In this debut memoir, a gynecologist contemplates the patients that defined his career.
After a brief introduction, Siegel launches into a description of several of his most difficult cases: caring for a pregnant patient with pneumonia, treating ectopic pregnancies, and breaking a baby’s clavicle to save its life. Later, Siegel recounts his own history, from medical school to serving rotations in psychiatry and gynecology to starting his own practice in New Jersey. Numerous patients come and go as they are treated, but they all affect the author. Siegel balances a conversational tone with detailed clinical descriptions, which shows how skill and compassion work in tandem when practicing medicine, despite the complexity of each patient’s case. Although there are miraculous moments, complications claim some of Siegel’s patients, and he and his medical team have to cope with the responsibility, the hard choices they had to make, and the patient’s bereaved family. Following an abortion, a patient told the doctor that “a baby’s hand had just come out of her vagina….She handed me a not so bloody tissue paper. It was folded in half and easy to open. There it was, the hand of a fetus.” Siegel ably conveys the pressure of medical care. At times, however, the writing grows confusing, especially when tenses repeatedly switch. Siegel considers some of the social context surrounding his work through the years he’s been a gynecologist (e.g., he was on call, waiting to be summoned to answer some stranger’s need, during the famous New York City blackout of 1977). While those pauses provide welcome relief from the high stakes of his work, they tend toward a nostalgia that doesn’t add much to the book: “How simple and sensible it must have been in the olden golden days, when everyone trusted the doctor to do his best.” There is little for the reader to do with those kinds of ruminations and they don’t build toward a single theme or message. Siegel’s writing is at its best when it’s close to his surgery.
Emotionally affecting and earnest, although the philosophical moments falter.