Physician authors share the heart of health

Physicians often do other things besides practice medicine. Many have hobbies and travel extensively. Many do spiritual ministry and other volunteer community activity.

I know doctors who dance, sing, play instruments, act, and do comedy. Others own and manage side businesses.

But probably the most common non-practice activity that doctors do is write-like me, and other physician bloggers.

When I started blogging 4 years ago, I knew few other physician bloggers, but the number has grown so large I know few of them now.

Doctors write health and medical books and blogs of course, but they cover other topics too-finances, travel, food, family, parenting, spirituality, fashion. They’ll usually throw in their unique perspective as a physician in approaching these non-medical topics.

And they don’t all write non-fiction; doctors write novels too, some of which get made into movies.

Books reviewed here- a list

I’ve reviewed or referenced several books written by physicians. In this post, I’m listing links to those reviews. along with a brief excerpt. I hope you’ll bookmark this page so you can come back and read all of them if you don’t get to them all now.

Enjoy exploring the HEART of health with these physician writers.

(This post contains affiliate links which, by paying a commission if used for a purchase, help fund this blog. )

The Point of it All

If you wondered why Pulitzer prize winning journalist Charles Krauthammer quit his medical career to write a political column for the Washington Post newspaper, you’ll learn the answer in his newest and sadly last book. He explained

“I left psychiatry to start writing…because I felt history happening outside the examining room door. I wanted to…because some things matter, some things need to be said, some things need to be defended.”

Being Mortal

Dr. Gawande poignantly describes this process by sharing in detail his  father’s cancer diagnosis, treatment, progression, hospice care and death. He shows how difficult a process this can be, given that even he and his parents, all of whom are physicians, struggled to come to terms with the reality of terminal illness and the dying process. Though they were all familiar with and experienced in dealing with the medical system, they still felt unprepared to face the decisions required at the end of life. But in the end, both he and his father felt at peace with the outcome and Dr. Gawande senior did experience “a good life-all the way to the very end.”

What Patients Say , What Doctors Hear

As a physician, this was not an easy book to read; Dr. Ofri does not hesitate to tell us physicians what we need to do better in our communication with our patients.

But she also makes it plain to patients that you have a role and a vested stake in communicating your concerns, questions, and even grievances to the physicians who care for you; that without such information, your physicians cannot provide optimal diagnosis and treatment for you.

When Breath Becomes Air

This memoir is not so much a diary of what happened to Dr. Kalanithi as what happened within him as he confronted his own mortality and chose not to let it define the remainder of his life.

On the copyright page, “Death and Dying” is included in the list of categories for this book. However, you will not find “how to die” instructions here. Instead, you will learn how one man and his family chose to live despite knowing that he would  soon die.

Working Stiff

When she applied for a position in New York City at the NYC Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME), Dr. Judy Melinek never imagined that decision would plunge her into the nightmare of September 11, 2001. She was at the ME office that day when the Twin Towers were attacked and fell, killing thousands of people.

Healing People, Not Patients

Health care professionals will find Dr. Weinkle’s concepts an attractive alternative to “burnout”, an encouragement to remember why we entered the profession in the first place, and a challenge to restore the personal touch that makes medicine truly an art. 

Patients will find explanations about why medical care is at times fragmented, uncoordinated, and unproductive, will understand the challenge that their own physicians face in providing effective care, and understand how they can be part of the solution. 

sharing the HEART of health

I thank my colleagues for sharing the HEART of health, both in the exam room, the operating room, the emergency room, the clinic, and at their own computer.

I appreciate all of you who follow this blog; there are numerous other blogs to choose from so I am honored you chose to spend some time here. A special welcome to all my new followers from this past month.

To start following Watercress Words , use this form to get an email notification of new posts . Please find and follow me on Facebook, Pinterest and LinkedIn. Thanks so much.

Thanks for exploring the HEART of health with me.

                              Dr. Aletha 

I would be grateful for your support of these affiliate links and advertisements, they help me share the heart of health through this blog.

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A time to be born, and a time to die-what books teach us about dying

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

    a time to be born and a time to die,

Ecclesiastes 3, NIV

Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Birth and death are the only medical events that all humans share. We can anticipate and celebrate the births of other people but not our own.

However we all can anticipate our own death although most of the time we don’t want to.  Unless we deal with a chronic life threatening disease or  are  diagnosed with a terminal illness, or thrust into a life-threatening situation such as combat or a natural disaster,  most of us don’t consider  about how or when we will die. But in truth we all will die.

I have reviewed several books about death here . Not because I  wanted to write about death but because several good books deal with death sensitively and thoughtfully.

Books about death are sometimes written by a person who is facing death. Relatives write after a loved one dies- a child ,a spouse ,a parent. The motivation for writing these books varies as does the motivation for reading them.

I reviewed these books  because by understanding how other people and their families have faced death it may relieve our dread, anxiety, or fear  about dying and death. Often it is not death itself that we  fear but the dying process -the pain , disability, dependence, isolation, unfulfilled dreams.

In an essay  for JAMA, Dr. Zachary Sager, a geriatric and palliative care physician in Boston Massachusetts, described his response to  working with dying patients-

“I witnessed how people could be simultaneously resilient and fragile. I was moved by the connectedness between individuals.

I accept that death offers not only the expected reflection on life and mourning but an opportunity for a unique form of growth and healing. ”

The books I reviewed share  common themes, and events yet are each unique as are the people in them who demonstrate both resilience and fragility.

I am posting excerpts from my reviews with a link to the entire piece. I welcome and encourage your comments about these books as well as any about how you  have navigated death in your family.

A 90 year old woman says “yes” to life

Driving Miss Norma tells the story of Norma Bauerschmidt, a WWII WAVE veteran, wife, and mother. She was still in good health at 90 years of age, until she was diagnosed with cancer.

Her doctor recommended surgery to be followed by chemotherapy, and warned her the treatment and recovery would be long and difficult. She told him no, she would rather “hit the road” with her son and daughter-in-law and enjoy her life, seeing and doing things she had not had a chance to do before. And her doctor agreed, saying that is just what he would do.

Driving Miss Norma - a book cover

Tim, her son, and Ramie, his wife, had already been living a nomadic life, travelling the country with their standard poodle Ringo in an Airstream travel  trailer they parked in campgrounds and  Walmart parking lots. They enjoyed travelling, seeing new places, meeting new people. They wondered how adding a 90 year old woman to their wandering lifestyle would work.

Driving Miss Norma- a book review

A young mother who chose life

A few months after their baby Indiana’s birth, Joey  faced the recurrence of cervical cancer diagnosed and treated years before. Despite more surgery, radiation and chemo the cancer persisted until further treatments were futile and and likely to cause more suffering. Joey decided to leave their Nashville farm,her horses, chickens and gardens, to move home to Indiana to spend her remaining time with her extended family.

To Joey, With Love

Faced with the persistence of the cancer

“Joey decided to come home-not to die, but to live.”

To Joey, With Love- a movie review

A physician who faces his own mortality

Dr. Paul Kalanithi was a 36-year-old resident physician who had, as he wrote, “reached the mountaintop” of anticipating a promising career as a neurosurgeon and neuroscientist. He had a loving wife, a supportive family and professors who respected his knowledge and skill. He seemed destined to be sought after, well paid, productive, successful, and  famous.

WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR- a book

(note: a neurosurgeon treats  brain, spinal cord and nerve  diseases such as brain tumors that can be cured or improved with surgery,)

Unfortunately, “the culmination of decades of striving evaporated” when he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of lung cancer for which the prognosis was bleak, even with treatment. He was admitted to the very hospital where he trained as a neurosurgery resident, now  to learn what it is like to be a patient with a potentially terminal illness.

When Breath Becomes Air- reflections from Dr. Lucy Kalanithi

Thank you for joining me to remember and honor Norma, Joey, and Paul. I appreciate their families’ generosity in sharing their stories and the HEART of health.

Dr. Aletha stethoscope with a heart

Driving Miss Norma- still saying “yes”

I “met” Norma Bauerschmidt on Facebook when a friend shared a video about her. She was a 90 year old woman who decided to spend the last months of her life “on the road” travelling with her son in a motorhome. She was diagnosed with cancer but decided to forgo treatment so she could enjoy her remaining time.

She finished her journey and “died peacefully and with no regrets on September 30, 2016.” Her family shared this remembrance on her Facebook page 1 year later:

“The lessons she taught us in her last days help cut through our grief. The conversations we had together provide tremendous peace.

We now see her light shine through in the natural world: as a spectacular rainbow, a visiting dragonfly, or a lavender sunset — always reminding us what is important.

On this anniversary of Miss Norma’s death, we remember her final wish to infuse some joy in the world.”

JOY- letters from Scrabble pieces
photo from Lightstock.com (affiliate)

Here is my review of the memoir her son and daughter-in-law wrote after Norma’s death. Even if you read it before, I hope you will read and share it again.

Driving Miss Norma

One Family’s Journey Saying “Yes” to Living- a memoir

By Tim Bauerschmidt and Ramie Liddle

Harper Collins, 2017

(This post contains affiliate links.)

Grand Canyon , USA
The Grand Canyon- stock photo compliments of Pixabay

I first learned about Norma Bauerschmidt on Facebook when a friend shared a video about her. She was a 90 year old woman who decided to spend the last months of her life “on the road” travelling with her son in a motorhome. She was diagnosed with cancer but decided to forgo treatment so she could enjoy her remaining time.

I didn’t learn more about her until I saw this book.  I decided to read it, expecting a feel good entertaining read. The story turned out to be far more complex than the little I knew.

Driving Miss Norma tells the story of Norma Bauerschmidt, a WWII WAVE veteran, wife, and mother. She was still in good health at 90 years of age, until she was diagnosed with cancer.

Her doctor recommended surgery to be followed by chemotherapy, and warned her the treatment and recovery would be long and difficult. She told him no, she would rather “hit the road” with her son and daughter-in-law and enjoy her life, seeing and doing things she had not had a chance to do before. And her doctor agreed, saying that is just what he would do.

Tim, her son, and Ramie, his wife, had already been living a nomadic life, travelling the country with their standard poodle Ringo in an Airstream travel  trailer

Airstream travel trailers parked at a campground
photo courtesy Pixabay

they parked in campgrounds and  Walmart parking lots. They enjoyed travelling, seeing new places, meeting new people. They wondered how adding a 90 year old woman to their wandering lifestyle would work.

By the time they completed arrangements for Norma to join them, she was already frail, and as her illness progressed she needed even more attention and care. Tim and Ramie soon realized that this might be more difficult and complex than they imagined.

In the book, co-written by Tim and Ramie, they tell their stories also; the mid-life challenge of caring for aging parents, making end of life decisions and plans, and coping with parents’ death and  their subsequent grief. Having chosen not to have children, the role of caregivers was foreign to them, and one they had to painstakingly embrace and navigate.

By coincidence, Ramie had recently read the book Being Mortal  “a critical examination of end-of-life medical care.” Until then she had not thought much about the subject. But when she finished the book

“I knew my life had changed. The way I looked at the end of life had been flipped upside down and backward. I knew now it was time to have those tough conversations.”

(I reviewed this book at this link)

As they travelled, Ramie began writing about their adventures and posting on Facebook to close friends and family. She thought that other people might also be interested so she started a Page, Driving Miss Norma. They attracted a handful of followers initially, as she expected.

But after Norma’s story was reported on the Good News Network, followed by a CBS Evening News Story , the Page began adding  followers by the thousands.

The were alarmed, even fearful, of what they perceived as an intrusion on their privacy. Until now, they had deliberately avoided media in their isolated lifestyle. Then they began noticing how Norma’s story was resonating with people in a way they had not expected.

up close look at a hot air balloon
Norma went on her first and only hot air balloon ride (complimentary stock photo from Pixabay)

“We had suddenly and dramatically found ourselves in the middle of an international conversation about the meaning of life, illness, dying and love. We were learning on the fly how to open ourselves to holding so much raw emotion.”

Her story opened their lives to new people and situations they never imagined would happen. Rather than being a burden, Norma’s growing fame became the vehicle for them to grow closer to her, each other, and a whole new set of friends all over the country and the world.

“We had the support of people all over the world and that was breathing new energy into our days. Here were so many people pouring out their deepest fears, losses, and desires to us. They told us of their caregiving struggles. They shared with us their innermost desires- to make peace with their recently deceased father, to tell someone “I love you.”

Throughout the story Tim and Ramie share about the places Norma visited (see map), people she met, from the common to famous, the foods she tried, sometimes for the first time, and activities she tried, also many for the first time, like riding a horse. They and the new friends they made shared food, fun, love, and laughter.

map of the United States
Norma visited all the sites marked on this map

But they also touch on the serious issues we all deal with sooner or later- aging, frailty, complex illness, terminal illness, end of life decisions, palliative care, death, and grief. They learned some important lessons about human relationships which they illustrate beautifully in their transparent writing.

“We learned how to greet people with open minds and open hearts…the lines that separate people into different boxes-religion and politics and race and age-blurred and faded and eventually disappeared. We got to see the truth in people, including in Norma: her glow, her tenacity, her joy, and her confidence.”

Tim and Ramie wrote the book after Norma’s death. They each took turns writing different chapters, and Ramie took all the photographs that illustrate it. But in a way Norma herself wrote the book, since it was the way she faced the final months of her life that produced the lessons her family learned and share with us in this book.

Norma kept a journal during their travels and after she died Tim and Ramie, with close friends, read it, and were somewhat surprised at what she wrote. Or rather, what she didn’t write.

“She did not write about cancer or fame- the two big themes of the trip for us. She did not write about the fear of dying or illness at all. Instead, she talked about life, living, and the things that brought her happiness:a sturdy wheelchair, mama and baby goats, a good hair perm, and her trusty sidekick Ringo.”

I feel sad that Norma’s trip did not bring her though my town so I could have met her. But there will be “Normas” in my life that I will meet, and perhaps someday I will be a Norma myself. When that happens I hope I remember the lessons this book teaches.

“Joy begets joy, love begets love, peace begets peace.”

You can continue to follow Tim and Ramie on Facebook where they are still

Driving Miss Norma

The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters

 by Emily Esfahani Smith

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“In a culture obsessed with happiness, this wise, stirring book points the way toward a richer, more satisfying life.”
To explore how we can craft lives of meaning, Emily Esfahani Smith considers an array of sources–from psychologists, sociologists, philosophers, and neuroscientists to figures in literature and history.
Drawing on this research, Smith shows us how cultivating connections to others, identifying and working toward a purpose, telling stories about our place in the world, and seeking out mystery can immeasurably deepen our lives.
She explores how we might begin to build a culture that leaves space for introspection and awe, cultivates a sense of community, and imbues our lives with meaning.Inspiring and story-driven, The Power of Meaning will strike a profound chord in anyone seeking a life that matters.

 About the Author

Emily Esfahani Smith’s  writing has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, The Atlantic, TIME, and other publications. She is also an instructor in positive psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, as well as an editor at the Stanford University Hoover Institution, where she manages the Ben Franklin Circles project.
Born in Zurich, Switzerland, Emily grew up in Montreal, Canada. She graduated from Dartmouth College and earned a masters in applied positive psychology from the University of Pennsylvania. She lives with her husband in Washington, DC.

Drs. Paul and Lucy Kalanithi reflected on their experience facing terminal illness in this review-   

When Breath Becomes Air- reflections from Dr. Lucy Kalanithi

sharing the HEART of life and death

I appreciate all of you who follow this blog; there are numerous other blogs to choose from so I am honored you chose to spend some time here. A special welcome to all my new followers from this past month.

To start following Watercress Words , use this form to get an email notification of new posts . Please find and follow me on Facebook, Pinterest and LinkedIn. Thanks so much.

These are affiliate links you may find helpful and which help fund this blog with a commission when a purchase is made using them.

                              Dr. Aletha 

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