Quick Looks at Books
True Strength: My Journey from Hercules to Mere Mortal and How Nearly Dying Saved My Life by Kevin Sorbo (Da Capo Lifelong)
The overly-long title gives you some idea of what this memoir is about. The actor who played Hercules on TV was hit with a series of puzzling strokes that disabled him for quite a long time. The first half of this true tale is interesting, but then the reader fully expects to find out – in the second half of the telling – what caused the strokes and/or how Sorbo was cured. Neither happens and nothing much of interest (other than Sorbo’s getting married and having children) occurs in the last 140 or so pages.
This is the type of account that, if boiled down to six or seven pages, would have made for a heck of an interesting magazine article. Unfortunately, at 276 pages it just seemed to go on and on without resolution.
The Me Generation by Me: Growing Up in the ’60s by Ken Levine (Ken Levine)
Levine writes about much of the growing up male territory covered so well previously by Bob Greene. Levine, however, grew up in the greater Los Angeles area rather than in the Midwest. While there are a lot of funny bits in this memoir, a good amount of the (Jewish-American) humor seems forced – more Woody Allen, if you will, than Jerry Seinfeld. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
God’s Hotel: A Doctor, A Hospital and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of Medicine by Victoria Sweet (Riverhead Books)
This medical memoir is best summed up in the quote, “The secret in the care of the patient is in caring for the patient.” Dr. Sweet, who has practiced medicine for more than two decades at the Laguna Honda Hospital in San Francisco, is a doctor who truly cares for the most indigent of patients; and she cares for the human-paced hospital which barely survived a closure scare. At a time when some still wish to debate the benefits of a national health care system, Sweet explains why we should “still believe and act as if taking care of the sick poor is something that a society should do.”
Sweet goes on to explain how a physician can learn lessons from patients, such as the fact that “medicine no longer (needs to seem) so complicated.” A hospital should still be just that rather than a dreaded modern “health care facility.” Sweet also details how literally dangerous it can be for a budget-cutting hospital administrator to meet and get to know the patients – actual human beings and not just “residents” – for whose lives he’s ultimately responsible.
Most readers will find themselves wishing that Dr. Sweet could be their own personal M.D., providing medical care that’s less technology and more about instinct, feeling and a sense of bonding. Oliver Sacks said this book “should be required reading.” Indeed. Well recommended.
How We Age: A Doctor’s Journey into the Heart of Growing Old by Marc E. Agronin, M.D. (Da Capo Lifelong)
“…the burden of illness and the proximity of death force a special bond (between a health care professional and) patient and family.”
Marc Agronin, a psychiatrist for the Miami Jewish Health Systems is another caring doctor who has written about his relationships with elderly patients in How We Age. Agronin makes clear that he’s also learned much from them: “…no matter how many years I’ve practiced, I still find myself a student to the life lessons offered by these (patients).” He specifically learns that his patients, no matter what their illness or psychological state, generally die with dignity and prior to their expiration, they acquire “the crowning glory of old age” (Cicero) – namely wisdom. “Wisdom serves to calm (the) maelstrom (of decay), providing a way of thinking, feeling, and experiencing that brings order, harmony, and, for many, a great measure of happiness.”
To his credit, Dr. Agronin also – like Dr. Sweet – rejects the notion that the business of medicine has evolved into nothing more than “a business transaction between strangers.” In his view, a doctor or psychiatrist and patient should be no less than truly friends, if not more. Highly recommended.
Review copies were provided by the publishers or authors.