Not All of Us Are Saints: A Doctor's Journey With the Poor

Not All of Us Are Saints: A Doctor's Journey With the Poor

by David Hilfiker

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Not All of Us Are Saints: A Doctor's Journey with the Poor is a book by David Hilfiker, M.D.


Not All of Us Are Saints: A Doctor's Journey with the Poor is a book by David Hilfiker, M.D.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Although he broods that he falls short of the selflessness of Mother Teresa, Hilfiker's perceived lacks make his questing need for service, his humanity, comprehensible to those who find saintliness unnatural. For seven years the author ( Healing the Wounds ) practiced ``poverty medicine'' at Christ House, a Washington, D.C. medical recovery shelter for homeless men sponsored by the Church of the Saviour; he left in 1990 to found an AIDS shelter. Rarely have we been so powerfully forced to confront the plight of those who have been battered by homelessness, lack of education, poor nutrition and addiction; rarely have we been made to see how grossly inhospitable to the spirit is poverty. Holfiker does not allow us to disregard the helplessness of those who are unable to climb out of their own histories, even as he himself becomes frustrated that his patients often do not--sometimes cannot, under the conditions of their street lives--cooperate in their medical care. Along with case histories of his patients and accounts of his bouts with public welfare organizations, Hilfiker presents his well-reasoned criticisms of a society in which justice is procedural rather than distributive: ``Wealth, opportunity and a good education are not equally available to all.'' Earning $34,000 a year at Christ House, and given a comfortable rent-free apartment at the shelter for himself, his wife and their three children, Hilfiker questions whether his privileged life compromises his integrity. He provides the answer with this journal of what happened when he lived and worked among those whose poverty results--as he makes us aware--from the very societal structures that gave him affluence. (Aug.)
Library Journal
Believing that poverty in our country is a matter of injustice and that justice is possible, Hilfiker (Healing the Wounds, LJ 11/ 1/85) gave up a private Minnesota practice in 1983 and moved his wife and three young children to Christ House, a Washington, D.C., inner-city medical shelter for homeless men, most of whom are black alcoholics or substance abusers. He finds that ``coming face-to-face with unpleasant, ungrateful, and manipulative poor people is a misery all its own'' and that the needs of Washington's homeless are for all practical purposes infinite. Telling what it is like for a middle-class doctor and his family to really live with the poor, Hilfiker clarifies the nature of poverty and its awful power to break the human spirit. His plain-spoken account of his following the ``Mother Teresa Model'' of poverty medicine radiates a certain nobility from which readers can draw hope and the recognition of humanity's oneness. An uncommon read.-James Swanton, Albert Einstein Coll. of Medicine, New York
William Beatty
Hilfiker tells of the six years he and his family spent in Christ House, a church-based clinic and shelter for the poor in inner-city Washington. He describes the various medical and social problems the men he treated and let live in the house for up to a month presented, and he reports how a brief trial with women residents failed. The medical parts of the book are relatively easy to take; the unsettling parts are those questioning self, society, and life. For Hilfiker worries that he simply projects his own self-destructiveness, indecisiveness, rage, and guilt on his patients and his family. A good example of such ruminations comes in his account of his daughter Laurel and her dental braces: Should she be given money for this essentially cosmetic device when the poor don't have even the basic essentials? This is not a comfortable book, but it is an important addition to the literature of contemporary life in the rich global power that the U.S. is.

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Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Meet the Author

David Hilfiker, M.D., is the author of Not All of Us Are Saints.

David Hilfiker, M.D., is the author of Not All of Us Are Saints.

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