Kirkus Star


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A series of flashbacks to the days when Hellerstein was a doctor-in-training that illuminate the dilemmas of healers faced with untreatable conditions, with medical miracles that cure disease but sometimes kill or make life worthless for the patient; and with the inadequacy of medical care for the poor or uninsured. He's a good writer, fully capable of summoning up the frightening aura of hospital wards, examination rooms, and dialysis, intensive care and burn units, as well as public and private mental institutions; also the hubris and anxiety of young doctors as they bat about possible treatment approaches and sometimes joke or horse around to release tension. He's furthermore a concerned and philosophically inclined human being who ponders the insensitivity of many of his fellow practitioners and the pressures that prevent doctors from providing the time-consuming human contact and compassion that, in itself, can be healing. He is still haunted, five years later, by a young Vietnamese woman who was cured of Hodgkin's disease by a combination of cell poisons and radiation--only to develop a fatal leukemia. His re-creation of the desperate and frustrating effort to save her life from an inevitable harrowing death makes for riveting--and heartsickening--reading. There is also Ambrose--huge, black, beautiful and psychotically violent. Medication restored him to sanity, and so he was released from the psychiatric ward even though the doctors knew he would not voluntarily take the pills that stabilized him. There would be no follow-up: that wasn't included in the system. Happily (or perhapsunhappily), Hellerstein never saw him again. There are many haunting patients, often surrounded by bewildered family members. Some fight for life; some plead for the release of death. All are somehow rendered less human by the constant tests, the chemicals, the great impersonal medical system within which doctors want only to be healers. In sum, an impressive debut of a new writer who, we are told, will come out soon with a first novel.

Pub Date: March 21st, 1986
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin