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This autobiographical account of Dr. Lown's five decades of practice and research in cardiovascular medicine is both a history of the field and a history of a man passionately interested in people and healing. The book is divided into six sections: Hearing the Patient: The Art of Diagnosis; Healing the Patient: The Art of Doctoring; Healing the Patient: Science; Incurable Problems; The Rewards of Doctoring; and The Art of Being a Patient.
The first three sections comprise the bulk of the book: Lown chronicles his early medical training and career through stories of memorable patients, anecdotes about key role models (particularly Dr. Samuel A. Levine), and histories of medical mistakes, diagnostic acumen, and his remarkable research innovations. These achievements include the introduction of intravenous lidocaine, cardioversion and defibrillation, and development of the coronary care unit.
The core of the book, however, is about how deeply Lown cares for his patients. He states, “This book is a small recompense to my patients, ultimately my greatest teachers, who helped me to become a doctor.” The book contains many reflections on medical practice, such as this definition of medical wisdom: “It is the capacity to comprehend a clinical problem at its mooring, not in an organ, but in a human being.”
In a thoughtful chapter on death and dying, Lown muses on his emotional and spiritual responses to encounters with death, and bemoans the medical profession's increasing tendency to “put technology between us and our patients, to spare us the grief of failing to confront our own mortality.” In the final chapter, Lown takes an unusual twist, and writes a treatise to patients on how to get the doctor to truly pay attention to them and what are reasonable expectations to have of one's doctor.