GENTLE VENGEANCE: An Account of the First Year at Harvard Medical School by Charles LeBaron

GENTLE VENGEANCE: An Account of the First Year at Harvard Medical School

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

Harvard Med can congratulate itself on having a student of LeBaron's depth--a remarkably un-bitter, non-whiny, thoughtful 34-year-old. His story is quiet and riveting: years of experience (some doing alternate service as a c.o.) at the lowest levels of medicine's step-child, mental health care; memories of a mother who died of TB in a public hospital, a father who died alone at home after being released from a public emergency room; and some personal brushes with death (mostly while canoeing)--all of which led him to want to study medicine. LeBaron made up the minimum of required science courses while working full-time, then applied to and was accepted at two medical schools (most applicants try from 15 to 25 schools). Arriving at Harvard with almost no money, he is both baffled and awed by the course-material, and confounded by his fellow students: expecting calculator-toting mini-geniuses, he seems instead to have found rather immature, easily molded, apprehensive individuals who in one year would already begin to change into the often arrogant, assured products of the system. By the first set of exams, LeBaron is himself almost lost in the maze (the consequence of studying reams of petty detail; professors who are Ph.D.s, not M.D.s; no patient contact; horrific ""dog labs""). But thanks to memories of patients in the past, a reminder from a French girlfriend (herself a medical student) that the medical education process, not he, may be crazy, and occasional forays to the ""normal"" world off-campus, he pulls it out. Central to his drive are those to whom LeBaron feels indebted: Hedley Rice, a moderately retarded boy who ""leaned on the bureaucracy"" by a letter-writing campaign until he stirred it up enough to get placed with the foster parents of his choice; Percy, a near-genius who--through disregard or neglect of early symptoms--became a vegetable after a brain infection; patients robbed and brutalized by supposed caretakers. These are wrenching glimpses of life for patients at the bottom of our medical hierarchy, and LeBaron is dead right: they have nothing to do with the world Harvard is in. He wrote this after only one year there because he could feel himself changing: ""They're working on me. . . maybe I'll have forgotten how it was. . . . Maybe I'll think I feel the same way. . . . But how will I know?"" Gentle, hopeful, and very, very painful, this for once looks far beyond the individual ordeal of medical school.

Pub Date: March 16th, 1981
Publisher: Marek--dist. by Putnam