A dermatologist recounts a series of vignettes from his professional and personal life.
In his preface, Bierman explains that these pieces were originally published as “Reflections” in his quarterly Bierman Dermatology Newsletter, which he issued to patients over 13 years. The stories are often related to his practice, including “The Man with the Golden Penis,” which, as readers might guess, is about a patient’s fondness for intimate jewelry—much to the shock of the good doctor. In a thematically related account, “The Peripatetic Posthumous Peregrination of Napoleon’s Penis,” Bierman succinctly summarizes the (perhaps apocryphal) story of Napoleon’s severed penis. Legend has it that the late emperor’s penis was removed after his autopsy by his confidant, Abbe Vignali, and taken to Corsica. Bierman then traces the ownership of the excised appendage until 1974, when urologist Dr. John K. Lattimer, Bierman’s friend, purchased it for $3,000. Nongenitalia-related vignettes include an account of chance elevator meeting with Phil Silvers, the comedy actor who played Sgt. Bilko in the 1950s TV program The Phil Silvers Show. Some entries, however, seem out of place. These include “The Underclass and Society,” “Racism in America” and “The Sexual Revolution of the 1960s Through 1980s,” which are overtly political, in striking contrast to the genteel writing in other recollections. Many stories tell of Bierman’s travels to faraway places like South America, London, Egypt and Alaska, but consist mostly of unengaging retellings of his itineraries. Bierman’s clinically clear and concise writing is most interesting when it reflects his personality. In “A Prescription for Melancholia,” for instance, Bierman offers a laundry list of his favorite ways to beat the blues that includes ice cream, comedian Robin Williams and the musical The Phantom of the Opera.
A varied collection of writings that, at its best, captures the quotidian pleasures of a doctor’s 50 years of service.