A trainee doctor combats burnout with heartening stories of how medical professionals make a difference in patients’ lives.
Debut author Sinha wrote these seven concise, well-crafted pieces while he was in internal medicine residency training at Yale New Haven Hospital. As a new intern, he had “the energy of a lively puppy,” but long hours spent with the ill and dying soon took a toll. Burnout was all around him; he even wrote an exposé on physician suicide rates for the New York Times. Worried that happiness couldn’t coexist with medicine, he was determined to search for joy in the context of life-threatening illnesses. In “Urine Trouble,” the funniest anecdote, a man called Harry, who was summoned to court for public urination, faked a seizure to go free. Cleared of neurological problems but suffering from cognitive impairment, he remained on the ward as a “social admit.” Harry refused to shower until Sinha agreed to accompany him to the rooftop healing garden—where he promptly urinated into a stream. “Nails and Screw-ups” has a similarly tidy, full-circle structure, opening and closing with scenes of the author cutting the toenails of Michael, a morbidly obese patient at the VA clinic. In between, Sinha regretted that his poor medication decision landed the man with hefty hospital bills. The author is always cognizant of how comedy and tragedy alternate, or even overlap, in emergency situations. Other tales see him saving Christmas for Carol, who accidentally mixed whiskey and Valium; watching an intern say the Lord’s Prayer with Raymond, dying of an abdominal infection; and helping a family make the decision to take cancer patient Ted off life support. These punchy essays (five of which have been previously published on websites) glisten with just-right details, dialogue, and characterization. Sinha also pays tribute to Yogesh, a chief resident who showed “empathy, vulnerability, and grace” while dying of brain cancer. A closing letter to his future self returns to the Introduction’s themes by warning against “the ever-present threat of crippling cynicism.” The only problem with the book? It’s too short—let’s hope a few more years in practice will give the author sufficient material for a full-length work.
Prescription: Read. Laugh. Cry. Repeat.