Before Jamie Weisman went to medical school and became a physician she wanted to be a writer. As she struggled to make a career out of writing, she was forced to acknowledge that the obscure, life-threatening condition that had plagued her since adolescence could not be factored out of her plans. Writers don't have easy access to affordable health insurance and her monthly intravenous infusions of antibodies and interferon were very expensive. Yet they were essential to fend off infection, for she had an immune system malfunction.

Of course, finances were not the only reason that Weisman decided to go into medicine. As is often the case, her own experience of illness was an important motivating factor, as was the fact that her father, of whom she is very fond, was a physician. This memoir describes significant stages of Weisman's illness, her interaction with the physicians she consulted, and the issues she grapples with as she pursues her life as a physician, wife, and mother (she graduated from Emory University's school of medicine in 1998 and practices dermatology).


This memoir by a patient-physician (it is subtitled, "Notes of a Patient-Doctor") is well-written and thoughtful. Weisman describes well the impact of serious illness on a life and on the lives of loved ones. The stories she tells about her experiences with different physicians emphasize how important it is for physicians to demonstrate their concern and true caring, as well as technical competence, in order to address their patients' suffering.

She discusses important issues about U.S. health-care, from the perspective of patient and from the perspective of physician. For example, she writes about questions of "whom to treat and how much to spend"--issues that are "abstract until you apply them to an individual life" (34). Weisman looks at mistakes that were made in her own "case" during one of her hospitalizations, "to examine the errors--and also to appreciate how difficult it is to manage the course of an illness" (83).

The author brings her own sensitive intelligence to bear on her narrative. She writes of the first death that she experienced in her training and hopes that she "never stop[s] feeling a sort of stunned awe and regret when one of my patients leaves this earth, that I at least know enough of that person to know there is a loss" (42). The final two chapters are powerful and illuminating--they concern the impact of her illness on her parents, and her own decisions to marry and have children. I recommend this book particularly to medical students, physicians, medical educators, patients who have a chronic disease, and their loved ones.


Farrar, Straus & Giroux/North Point

Place Published

New York



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