This is a gorgeously written memoir about one physician’s horrific experience with a catastrophic condition that led to her almost dying on several occasions. Rana Awdish, MD, was just finishing her Critical Care Medicine Fellowship and was seven months pregnant when she developed what appeared to be HELLP syndrome. Her descriptions of the horror of that night, her subsequent intensive care stay, and the reactions of her colleagues and friends are beautifully written. No one expected her to survive, and many were surprised when she did.
The first line of the first chapter she states, “Medicine can be a magical lens through which to view the human body. Focus its light on an unsorted pile of symptoms and it will converge them neatly into a diagnosis.” Throughout her harrowing story, she contemplates the power of empathy, compassion, hope, and the potency of misspoken, or poorly considered words that include “We’re losing her” and “She’s circling the drain”.
Her personal story continues for two more years of complications and medical problems, during which time she continued to work as a Critical Care attending in the same hospital where she was a patient. The book is full of insightful and clearly rendered observations such as “All pain becomes abstract in retrospect” and “I remember knowing that the pain was not compatible with life”.
As a result of her experiences, she develops empathy and communication classes for physicians, medical students, and health care providers. She is honored by local, regional, and national organizations for her courage and innovative approach to medicine.
She discusses how in medicine we are taught to venerate the disease rather than the patient who experiences the disease. We ask questions with a pre-determined agenda-trying way of thinking to confirm or deny a series of symptoms’ appropriateness for a particular diagnosis. We often miss the story behind these symptoms and the emotions that may inhabit the answers.
She eloquently talks about pain, suffering, grief, guilt both as a physician and a patient, how in medicine there is often no space to grieve, to live with the ghosts the memories, the failures. We are taught to protect patients from death and yet death is inevitable. Finding safe places to debrief and share experiences can improve the quality of life we as physicians lead and the quality of care we deliver to our patients.
This is a wonderful, thoughtful, dramatic book. Dr. Awdish’s experiences, her personal and professional growth are remarkable. It is a story worth reading and I highly recommend it.