Wednesday, April 8, 2009
Lately in my trolling through blogs during quiet moments on call I've begun to realize how much people enjoy - actually enjoy - learning about medicine. Whether it's through the NOVA reunion Doctors' Diaries on PBS; shows like Trauma: Life in the E.R. or the much less realistic House; or books about life in medicine, there seems to be a lot about the world we inhabit that appeals to people - which still takes me by surprise. I guess I can understand it, though. It must be like my enjoyment of shows like Law and Order: Criminal Intent - the appeal of an inside look at an unfamiliar existence in which people try to solve mysteries of one kind or another.
If I had to recommend ONE book written for a general audience by a physician, it would have to be Singular Intimacies: Becoming a Doctor at Bellevue by Danielle Ofri. This excerpt alone illustrates why: Dr. Ofri produces some of most stunning writing you'll find by a physician - or by any author.
There are many excellent doctor-authors out there. Most write engagingly and incisively about their work. Once in a while, though, you find the work of someone who goes beyond journalistic skill to art that inspires wonder and awe: the work of a true writer whose prose moves and takes one's breath away. This is the kind of writing Dr. Ofri offers her readers.
Singular Intimacies, issued in reprint just this month, chronicles her years moving up the ranks at New York's busy Bellevue Hospital. She begins her journey in a foyer "jammed with white coats and saris, kafiyas and dashikis. Spanish, Tagalog, Bengali, and English elbowed for air space as did the smells of coffee, curry, and homelessness." Can't you just feel the jostling and detect those whiffs of New York?
Richard Selzer writes of Singular Intimacies, "This book should be required reading by anyone contemplating a life in medicine." Oliver Sacks affirms, "Danielle Ofri is a finely gifted writer, a born storyteller as well as a born physician." Jerome Groopman says, "Her vivid and moving prose enriches the mind and turns the heart." Amen.
I'll give you another example of what they're talking about - a perfectly constructed sentence about a final conversation with a memorable patient, "The arc of our words shimmered in the air and her history settled softly into mine." Beautiful.
In addition to being a mom and working on the faculty at Bellevue, where she encourages students to use writing/story-telling as an active part of their medical practice, Danielle Ofri edits the Bellevue Literary Review and plays the cello. Her writings and commentaries have a strong presence on the Web. To enjoy more of her work, check out the pieces below:
Gifts of the Magi: For a young doctor far from home, an unexpected present from a homeless alcoholic