“Voices are a soul’s signature,” says psychologist Dan Shapiro, who in his daily practice hears plenty of them. For all his expertise, he admits he’s still terrified that “someone will keep something from me, and when they tell me the truth, I’ll be useless.”
Treating other physicians has become one of Shapiro’s specialties. When the obstetrician Amelia Sorvino seeks his help—distraught that her own medical error could have injured a patient’s baby— Shapiro finds his talents as counselor and healer pushed to their limits. Session by session, he works to discover the sources of Amelia’s anguish--for his own sake as much as hers: he’s familiar with the burden of a doctor’s guilt, and he has seen how loss and trauma, if unchecked, can echo from generation to generation in a family. In this probing, intensely personal memoir, the words “Physician, heal thyself” assume a fresh and moving urgency.
An assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at the University of Arizona who has written about his life-threatening bout with cancer (Mom's Marijuana), Shapiro specializes in treating physicians. He recounts his experience with a patient and colleague who became convinced that she was incompetent. Dr. Amelia Sorvino (the name and other details have been changed), a young obstetrician in her 30s and very popular with both patients and faculty members, suddenly stopped working and announced that she was no longer a doctor. After several visits, she told Shapiro about the incident that had driven her out of medicine. Because her patient desperately wanted a vaginal delivery, Amelia took too long to finally perform a C-section, a decision that may or may not have caused cerebral palsy in the newborn. She is now being sued for malpractice. In honest and perceptive writing, the author details the ups and downs of this therapeutic relationship and includes descriptions of events in Amelia's own words. Sympathetic to the psychological problems that were undermining his patient's career and marriage, Shapiro was, however, sometimes plagued by hostile feelings toward her. In this very sensitive and engrossing medical memoir, Shapiro explains how, after Amelia attempted suicide, he had her hospitalized for a brief period, and he then was able to help her back to emotional health.