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Doctors and Patients: an anthology (Book Review)

Summer 2003

From triple helix - Summer 2003 - Doctors and Patients: an anthology (Book Review) [pp20-21]

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Doctors and Patients: an anthology - Ed: Cecil Helman - Radcliffe Medical Press 2002 - £19.95 Pb 176pp - ISBN 1 85775 993 1

Analysis of the current trend in narrative-based medicine reveals, as the writer of Ecclesiastes indicated, that there is nothing new under the sun. The increasing number of books and articles on the role of narrative and the use of the arts in medicine is rooted in history and not in post modernity. It is part of this heritage that this book explores. Edited by Cecil Helman, General Practitioner, Medical Anthropologist and creator of Helman's folk model used in consultation skills, this anthology brings together a selection of narratives from the perspective of doctors and patients, as well as from the clinical encounter itself. Some of these stories are fictional, some true but all are rooted in an experience of health and illness. Contributors include world famous authors like Franz Kafka and A J Cronin, who wrote Dr Finlay's Casebook, and more modern, less wellknown writers.

The collected narratives relate many key issues that doctors and patients meet in day- today life. The reader is drawn into the story and comes to understand the value of experiential learning, the difficulties in telling and hearing the truth, the problems of managing uncertainty and of the hurts caused by dysfunctional communication. The reader experiences an emotional roller coaster, moving from laughter to tears in a few short sentences in the world of terminal and chronic illness.

The anthology also acknowledges the time spent in health care by people who are worried but well, people who attend frequently and people who have problems with addiction. Their stories encourage empathy and challenge the reader's prejudices and preconceptions. Overall, the book encourages reflection on the whole person - physical, emotional and spiritual.

To quote Oliver Sacks, neurologist and author of 'The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat', from his contribution to the book about a young lady called Rebecca: 'A child follows the Bible before he follows Euclid. Not because the Bible is simpler (the reverse might be said) but because it is cast in a symbolic and narrative mode.' This book, being full of stories, is simple to read but within it lie many challenges to us both as doctors and Christians. With the increasing secular medical interest in narrative, it is worth reading to increase awareness of current trends in the medical world. I would also recommend this book for those involved in teaching communication skills or in medical education generally.

Reviewed by
Rhona Knight

General Practitioner in Hampshire

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