cover image Accidental Kindness: A Doctor’s Notes on Empathy

Accidental Kindness: A Doctor’s Notes on Empathy

Michael Stein. Univ. of North Carolina, $18 trade paper (218p) ISBN 978-1-4696-7181-9

Internist Stein (Broke: Patients Talk About Money with Their Doctor) reflects on why empathy and kindness matter in these frank and probing essays. In “Remains,” he recalls his early days in medical school, when his “first patient” was a cadaver: “I expected there to be something, anything, in the room besides the gleaming silver and the gray light and the silence.” “Losing Control” is a powerful account of how, frustrated with an HIV patient who kept forgetting to take her medicine, Stein broke a promise with the woman to never mention the diagnosis in front of her daughter, and “Making Impressions” sees Stein become the patient when he seeks a surgeon to address a tumor in his skull. “Full Hearted and Half Empty” is a moving investigation of what’s required for doctors to maintain empathy and composure while communicating bad news or executing painful procedures. “Is there a point where we can no longer differentiate ourselves from others, and all our patients’ pain is ours?” Stein asks. His incisive articulation of the emotional challenges faced by doctors is rendered in prose that’s vivid, candid, and shot through with compassion—it makes for an investigation that’s tough to forget. This is a standout. (Oct.)