Lawrence J. Hergott

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‘All I shall ever write will only be a feeble part of what I feel.’
(From Teilhard de Chardin, in Spirit of Fire)

Lawrence Hergott is Emeritus Professor of Medicine and Senior Scholar in Creative Writing at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. His hometown is Le Sueur, Minnesota - 3500 people in the town then, and pretty much the same now. Dr. Hergott married his hometown sweetheart after college in 1968. They had three children, Matthew, Leah, and Zachary. Zachary died in an airplane crash at the age of 33.
Dr. Hergott went to college at St. John's University in Minnesota, where he played football and baseball, but left there a year early to begin his medical schooling at the University of Minnesota. His further medical training was done at Hennepin County Hospital in Minneapolis, and at University of California - Davis. Between Hennepin County Hospital and University of California - Davis, he served as a Captain at Grand Forks North Dakota Air Force Base. After his medical training he spent 20 years as a cardiologist at Kaiser Permanente Medical in Denver, Colorado, and 17 years as a cardiologist and professor at the University of Colorado - which is where his writing began.
Dr. Hergott has written scores of published essays and poems internationally, mostly about medical personnel, patients, and the loved ones of both - but also of general public readers, so they can better understand how doctors lead the fascinating and enigmatic medical life, which may affect them should they become patients. The stories told and poems offered lift the veil that shades the medical life to all readers. Some of the previous publications are included in the book we will now consider, but with mostly new stories and poems.
The title of the book reviewed in Kirkus Reviews is: Departure From the Darkness and the Cold: The Hope of Renewal for the Soul of Medicine in Patient Care. The book consists of 50 essays and poems describing interactions with patients and clinicians manifesting the soul of medicine. Dr. Hergott's definition of the soul of medicine is: That thing beyond the biomedical, immutable, sustaining: the caring, compassionate, dedicated, enthusiastic attitude that set us on the difficult-by-nature, enriching journey called the medical life. His feeling is that in the current era the soul of medicine is too often smoldering rather than flaming in the hearts of clinicians, students, and residents. His view is that the essays and poems in the book can offer hope to them, and help ignite the soul of medicine to the betterment of all. It would seem that the book might be most interested in medical personnel. In fact, as in the Kirkus, Intima, and Amazon reviews - and several individual responses below - there is at least as much emotion and depth evolving from the non-medical readers as the medical ones:
‘I have only read the Acknowledgements and the Foreward, and am already in tears.’
'It is difficult to find words to describe the deep impact your book has made on us. It's educational, heartwarming,
and, not surprisingly, well written. Your portrayal of vulnerability, joy, sadness, hope, and peace is inspiring.'
‘The more I read, the more I love. I have sent it to seven friends so far!’
Dr. Hergott hopes that, whatever kind of reader you are, you will feel meaning, and heartening, in doing so.



BY Lawrence J. Hergott • POSTED ON March 18, 2020

A doctor weighs the rigors, discontents, and joys of practicing medicine in this collection of essays and poetry.

In these pieces, Hergott, a cardiologist and emeritus professor of medicine at the University of Colorado, delves into the physically and emotionally grueling realities of a medical career as well as the humane idealism at its core. Several essays decry the subjection of doctors to the dictates of markets and corporate health care providers’ demands; the result, he contends, is burned-out physicians with little time to care for their patients’ emotional needs or to maintain family lives of their own. Hergott re-creates the ordeal and trauma of medical training—his nerves were so bad on one day of his residency, he writes, that he had to leave the hospital—and the hard-won confidence in his abilities that grew over time. He also tells stories of appropriate medical treatment choices that resulted in patients’ deaths—every doctor has some—and discusses the painful process of learning and moving on from them. Other, contrasting stories tell of health care professionals forging connections with patients despite obstacles. Hergott recalls a ward full of nonresponsive hydrocephalic infants, many abandoned by their parents, who received tender care from the ward nurses; World War II veterans who opened up to him about things they’d never discussed with anyone; and a doctor in an elevator who lifted the spirits of a fragile patient just by making small talk with her. In several essays, he recounts the death of his adult son, Zachary, in a 2009 plane crash and the rudderless grief that he weathered in its wake—and the colleagues, patients, and strangers who helped him through it with simple gestures of caring.

Hergott writes in a limpid style that’s vivid and often haunting: “They were young men, their bodies pale, translucent, and incomplete,” he writes of convalescents at a military hospital. “Each had part of an arm or a leg missing or had some other wound inconsistent with the perfection of the rest of the body.” His prose moves between clinical precision (“I felt the clamp placed in my hand and as I began to move it toward the cords a thought flashed in my mind…I could completely occlude his airway—which would be catastrophic,” he frets while treating a choking toddler) and more lyrical observations that skillfully evoke mood and feeling (the toddler’s mother had “her son enfolded in her arms, her head bent with her face close to his, she speaking softly to him in a way no one else could”). Even more than his prose, Hergott’s poetry offers dense imagery that conveys psychological wounds beneath physical ones, as in a piece about a brain surgery patient: “When the staples come out, / and the bone beneath has healed, / and your flowing hair— / artfully parted during— / covers the scar after, / there will be nothing seen / of what proceeded.” The overall result is a rich and absorbing portrait of a doctor’s life.

A luminous meditation on a healer’s experience that’s anguished and exuberant, by turns.

Pub Date: March 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-62734-302-2

Page count: 182pp

Publisher: Universal Publishers

Review Posted Online: Oct. 12, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2020

Healing the Hearts of Men and Gorillas