cover image Our Malady: Lessons in Liberty from a Hospital Diary

Our Malady: Lessons in Liberty from a Hospital Diary

Timothy Snyder. Crown, $12 trade paper (192p) ISBN 978-0-593-23889-9

Historian Snyder (The Road to Unfreedom) frames this searing critique of the American health-care system around his own recent medical emergency. After a series of medical mistakes related to an appendectomy, Snyder nearly died before undergoing surgery for a severe liver infection in December 2019. Doctors treating the appendicitis had seen a lesion in his liver but did nothing to treat it; a different set of doctors botched a spinal tap and missed clear indications of a liver problem in Snyder’s medical records. These were not isolated mistakes, according to Snyder, but symptoms of a systemic failure in which doctors and nurses are not given enough time to meet with patients and truly assess their needs, and are encouraged to prescribe medication rather than get to the root of the problem. Snyder also contrasts his wife’s medical care during pregnancies in Vienna and the U.S., and sketches the Trump administration’s inadequate response to the Covid-19 pandemic. According to Snyder, the present state of health care violates America’s founding principles: “Freedom is impossible when we are too ill to conceive of happiness and too weak to pursue it.” Though he doesn’t offer much in the way of specific solutions, Snyder draws valuable context and insight out of his harrowing personal experience. The result is a troubling portrait of a system in which the patient is the last priority. (Sept.)