Kirkus Reviews QR Code


A Doctor's Education in Empathy, Identity, and Desire

by Rafael Campo

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-393-04009-7
Publisher: Norton

 Graceful, insightful, often disturbing essays on the healing art by a doctor-poet who daringly reveals his own human vulnerabilities and longings. ``As a poet, my challenge is to create myself, in my own image, using the corporeal materials common to all speakers of English; as a physician, my challenge is to accept the absolute necessity of that process,'' writes Campo, who currently practices medicine at Harvard Medical School's Beth Israel Hospital. He writes poignantly of his boyhood as the dark-skinned child of Cuban ÇmigrÇs in affluent white suburbia, of how the cracks about ``faggots'' by his jock roommates at Amherst steeled him to the possibility of his own homosexuality, of meeting in college the man who remains his life's companion. He tells us briefly of his medical education at Harvard and, with deep feeling, of his residency at the University of California in San Francisco, chosen in part for its rich mix of Asians, whites, Latinos, and openly gay and lesbian people. There, immersed in the care of AIDS patients, he contemplated conducting a poetry-writing workshop on the ward, until realizing that it was his patients all along who had been teaching him to write. They also taught him about living and dying, healing and loving. The author of two books of poetry (The Other Man Was Me and What the Body Told), Campo has been teased by his colleagues for believing in the curative power of words. His joking response is that he's never seen a poem cause liver failure or bone-marrow toxicity, but his serious one is that poetry is ``the clearest drug of all, the essence and distillation of the process of living itself.'' Today Campo's patients are the mostly Latino poor of Boston; the rest of us must settle for his fine, perceptive writing.