1 out of 4 stars
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When your life hangs in the balance, you’ll have to trust the “person in the white coat” to see you through. In Behind the White Coat, this is exactly what Sharon Lancaster did when she felt a worrisome lump in her breast. But after consultations with one doctor after another, Sharon inexplicably dies while receiving treatment. Who can blame her friend, Dr. Viola Shunt, from suspecting medical error and negligence? Dr. Shunt’s investigation exposes medical misadventures, corrupt hospital policies, and a pervasive culture of silence that protects guilty doctors from taking accountability for their mistakes.
A practicing physician herself, author Abiola Opeitum uses her protagonist’s quest for the truth to highlight the unsavory side of medicine. The book is virtually a running commentary on the practice of medicine in the modern world, as Opeitum laments the decay of her own profession. A recurring message is this: Medicine is now about “revenue rather than humanity,” and doctors have become willing players in what Opeitum dubs as “a game of turning symptoms into illnesses and illnesses to business.”
One cannot doubt the timeliness, gravity, and relevance of the book’s message. This is a story that needs to be told, and there’s no one better than a medical doctor to blow the proverbial whistle. Unfortunately, every aspect of the book — the characters, the storyline, and the writing — is so problematic that I have to rate it 1 out of 4 stars.
First, there’s no one to root for here. There’s nothing wrong with flawed characters at all, but Sharon and Dr. Shunt are just too flawed to even be remotely likable. Both have severe insecurities about being black women, and while there's an underlying commentary on racism here, their perpetual anxieties about being black also make them seem unbearably paranoid. Both are apparently religious, yet they also blame every misfortune on God's "indifference to the black race." The biggest problem of all, however, is their baffling incompetence. Sharon, a police officer, doesn't know what "code blue" in a hospital means. Dr. Shunt, on the other hand, is clueless about basic medical concepts like the difference between a gene and a genome. And after stumbling upon a piece of information that could break the case open, Dr. Shunt goes straight to somebody she knows she can’t trust because — oops — she forgot!
Second, the storyline suffers from irrelevant details, tangents, and just a general lack of coherence. Minor details (e.g., Sharon’s cup size) are unduly emphasized, and the narrative segues to discussions (e.g., pros and cons of EMRs) that have no impact on the plot. Just as the story is drawing to a close, the narrative shifts into another commentary on the healthcare system in American prisons and the issue of cultural assimilation in Canada. It’s just a bit too much for the scope of one novel.
Finally, the writing is a mess. Describing a black character’s “cocoa brown breast” and “chocolate brown brows” is just overkill. The text is overloaded with commas (e.g., “The sensory difference, made, the physical differences between the two border cities, obsolete.”), and there are no tags or paragraph breaks to separate dialogues from the narration. There are mentions of sex and childhood sexual abuse, but everything is too dry and clinical to even have any emotional impact. Deciphering what the author meant by phrases like “an obsession in looking chicky” (looking chic), “she had no quim” (no qualms), and “doubting Thomas modus operando” (I have no idea) is more exhausting than plodding through the grammatical and spelling errors present throughout the book.
Again, there’s an important message here, but prepare to work really hard to sift through all the errors and redundancies to find those precious nuggets of wisdom. Perhaps working with a developmental editor and a ghostwriter will fix this hot mess of a book, but until then, I can’t recommend Behind the White Coat to anyone.
Behind The White Coat
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