When someone is diagnosed with a serious illness, he or she is taking the first step on a challenging and confusing journey. For many, it is as if they are traveling alone to someplace entirely new, with only faded directions back to their old lives. Often, even their loved ones can only guess at what they must be experiencing. Michael Stein, M.D., uses the stories of his own patients to consider the personal narrative of sickness. Beautifully written and keenly insightful, The Lonely Patient is a valuable book for patients and their caregivers as well as a probing inquiry into this universal experience.
Beautifully written, this is a look into the hearts and minds of people suffering serious illness: into the terrors that they often don't express directly. Stein centers his investigation on his brother-in-law Richard, diagnosed with a rare sinus cancer at the age of 50. According to Stein, a professor at the Brown University School of Medicine and a novelist (The Lynching Tree), such patients pass through four emotional stages betrayal, terror, loneliness and loss which he illustrates with riveting case studies. One patient had a mysterious bump on his head; because of his fear of anesthesia, he decided to forgo a necessary operation. Stein's most expressive prose evokes the isolated world of the patient, who is locked into a limited existence, confined in a hospital room or at home, exemplified at its most extreme by a quadriplegic who feels completely shut in to "a strange indoor island world." Stein says he now understands the importance of taking the hand of a fearful patient, who need not display courage in front of physicians. This is a moving and eloquent testimony from a caring practitioner.