Editor Helman is a physician and anthropologist as well as a published author of short stories, essays, and a medical anthropology textbook. For this anthology he has selected short stories, case studies, memoir and novel excerpts whose purpose is "to illustrate different aspects of [the] singular but universal relationship" between doctors and patients (1). In the introduction he discusses how these selections illustrate storytelling in medicine; the unique experience of individual illness; differences between fast-paced contemporary technological specialized medicine, and an older more leisurely medicine where the physician employed all his/her senses to diagnose illness, doctors made house calls, and patients recovered over time, or died.

The anthology is subdivided into three parts: "Doctors," represented by the work of Mikhail Bulgakov, Franz Kafka, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Rachel Naomi Remen; "Patients," represented by authors Renate Rubenstein, Ruth Picardie, Rachel Clark, Clive Sinclair, W. (William) Somerset Maugham, and O. Henry; and "Clinical Encounters," with work by Oliver Sacks, Cecil Helman, William Carlos Williams, A. J. (Archibald Joseph) Cronin, Anton P.Chekhov, and Moacyr Scliar. (In total there are 16 selections.) Each piece is preceded by a paragraph of biographical information about its author and an introduction to the text.


As medical education and training increasingly incorporate the reading and writing of literature, anthologies such as this one provide a good resource for teaching and study. Since there are a number of excellent "medicine and literature" anthologies already available, one needs to ask, what unique features does this particular anthology offer?

I found it refreshing to find well-written patient memoir excerpts that I have not seen previously anthologized, in particular a newspaper column by Ruth Picardie, who writes with wry humor about dying and whose writings were posthumously collected into the book, Before I Say Goodbye (annotated in this database); Chapter one from A Long Walk Home, by Rachel Clark, who describes the agony of finding out, at age 25, that she had a rare and deadly cancer of the nasal sinuses; and an excerpt from My Life As a Pig by Clive Sinclair, a kidney dialysis (and later transplant) patient, who bitingly recounts his worries about loss of a sex life as well as his relationship with the dialysis machine. These excerpts stimulate a taste for reading the full memoirs.

Interesting also is the essay (in section three, Clinical Encounters) by editor Cecil Helman about his initially uncomfortable interaction with patient "Eddie Barnett" whose migrating pain was impossible to treat until Helman conceptualized it for himself as a mythical possession. The story, "Sanitorium," by W. Somerset Maugham (p. 83) is a gem and O. Henry’s short story, "Let Me Feel Your Pulse" (p.102) is consistently humorous. It is interesting to be introduced (as I was) to the Brazilian author and public health physician, Moacyr Scliar (p. 153). Finally, any of Bulgakov’s doctor stories are welcome because they are wonderful and out of print.


Radcliffe Medical Press

Place Published

Abingdon, Oxfordshire, UK




Cecil Helman

Page Count