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Comfort and Advice for the Journey

by Robert Lipsyte

Pub Date: April 2nd, 1998
ISBN: 0-679-43182-9
Publisher: Knopf

A New York Times columnist's witty guide to that planet of pain which we must sometimes orbit or visit—the world of serious illness or, as Lipsyte calls it, Malady. Sportswriter and journalist Lipsyte's style is more powerful here than in his co-authored Idols of the Game (1995). Sports, in fact, provides a good ongoing metaphor to the gallows humor (dubbed ``tumor humor'') that makes this account of Lipsyte's testicular cancer such a good read. On one fearful team, so goes his story, are the patients, who wear funny green uniforms that tie in the back and leave their bottoms sticking out. However, players on the confident ``home team'' don the bright colors of doctors, nurses, aides, and support staff. Lipsyte is happiest with the ``jock surgeons'' who want to battle the enemy with their blades. ``None can beat [this type of surgeon] for sheer glamor,'' he insists. More cautious doctors, no matter their ``game face[s],'' are too much like quarterbacks, he grouses. Lipsyte contrives a more extended metaphor to cover the ``Cancer Couple,'' himself and his wife: They're roving a foreign land, ushered ``into the country of illness.'' Any deadly malady will provide the passport to this place, where caregivers speak a foreign language and seem to take delight in confounding the vulnerable tourist with cascades of daunting verbal gobbledygook. The ``medtechs'' screw up often; student doctors are there for the mocking. Cancer conditions may in fact exist only to offer false hope. And chemotherapy treatments are like the schoolyard bullies whom the author once feared yet outlasted. Lipsyte's insights into the effects of severe illness on one's friends and family are also sharp. No bibliography is needed; the author seems to discuss all the better books on medical topics. Unexpected views of ``mediquette,'' with charm when and where we need it most.