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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


In the tradition of Abraham Verghese and Atul Gawande, a gripping memoir of learning medicine in the trenches. Singular Intimacies: Becoming a Doctor at Bellevue by Danielle Ofri (Beacon Press) is the story of becoming a doctor by immersion at Bellevue Hospital , the oldest public hospital in the country—and perhaps the most legendary. It is both the classic inner-city hospital and a unique amalgam of history, insanity, beauty, and intellect. When Danielle Ofri enters these 250-year-old doors as a tentative medical student, she is immediately plunged into the teeming world of urban medicine: mysterious illnesses, life-and-death decisions, patients speaking any one of a dozen languages, overworked interns devising creative strategies to cope with the feverish intensity of a big-city hospital.
Yet the emphasis of
Singular Intimacies is not so much on the arduous hours in medical training (which certainly exist here), but on the evolution of an instinct for healing. In a hospital without the luxury of private physicians, where patients lack resources both financial and societal, where poverty and social strife are as much a part of the pathology as any microbe, it is the medical students and interns who are thrust into the searing intimacy that is the doctor-patient relationship. In each memorable chapter, Ofri’s progress toward becoming an experienced healer introduces not just a patient in medical crisis, but a human being with an intricate and compelling history. Ofri learns to navigate the tangled vulnerabilities of doctor and patient, not simply battle the disease.

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