textbooks to learn everything so he will never face the possibility of not knowing something important that he might face in the classroom or the clinic.  There not much hint of emotional intelligence as we read that chapter.  Later, too, we see his impatience with colleagues, administrators, and regulations, and we are set on believing that he is overly hard-driving and arrogant.

Why on earth would we consider his life to be interesting? Simply, because we watch him grow as a human being and as a doctor.

It turns out that this fellow is deeply dedicated to his patients. We like to talk about patient-centeredness today, as though it is a new concept.  Decades ago, Peter walked the walk, sometimes literally.  Here are some excerpts from his fellowship period:

The work [of taking care of indigent patient's in the Ben Taub cancer service] was long and rarely exciting.  On those occasions where I couldn't quite understand a patient's difficulty with immediate family or home issues, I ventured into the Fifth Ward (Houston's ghetto district) to visit patients at night in their homes. It was plain stupid to go alone. I had seen hundreds of the wounded from that region, more than enough to make me wary, but I was never approached or threatened on those visits.  It was at those times that the total impact of a patient's journey to improvement or death upon his family became reality to me.

As I talked with patient and family . . . I felt something in the room change. And as I explained a mother's medical status, her husband, her children, and any extended family present would calm down and give me all their attention.  Some of the free-floating anxiety, and the suspicion and wariness about a physician in their home at nine p.m. began to dissipate.

I pushed past my own hesitation a little further.  Patient and family were presented with a gentle reboot of sorts, a statement of data rather than information mixed with hysteria or bias. . . . They became active participants in their own disease and its treatment.

[He'd say:]

"When I am sure you understand all of this, and you must try very hard to do so, we'll talk about what can be done to reverse, stop, or cure this cancer.  I'll tell you about treatment, warts and all.  Nothing will be held back"

"Then we'll use this information to decide what we as a team think is best."

And then Peter offers this confession to the reader:

As I became more deeply involved in it, I began to impart a quality I did not know I had--true empathy.

I had been trained originally to use evasion and misdirection as tools to maintain hope. 

It is unusual for an author to display the vulnerability that Peter offers, not just on these clinical matters, but with regard to his personal life.  (I'll leave those sections to you.)  His story is a compelling one. It is a privilege to be asked to read it. I am pleased to recommend the book to medical students, clinicians, administrators, and patients.


Carole said...

Both books do interest me. More so Dr. Kennedy's and with just that little bit of information you gave us, he seems amazing and I want to know more about him. Love a good story about a great Doctor every day all day long.

Carole said...

Oops- think I misspelled everyday, sorry. Don't you just hate when that happens :)