Thursday, February 18, 2010

Surviving the Fall

The Personal Journey of an AIDS Doctor
by Peter Selwyn
From Publisher's Weekly:  "Selwyn entered his residency at an inner-city Bronx hospital in 1981, just in time for the arrival of AIDS. Medical school had prepared him to be a healer, but in the face of a devastating, incurable disease, he found his most important role was as a "witness and companion." There were certain characteristics of the disease that made it more personal, and in the devastating effects of AIDS on families, Selwyn began to sense parallels with the suicide of his father: "Like AIDS, suicide is something that stigmatizes both those who die and those who survive, something that is shrouded with shame, guilt, and secrecy." Selwyn successfully intertwines his own story with portraits of his most memorable patients, resisting the temptation to turn them into martyrs. He admires drug addicts' "yearning to live intensely in every moment" and eventually, as he becomes more and more obsessed with his work, recognizes that he shares some of their patterns of addictive behavior. As befits a memoir, this book's best moments are the intensely personal ones: Selwyn's secret fear that any weight loss meant the onset of AIDS; his attempt to trace his father's last steps in the building where he died. Selwyn credits his journey through the AIDS epidemic with making him a better doctor, but the healing went both ways as he found a new understanding that would allow him to treat the untended wounds left by his father's death."

DJE:  This is a memorable and important work for anyone interested in the effects suicide on family members.