Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Book Review: Medicine in Translation

Like the rest of you who live anywhere in or near the Mid-Atlantic region of the U.S., I have been mostly trapped indoors for the past several days while record amounts of snow have been falling. I used some of the time to read a few really good health-related books and thought I would start sharing selected reviews of my favorites on this blog. In the interest of full disclosure, I receive no payments from the author, publisher, or bookseller (nor do I plan to accept any such payment in the future) for writing book reviews. The following review of Medicine in Translation: Journeys With My Patients was originally published on Amazon.com.


Medicine in Translation will appeal equally to fans of Danielle Ofri's previous two books (Singular Intimacies: Becoming a Doctor at Bellevue and Incidental Findings: Lessons from My Patients in the Art of Medicine) as well as those who have never had the pleasure of reading her work before. Consisting of a perfectly blended combination of anecdotes from patients in her clinical practice at Bellevue Hospital Center in New York, her family's extended stay in Costa Rica (which included the delivery of her third child), and her struggle to achieve competency on the cello, this book is my personal favorite of Ofri's collection to date. As a family physician who trained at Bellevue during medical school, I especially appreciated her portrayal of the frustrations of balancing a demanding career in primary care with family responsibilities. One priceless moment in the book is a scene in which an apparently clueless male patient who has recently had numerous screening tests performed (and with whom she must communicate through a translator) doesn't tell her that he already had those tests (including a colonoscopy!), resulting in a lengthy end-of-day visit that makes Ofri late for day care and late to get home. Still fuming while reading The Runaway Bunny during her children's bedtime routine, she thinks: "Let the damn bunny make it on his own."

As much that scene resonated, don't let me mislead you into thinking that this book is primarily about an overworked doctor and mother feeling sorry for herself. While she misses the idyllic life in Costa Rica when she returns to Bellevue after a yearlong sabbatical, Ofri continues to find her work rewarding in ways that have little or nothing to do with medicine itself. This extraordinary book is about making continuous human connections across the barriers of language, culture, and place of origin. Frances Peabody famously said, "The secret of the care of the patient is in caring for the patient." Ofri takes this philosophy a step further in Medicine in Translation by illustrating how listening closely to her patients' stories and appreciating their perspectives can improve the health of all involved.


P.S. The subject of my next review will be The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.