Becoming a Doctor at Bellevue
A “finely gifted writer” shares “fifteen brilliantly written episodes covering the years from studenthood to the end of medical residency” (Oliver Sacks, MD, author of The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat)
Singular Intimacies is the story of becoming a doctor by immersion at Bellevue Hospital, the oldest public hospital in the country—and perhaps the most legendary. It is both the classic inner-city hospital and a unique amalgam of history, insanity, beauty, and intellect. When Danielle Ofri enters these 250-year-old doors as a tentative medical student, she is immediately plunged into the teeming world of urban medicine: mysterious illnesses, life-and-death decisions, patients speaking any one of a dozen languages, and overworked interns devising creative strategies to cope with the feverish intensity of a big-city hospital.
Yet the emphasis of Singular Intimacies is not so much on the arduous hours in medical training (which certainly exist here), but on the evolution of an instinct for healing. In a hospital without the luxury of private physicians, where patients lack resources both financial and societal, where poverty and social strife are as much a part of the pathology as any microbe, it is the medical students and interns who are thrust into the searing intimacy that is the doctor-patient relationship. In each memorable chapter, Ofri’s progress toward becoming an experienced healer introduces not just a patient in medical crisis, but a human being with an intricate and compelling history. Ofri learns to navigate the tangled vulnerabilities of doctor and patient—not to simply battle the disease.
These essays, some previously published, about the author's 10 years as a medical student, intern and resident at the oldest public hospital in the U.S. resonate with insight, intelligence, humor and an extraordinary sensitivity to both the patients she treated in this inner-city facility and the staff she worked with. The cofounder and editor-in-chief of a literary magazine, the Bellevue Review, Ofri is now an attending physician at Bellevue and brings to this memoir a combination of medical information and some very expressive writing. The author acknowledges that when she arrived to work on the wards, she had no idea what her responsibilities were or how to perform typical student tasks like drawing blood. Along with the technical skills she absorbed working overtime in a stressful atmosphere, Ofri also learned to truly care for her cases. In "Finding the Person," she describes, for example, why she continued to speak to and maintain a bedside manner with a comatose woman in front of the dying woman's family. "Intensive Care" recounts the story of Dr. Sitkin, a difficult supervisor who both alienated and won the respect of his medical team, and eventually took his own life. The tragic loss of her close friend Josh, a 27 year-old, who died from a congenital heart condition ("The Burden of Knowledge"), caused her to doubt the foundation of medical training, that knowledge is power. The pieces in this powerful collection are tied together by the struggle of a clearly gifted physician to master the complexities of healing.
Not for the faint hearted
What a poignant, realistic accounting of life progressing from medical student, intern, residency to attending. Well worth reading to appreciate the level of anxieties, goals, fatigue, stress, and compassion confronting every new doctor. As a retired nursing supervisor also in NYC, I know this is an accurate sampling. While also dreading the big July 1 turnover of young doctors, I still felt sorry for the confusion from newness that they faced, especially from medical student to medical intern. ( And then I married one!) Great book!