3 out of 4 stars
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Life and Death in the Hospital: A Memoir, Plus is both an insightful memoir of a cardiologist’s life and a collection of medically themed screenplays — along with an assortment of the author’s impactful poems intermixed in both sections.
The first part of the book is the autobiography of William A. Baxley, a retired professor of cardiac surgery from the University of Alabama. The story follows the life of the physician as a young adult, attending medical school and dedicating his life to the medical profession. It gives us a window into his personal and professional growth as a cardiologist specializing in balloon angioplasty, a surgical procedure during which a catheter with a tiny balloon is inserted into an obstructed artery to clear the blockage and allow the blood to flow. As a cardiologist, the author experienced people during their most vulnerable moments, which called upon him to respond not only in a professional capacity but in a caring, personal manner as well. For instance, when the daughter of a patient became enraged and threatened to sue him, he was able to overlook that, empathize with her, and fulfill his medical duties with dedication, professionalism, and compassion for the grief-stricken daughter.
There is also an inside look into the behind-the-scenes activities at a major hospital and the significant contributions of nurses and unit staff in effectively running a health care institution. His personal life was equally impressive as he spent a year in Saudi Arabia, a land with stark cultural differences located far from his home in Alabama. Another big part of his life was scuba diving, which he learned and enjoyed thoroughly despite a near-death experience involving sharks.
Doctors encounter a range of emotions with their patients, and he shares instances of finding humor in an otherwise solemn profession. The medical terms and procedures are written in understandable language — like the sound of a heartbeat through a stethoscope described as “lub-dub, lub-dub.”
From the written text to the colorful photographs and hand-drawn doodles, the book moves to its second part based on fiction, the “Plus” from the title. This section expands the author’s writing talent into fictionalized, medically themed screenplays. Each screenplay has complex characters who belong to different walks of life and bring refreshing perspectives to the medical themes. The screenplays also venture into several other topics like religion, psychology, and philosophy, which keeps them multidimensional and exciting. Each character in the plays is different, intriguing, and well thought-out.
A book that shares valuable life and professional lessons is a great read for everyone but more so for students aspiring to join the medical profession. I imagined medical staff nodding their heads continuously while reading this book and laughing the hardest at the inside jokes. Scuba diving enthusiasts might enjoy the noteworthy tips on that subject too.
The challenging literary combination of this book makes it difficult to categorize as either non-fiction or fiction. It also makes for a unique, intriguing, and entertaining read with a refreshing writing style.
A few colorful words have been used as part of a caricature drawing, and apart from the editorial errors, there are no shortcomings making it 3 out of 4 stars.
Life and Death in the Hospital
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