With a blend of memoir and exposé, Deaton (Two Hands Full of Sunshine, 2009, etc.) struggles to make peace with the patient who forever changed his life and career.
The majority of Deaton’s memoir—the first in a trilogy detailing his life as a physician—is devoted to his post–Great Depression childhood in a small Texas town. Born to an alcoholic, absent father and an emotionally distant mother, Deaton spent much of his childhood alone. Despite a dysfunctional home life, he found inspiration in the teachers and mentors who provided him with the necessary tools to succeed in life. To Deaton’s credit, his introspective nature allows him to recognize the value of these adult guardians, evidenced by the gratitude he expresses with unselfconscious sincerity. Juxtaposed with these memories—which are presented in no particular chronological order—is the story of Maria Chavarria, a 17-year-old patient Deaton met as an intern during his ob-gyn rotation at Corpus Christi Memorial Hospital. As a freshly minted M.D., Deaton began his internship anticipating he’d become the kind of physician he admired as a child, but he soon discovers medicine’s dark side. Deaton’s writing reveals the depth of his passion. The events leading up to Maria’s wholly preventable death are recounted with surgical precision, yet Deaton never loses sight of his patient’s humanity. The most dramatic passages describe the inner turmoil wrought upon the author by this tragedy of medicine. No one is treated with kid gloves in this book, including Deaton. Empathy and sensitivity are directed toward his patient, while the outrage is directed toward those the author holds responsible. Genuinely profound insights can be found throughout this memoir, and the author’s explanation of the power dynamics behind medical care is positively brilliant. If Deaton fails anywhere, it’s in tying the two disparate story lines together, but there’s no question he’s an excellent writer.
A sometimes disjointed memoir revealing the demons plaguing both the physician and the medical community in which he served.