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MY OWN MEDICINE by Geoffrey Kurland


A Doctor’s Life as a Patient

by Geoffrey Kurland

Pub Date: Sept. 11th, 2002
ISBN: 0-8050-7171-7
Publisher: Henry Holt

Memoir of a physician whose world is turned upside down by the discovery that he has a rare and deadly form of leukemia.

Kurland, a pulmonary pediatrician at Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh and a devoted long-distance runner, is a man accustomed to taking charge, making decisions, and driving himself hard. When he discovers in March 1987 that he has hairy cell leukemia, the control he feels he has over his life abruptly disappears. He is transformed from being the one who performs bone marrow biopsies to the receiver of this painful procedure, and later, he find himself no longer the one who conducts research but rather a research subject. Although working in a Sacramento hospital when he begins his journey into illness, Kurland goes to the Mayo Clinic, where his father is a doctor. There, his father’s connections make it possible for him to be seen in a hurry by the right specialists. First, his spleen is removed, and when he recovers from that, a mass in his chest is taken out. Kurland shares his anxieties and fears about what is happening to him physically, and he vividly shows what it is like to be processed through the efficient assembly line of the Mayo Clinic. By deftly translating medicalese into layman’s language, he makes his story accessible to all. For a while, his blood count remains high enough that no chemotherapy is needed, but eventually, he must enter a study combining an experimental drug, Pentostatin, with interferon. By June 1989, he’s in remission, and a year later, at memoir’s end, he is running in a 100-mile race.

Very readable survivor story, but, unlike Jamie Weisman’s As I Live and Breathe (p. 553), fails to give any real sense of how, or whether, this doctor’s perceptions of his profession were altered by his experience with illness.