Wednesday, December 24, 2008

When Doctors Get Sick: Henry Mandel and Howard Spiro (1987)

This book is a minor classic. In an essay in the Annals of Internal Medicine, Harvey Mandell writes: Storytelling has gained prominence in medicine, where the tales of the sick are medicalized as "pathography." Interest in "narrative," as it is called in academic circles, is equally widespread in history, where stories based on facts and re-created with imagination bring other times to life more dramatically than the dry data of economics and biography. If we physicians read more accounts of our patients' travails and, better still, talked about them with each other, we might improve the humane qualities of medical care. The chiaroscuro of conversation and narrative can so highlight the social, emotional, and economic origins of many complaints that it might even help to make medical practice more cost-effective.

We review here what the two of us learned from the stories about sick doctors that we collected a decade ago. These narratives illuminate the dilemma of impaired physicians-or wounded healers, as they have been called-that our profession must examine before others do it for us.

I read this when it came out, and it remains a favorite of mine. There are 52 short vignettes, almost all of them memorable.

The can be difficult to find. There was one copy on ABE Books for ~ $2.00 but the rest were way too expensive.