The Poetry of Healing: A Doctor's Education in Empathy, Identity, and Desire

Rafael Campo, Author
Rafael Campo, Author W. W. Norton & Company $23 (192p) ISBN 978-0-393-04009-8
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The chief attraction of this book is its unrelenting effort to humanize the medical profession. Several such books have been written by doctors presenting themselves as people rather than only practitioners. Where this one differs from its predecessors, and where it might raise eyebrows in the medical community and the general public, is its insistent connection of healing, intimate relationships and sex. Time and again, the 29-year-old Cuban American poet and general internist who practices medicine out of Harvard Medical School's Beth Israel Hospital and lives in Durham, N.C., describes his personal and sexual reactions to his patients: ""His erection startled me,"" he writes of one patient. ""I too wished to be naked, to be as available to him in his suffering as he had made himself to me."" At one point, he wonders whether he has told too many stories of patients who have changed his life. Perhaps, for a book of this length. But surely not in a world in which doctors pride themselves on their efficient detachment from sex, suffering and personal disaster. It is at this status quo that Campo is effectively taking aim. He is strongest, however, when describing his undergraduate years at Amherst College; Campo excels where narrative overtakes message. Yet he has not found the knack of beautiful prose, and when he gets into theory and policy and away from personal anecdote, the book tends to get confused and wanders. Author tour. (Jan.)
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