Subtitled Essays from the Heart of a Physician, this collection of previously published columns contains a series of loosely linked anecdotes from Dr Boem’s experiences as a clinician, specialising in Obstetrics and Gynaecology. The anecdotes are grouped under headings of “The Emotional and Spiritual Side”, “Special Moments”, “The End of Life”, and “A Personal View”, and each section has an overall reflection about the theme and the contents.
I think I was expecting something like surgeon and writer Atul Gawande’s Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science, where each essay ties a clinical case into a larger debate or issue, or perhaps the previously reviewed The Mummy at the Dinner Table, where cases are discussed in themselves and as a microcosm or complete departure from their practice as a whole. Or even, given the title, a variation of a Chicken Soup for the Medical Practitioner’s Soul, where a generous dollop of uplifting humanity and spirituality was added to the mix.
What I got was something quite different. I found the essays I read simplistic, lacking narrative technique, and wholly uninteresting. As I have a strong professional, academic and personal interest in the area, this is quite an accomplishment of Dr Boem’s part.
The stories often didn’t seem to go anywhere in particular, and I certainly didn’t find them profoundly reflecting and larger issues or universalisable truths, or even generating insight into one man’s practice. As in The Mummy at the Dinner Table, some of the stories were incomplete because Boem rotated onto another service, or the patients were lost to follow up. That work made the point that this can be one of the frustrating aspects of clinical practice, an interesting and rarely discussed perspective. Boem makes no such point, and generated so little interest in me that I didn’t care either way.
After reading about a quarter of the book I flipped through the rest at random, on the off chance that I was missing a seam of narrative gold. I wasn’t. Dross, dross all the way. This is the kind of book “eh” was created for. - Alex