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TWELVE PATIENTS by Eric Manheimer Kirkus Star


Life and Death at Bellevue Hospital

by Eric Manheimer

Pub Date: July 10th, 2012
ISBN: 978-1-4555-0388-9
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Captivating samplings of one doctor’s tour of duty inside the country’s oldest and perhaps most illustrious public hospital.

As the “oldest hospital in the country,” New York’s famous Bellevue Hospital stands strong in the ashes of centuries of illness, death and, indeed, survival. Manheimer started his residency there in 1997, and each of these 12 vignettes coalesces into a humanitarian and heartbreaking tapestry where modern medicine confronts the atrocities of life. The profiles begin with the strife of incarcerated Mexican mobster Juan Guerra, admitted to the prison health unit with a neck swollen with cancerous tumors, the same type of carcinoma the author was battling at the same time. Other chapters introduce patients like Tanisha, a Dominican-Haitian teenager who was abandoned at birth and had ricocheted for years through an overburdened foster-care system; a recovering drug addict; an undocumented factory worker with a failing heart caused by debilitating Chagas disease; an obese woman requiring a C-section; and a homeless schizophrenic. As harrowing as the stories of the patients is the chronicle of Manheimer’s own arduous battle with cancer. Sampling three decades of the doctor’s tenure as medical director, the book offers desperate glimpses into the unfortunate lives of the sick, the injured and the dying, yet the author never relinquishes his hold on hope, however fleeting. Manheimer’s unflinching reportage of his patients, the country’s fractured health care system, irresponsible food manufacturers and hospital politics is authoritatively written, though not recommended for the medically squeamish.

An exquisite—and often exquisitely depressing—patchwork of joy and pain.