With Writer, M.D. Leah Kaminsky wants to give the reader a glimpse into the very souls of physicians, by using non-fiction and fiction written by doctors themselves. It is an interesting idea.
However, all of the pieces in this book focus on death or grave trauma and loss, and as such they are all, to me, overwhelmingly depressing. In addition, in some cases, unless the reader intends to become a doctor, they are depressing and boring, such as the long piece, “Resurrectionist,” which excruciatingly details a dissection to the point that I did not finish the story. Thirty pages of tearing a body apart is more than I care to endure in print, for any reason.
Certainly, it is interesting to know how various types of doctors deal with mortality and loss, but there needs to be balance. Doctors also save lives and cure people, and even bring new life into the world, but you would not know it from this book. Perhaps if there was something in the title which warned one, that would be better, but the subtitle only says “The Best Contemporary Fiction and Non-Fiction by Doctors.” I doubt this is strictly true, because I am sure there are doctors out there who are writing interesting work about patients who live and recover.
There are a few pieces in Writer, M.D. which, while still dealing with grievous loss, do so in such a way that they still are enjoyable to read. Oliver Sacks’ “The Lost Mariner” stands out in the non-fiction and is a fascinating story of a man who has no short-term memory and believes he is living in 1945, but the story is from 1985, and therefore dated and hardly contemporary.
The fiction is somewhat more interesting than the non-fiction. “Dog 1, Dog 2” is an intriguing story of a researcher who identifies a bit too much with his subjects, for instance, and John Murray’s story, “Communion,” is my favorite work in the book, because it captures a time and place in history so vividly.
Overall, however, Writer, M.D. (available January 10, 2012), desperately needs some pieces that showcase hope and life as well as despair and loss. If all medicine was like this, there would be no doctors, or not for very long.
The answer I got from this book to the question posed in the book, which is how do doctors deal with traumatic situations on a daily basis, is “Not very well.”