Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Reading Lists: Medical Narratives

Welcome to this week's installment of our newest feature here at The Blue Bookcase: Reading Lists. Every week either one of us or a guest blogger will post on one of his or her favorite topics and provide a list of books he or she is familiar with on that topic. At the end of each post we will invite you to throw out any suggestions of books, fiction or non-fiction, that you have read or know about on that topic and we will add them to the list on that post.
These lists are not comprehensive by any means, but may be useful in helping you find your next read. Enjoy!

This week, Christina is compiling a list of Medical Narratives.

This jacket looks like a lab coat. That's why I bought it.
When I was in sixth grade, I had the honor of dissecting a mink. Yep, that's right, our classroom was full of eleven-year-old kids holding scalpels and standing over dead cat-like creatures. We had a bunch of fans whirring the whole time to ease the stench of death and formaldehyde. One kid threw up. Another fainted. The mental picture, looking back, is kinda Lynchian and I have no idea who thought this activity would be age appropriate. But I loved it! I loved being the tough girl who wasn't afraid of gross stuff. I loved looking for the different organs and seeing what was going on inside that little furry body. It was the first time I thought I might want to be a doctor.

Medical school was my long-term plan right up into my late teens. But then I got into animal rights and was pretty horrified at how much my childhood self had enjoyed violating that poor little animal. And somewhere along the line I decided (wrongly) that I wasn't very good at science, and then music became a huge part of my life, and then I got married and had a family. Long story short: I never became a doctor. But I still LOVE to learn about the human body, pathology, and medical ethics. So here's my list of Medical Narratives, and I can't wait to add your recommendations!
[Oh, and check it out! Columbia has a graduate program for Narrative Medicine! Wicked!]

My List (hyperlinked titles lead to my reviews either here or on goodreads.)

Complications - Atul Gawande
In gripping accounts of true cases, surgeon Atul Gawande explores the power and the limits of medicine, offering an unflinching view from the scalpel’s edge. Complications lays bare a science not in its idealized form but as it actually is—uncertain, perplexing, and profoundly human. (Goodreads)

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down - Anne Fadiman
On the most basic level, the book tells the story of [a Hmong] family's second youngest and favored daughter,
Lia Lee, who is diagnosed with severe epilepsy, and the culture conflict that obstructs her treatment. Through miscommunications about medical dosages and parental refusal to give certain medicines due to mistrust and misunderstandings, and the inability of the doctors to have more empathy toward the traditional Hmong lifestyle or try to learn more about the Hmong culture, Lia's condition worsens. The dichotomy between the Hmong's perceived spiritual factors and the Americans' perceived scientific factors comprises the overall theme of the book. (wikipedia)

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat - Oliver Sacks
In his most extraordinary book, "one of the great clinical writers of the 20th century" (The New York Times) recounts the case histories of patients lost in the bizarre, apparently inescapable world of neurological disorders. Oliver Sacks's The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat tells the stories of individuals afflicted with fantastic perceptual and intellectual aberrations: patients who have lost their memories and with them the greater part of their pasts; who are no longer able to recognize people and common objects; who are stricken with violent tics and grimaces or who shout involuntary obscenities; whose limbs have become alien; who have been dismissed as retarded yet are gifted with uncanny artistic or mathematical talents. (goodreads)

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers - Mary RoachStiff is an oddly compelling, often hilarious exploration of the strange lives of our bodies postmortem. For two thousand years, cadavers—some willingly, some unwittingly—have been involved in science's boldest strides and weirdest undertakings. They've tested France's first guillotines, ridden the NASA Space Shuttle, been crucified in a Parisian laboratory to test the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin, and helped solve the mystery of TWA Flight 800. For every new surgical procedure, from heart transplants to gender reassignment surgery, cadavers have been there alongside surgeons, making history in their quiet way. (Goodreads)

Lying: A Metaphorical Memoir - Lauren Slater
Lying chronicles the doctors, the tests, the seizures, the family embarrassments, even as it explores a sensitive child's illness as both metaphor and a means of attention-getting—a human being's susceptibility to malady, and to storytelling as an act of healing and as part of the quest for love. This mesmerizing memoir openly questions the reliability of memoir itself, the trickiness of the mind in perceiving reality, the slippery nature of illness and diagnosis—the shifting perceptions and images of who we are and what, for God's sake, is the matter with us. (goodreads)

Every Patient Tells A Story - Lisa Sanders
A healthy young man suddenly loses his memory–making him unable to remember the events of each passing hour. Two patients diagnosed with Lyme disease improve after antibiotic treatment–only to have their symptoms mysteriously return. A young woman lies dying in the ICU–bleeding, jaundiced, incoherent–and none of her doctors know what is killing her. In Every Patient Tells a Story, Dr. Lisa Sanders takes us bedside to witness the process of solving these and other diagnostic dilemmas, providing a firsthand account of the expertise and intuition that lead a doctor to make the right diagnosis. (goodreads)

White Coat - Ellen Lerner Rothman
White Coat is Dr. Ellen Lerner Rothman's vivid account of her four years at Harvard Medical School. Describing the grueling hours and emotional hurdles she underwent to earn the degree of M.D., Dr. Rothman tells the story of one woman's transformation from a terrified first-year medical studen into a confident, competent doctor. (goodreads)

How Doctors Think - Jerome Groopman
Besides his accessible, jargon-free writing, what endears Dr. Jerome Groopman to legions of readers is his refreshing candor about the flaws and foibles of his own profession. Now the distinguished physician and bestselling author tackles a subject of great sensitivity to physicians and great importance to patients: errors in medical judgment that lead to misdiagnoses. Based on interviews, case histories, and the author's experience on both sides of the examination table, the book explains the role of first impressions, linear thinking, time constraints, and snap judgments in the diagnostic process and reveals how patients can engage doctors in dialogue that will improve communication and reduce the risk of error. Honest, revealing, and absolutely invaluable, How Doctors Think is a book that just might save your life. (goodreads)

Another Day in the Frontal Lobe - Katrina Firlik
Katrina Firlik is a neurosurgeon, one of only two hundred or so women among the alpha males who dominate this high-pressure, high-prestige medical specialty. She is also a superbly gifted writer–witty, insightful, at once deeply humane and refreshingly wry. In Another Day in the Frontal Lobe, Dr. Firlik draws on this rare combination to create a neurosurgeon’s Kitchen Confidential–a unique insider’s memoir of a fascinating profession. (goodreads)

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly - Jean-Dominique Bauby
This memoir was literally composed with a blink of an eye. By turns mischievous, angry, and wistful, the former editor French iElle/i shares the joys and sadness that crept over him when he became afflicted with a disease that left his entire body paralyzed -- except for his left eye, which he learned to use with a blinking alphabet to communicate with the rest of the world. iThe Diving Bell and the Butterfly/i is an unforgettable account of Bauby's own determination to live as fully in his mind as he had been able to in his body. (goodreads)

Your Suggestions (Point me toward your review and I'll gladly link to it!)
The Death of Ivan Illyich by Leo Tolstoy (Seth at Free Listens)
Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers (Seth at Free Listens)
The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee (Raych at Books I Done Read and Petekarnas at What You Read)
Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder (Amy at The Lit Quest)
Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese (Emma at Words and Peace)
My Own Country by Abraham Verghese (David Sokolow)
The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge (David Sokolow)

Do you consider yourself particularly well-read on a certain topic? Or maybe you find yourself drawn to books about specific people, places, or things? We would love to have you write a Reading List post for us! If you are interested please email us at