New York TimesWellBlog regular contributor Danielle Ofri has been praised for turning the triumphs and trials of medicine into riveting and compassionate stories. This eBook exclusive edition offers 98 pages of her best work for $3.99.
This eBook original exhibits Danielle Ofri's range and skill as a storyteller as well as her empathy and astuteness as a doctor. Her vivid prose brings the reader into bustling hospitals, tense exam rooms, and Ofri's own life, giving an up-close look at the fast-paced, life-and-death drama of becoming a doctor. She tells of a young man uncertain of his future who comes into the clinic with a stomach complaint but for whom Dr. Ofri sees that the most useful "treatment" she can offer him is SAT tutoring. She writes of a desperate struggle to communicate with a critically ill patient who only speaks Mandarin, of a doctor whose experience in the NICU leaves her paralyzed with PTSD, and of her own struggles with the fear of making fatal errors, the dangers of overconfidence, and the impossible attempts to balance the empathy necessary for good care with the distance necessary for self-preservation. Through these stories of her patients, colleagues, and her own experiences, Intensive Care offers poignant insight into the medical world, and into the hearts and minds of doctors and their patients. These stories are drawn from the author’s previous books and one is from her forthcoming book, What Doctors Feel: How Emotions Affect the Practice of Medicine.
Praise for Danielle Ofri
“The world of patient and doctor exists in a special sacred space. Danielle Ofri brings us into that place where science and the soul meet. Her vivid and moving prose enriches the mind and turns the heart. We are privileged to journey with her from her days as a student to her emergence as a physician working among those most in need.” —Jerome Groopman, author of How Doctors Think
“A gifted storyteller … Ofri describes how her patients’ histories stirred her to practice medicine more compassionately, inspired her with their hope and fortitude.” —Sarah Halzack, The Washington Post
“Danielle Ofri is a finely gifted writer, a born storyteller as well as a born physician, and through these … brilliantly written episodes covering the years from studenthood to the end of her medical residency, we get not only a deep sense of the high drama of life and death that must face anyone working in a great hospital but a feeling for the making of a physician's mind and soul, and for her bravery and vulnerabilities as she goes through the long years of apprenticeship.” —Oliver Sacks, MD, author of Awakenings and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat
“Danielle Ofri stands observing at the crossroads of the remarkable lives that intersect at Bellevue. She is dogged, perceptive, unafraid, and willing to probe her own motives, as well as those of others. This is what it takes for a good physician to arrive at the truth, and these same qualities make her an essayist of the first order.” —Abraham Verghese, author of The Tennis Partner and My Own Country
“Dr. Ofri is an exemplary model of professional compassion. Her beautiful stories linger at the curtains of disease, of class and culture of life, and of inevitable death. The stories challenge us to create new narratives of caring and listening.” —Bruce Hirsch, Tikkun
“Danielle Ofri has so much to say about the remarkable intimacies between doctor and patient, about the bonds and the barriers, and above all about how doctors come to understand their powers and their limitations.” —Perri Klass, MD, author of A Not Entirely Benign Procedure and The Mercy Rule
“Her writing tumbles forth with color and emotion. She demonstrates an ear for dialogue, a humility about the limits of her medical training, and an extraordinary capacity to be touched by human suffering. . . . an important addition to the literary canon of medicine.” —Jan Gardner, The Boston Globe
In our hometown, Stephen Puleo's event Monday night at the Boston Public Library, featuring his bookDark Tide, was a huge success. The BPL needed an overflow room once Rabb Hall filled up, and the crowd loved Puleo's stories about the Great Molasses Flood. It was the Boston Globe's first foray into a citywide reading program, and we hope they'll do it again. (Especially since the first-runner-up in the voting was another Beacon book, All Souls by Michael Patrick MacDonald.)
Sonia Sanchez "drenches her words in honey goodness so they sound like the sweetest thang you've ever heard," The Root gushes in this feature interview, where the poet discusses what she's reading and the future of African-American literature.
Chalk the union of one man and one woman up to the good influence of their gay friends: it took a lesbian wedding for Jeremy Adam Smith to understand the importance of marriage.
The first thing I always do on July 4th is unfold my New York Times to where the Declaration of Independence is printed on the back page, as it is every year. I’m a fairly jaded New Yorker, but seeing the original writing every year always makes my heart skip a beat. And now that I have three young children, I’m even more thrilled to show off this documentary evidence of what it means to be American. Plus, I get to impress them with how I still remember the first paragraph by heart from my junior high school days.
This year, when I flipped through the newspaper, something else caught my eye. A full-page ad from the Carnegie Corporation declared, “Immigrants, the Pride of America.” Centered among 46 photos of immigrants with impressive resumes was a picture of the venerable American capitalist with the following text below:
“Andrew Carnegie, who founded Carnegie Corporation of New York in 1911, was an immigrant from Scotland. We at Carnegie Corporation salute his legacy, along with the contributions of the millions of other immigrants who have made, and continue to make, our nation strong and vibrant. We are committed to helping immigrants become integrated into the civic fabric of our nation because enlightened citizenship is the everlasting strength of our democracy. Our national motto, E pluribus unum— “out of many, one” — continues to be an ideal we can all aspire to and a true guiding light for our nation.”
I’m not normally swayed by such unabashed patriotism, but after the steady stream of vitriol in the immigration debate, this was a welcome relief.
Finally, a wave of praise for Amie Klempnauer Miller's She Looks Just Like You on the The StrollerDerby blog, which quotes Salon.com's "delightful" interview with the author, plus over on Mombian. Also, ForeWord Reviews in their May/June issue, says: "She Looks Just Like You tells a story that parents from all sorts of 'categories' need to hear." And the June issue of Curve Magazine notes, "Motherhood can be scary for anyone, but when it comes to lesbian, Nonbiological moms-to-be, there was no real guidebook—until now. Miller talks about the excitements and difficulties that come from being the lesbian partner who doesn't give birth."
There is a veritable epidemic of doctor-writers out there. What is going on?
Are doctors suddenly in the kiss-and-tell mode? What about confidentiality? Professionalism? HIPAA?
one of the aforementioned doctor-writers, I look upon this trend with
both awe and trepidation. I suspect that that this flourishing
literary phenomenon relates to the public’s fascination and fear
about all things medical. It also relates to the falling away of
previous, pedestal-like images of doctors and doctoring. Lastly, it may
have occurred to the medical profession-- and this has taken a few
centuries, it seems-- that doctors have profound emotional reactions to
the work we do, and that exploring these reactions may offer benefit to
both patient and doctor.
Whatever the reason, this literary
genre appears to be here to stay, and it is worth considering the
ethical implications. Legally, there doesn't appear to be much beyond
protecting identity and avoiding libel.
Public hospitals have a bad rap. They're viewed by many as hospitals of last resort, and most patients with private insurance do anything to avoid them.
As a long-time physician in a public hospital, I'm sensitive to this reputation. I wouldn't work in my hospital if I didn't feel that it delivered excellent health care. I'm certainly aware that private hospitals have amenities that public hospitals can't afford, but many of these are cosmetic issues.
On the cosmetic side, though, public hospitals have come a long way. Bellevue Hospital, where I work, has built a gorgeous ambulatory care building, complete with a soaring atrium that floods the waiting areas with sun and space. The ICUs and emergency wards have been renovated to enviable standards.
But beyond cosmetics, there is an extremely dedicated staff who is committed to providing high-quality care, despite the many financial and logistic challenges that public hospitals face.
"Angelina Gomez," the medical assistant hollers out to the crowded waiting room. As always, I cringe when I hear this. It sounds so harsh, so cattle-like. I know that the assistant is actually a gentle and caring person, and I understand that he uses a loud voice so that he can be heard over the general din of a large waiting room.
Nevertheless it feels horrible to me, so demeaning, like we're in the DMV instead of a medical clinic. I want the environment to be more humane, more civilized, and so when I go out to call a patient, I use a much softer voice, with a tone that I hope conveys more respect.
Of course, no one can hear me. Heads turn, ears strain, faces contort as people try to figure out who I am calling. The medical assistant usually gets the right person on the first try. I, on the other hand, end up pacing up and down the waiting room repeating the name. Am I making the environment any better?
If asked what a doctor does, most people would probably come up with the standard description of diagnosing and treating disease, usually while wearing an ill-fitting white coat. Before I entered practice, even during my medical training that probably would have been my answer too.
But my years in the trenches of real medicine have altered that definition greatly. I do spend time doing the things I learned in medical school like diagnosing disease and writing prescriptions, but that turns out to be only a part of the job, often a very small part.
Much of the time I find myself acting as sounding board. Recently I saw one my regular patients, a woman whose main medical issue is hypertension. But for most of our visit she spoke, often tearfully, of the strain of raising grandchildren since her daughter died of HIV. We never really got to her hypertension, and I certainly didn't have any easy answers for her difficult life situation, but this seemed to be the only time and place that she could devote to her own issues.
A good portion of my time is spent being a teacher. So much of medicine involves education-- talking about what a disease means, which medication side effects are important to watch for, how to plan a healthy diet, which screening tests are important, what a particular diagnostic test entails, what the various lab results mean, and so on.