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The Orange Wire Problem and Other Tales from the Doctor's Office

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Overview

Western literature has had a long tradition of physician-writers. From Mikhail Bulgakov to William Carlos Williams to Richard Selzer to Ethan Canin, exposure to human beings at their most vulnerable has inspired fine writing. In his own inimitable and unpretentious style, David Watts is also a master storyteller. Whether recounting the decline and death of a dear friend or poking holes in the faulty logic of an insurance company underling, The Orange Wire Problem lays bare the nobility and weakness, generosity and churlishness of human nature.

With disarming candor and the audacity to admit that practicing medicine can be a crazy thing, Watts fills each page with riveting details, moving accounts, or belly-laughs.  As the stories in this work unfold, we are witness to the moral dilemmas and personal rewards of ministering to the sick. Whether the subject is the potential benefits of therapeutic deception or telling a child about death, Watts’s ear for the right word, the right tone, and the right detail never fails him.

From The Orange Wire Problem and Other Tales from the Doctor’s Office:

We were lingering in the outer office. He mentioned again, no biopsy. I knew that. And I knew there would be no chemotherapy.
    Maybe it's like that Orange Wire Problem, I said.
    Yes exactly, he said, and four years from now when we're all sitting around the campfire we'll remember the Orange Wire Problem. . .
    And I thought to myself, my brother did that. Spoke of the time ahead as he was dying of lung cancer. Six months from now he had said, we'll be glad we did all those drug therapies—as if to speak of the future laid claim to the future.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“With this new book, Watts takes his place among the most eloquent of modern physician-writers casting a clear and honest light on the medicine of today, its absurdities, its limitations, its power, and its grace. The Orange Wire Problem captures it all with a signature eloquence and wit. If you are a physician, it will give you new eyes. If you are not, it will offer you a deeper understanding of medicine as a way of life.”—Rachel Naomi Remen, author, Kitchen Table Wisdom and My Grandfather’s Blessings

“David Watts uses his considerable storytelling gifts to illuminate the mind of a doctor in his quest for the clues of diagnosis and treatment, while at the same time exercising compassion and empathy toward his patient. The informal and intimate style of the narratives is delightful.”—Richard Selzer, surgeon and author

“These lean, jazzy essays are the work of a keen and provocative physician-writer who, with great sensitivity and wonder, dissects moments down to bone. He challenges us to reexamine our understanding of healing and human connectedness, the stories we choose to tell others and ourselves, and the many different ways we try to anchor ourselves while swimming in uncertainty.”—Jay Baruch, author, Fourteen Stories: Doctors, Patients, and Other Strangers

Publishers Weekly

Welcome to a doctor's office like no other, with none of the dry diagnoses, stone-faced delivery or confident cures we've come to expect of our miracle workers in white coats. As much poet as practitioner, Watts (Bedside Manners), a San Francisco doctor, offers small, poignant stories of 26 patients and the doctor who shares their complicated past, stark present and uncertain future. "The trouble with illness is that it's only logical in the abstract, not the human," Watts notes of one woman who talks endlessly about her intractable headaches. In this case, it's the Rx that surprises: "that there are times when more gets done in silence than in speaking.... Silence knows the right answer." Watts's patients discover it's not just the best medicine, but the best relationships that comfort them through illness. "He hadn't needed help from me at all," Watts writes of one patient. "All he wanted was to spend a moment with what he was up against, size it up, and then make his leap." A tincture for the soul, delivered with an elegant bedside manner. (Apr. 15)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Reviews
Lyrical riffs on illness, frailty and the meaning of life, as seen through a physician's eyes..A poet, musician and teacher who also practices medicine, Watts (Bedside Manners: One Doctor's Reflections on the Oddly Intimate Encounters Between Patient and Healer, 2005, etc.) belongs to the growing ranks of doctor-essayists. Readers should not expect lucid journalistic analyses à la Jerome Groopman or Atul Gawande, however; Watts's approach is intensely literary. In one of the essays, the author discusses a patient whose cancer was so advanced by the time of its diagnosis that he was too ill to be treated, despite his intense desire for treatment; finally, the author administered a placebo. Another patient suffered a painful chronic illness, but was also needy and wildly psychotic. Watts recorded their exchanges, as well as the interminable, incoherent messages she left on his answering machine. Employing stream-of-consciousness imagery to depict how a teaching hospital's routine turned a woman's delivery into a miserable experience, the author intersperses a few of his poems. At times, Watts turns up insightful observations on his profession. Though there was no subpoena appended to a letter requesting information on a patient who died two years earlier, Watts worried, "Doctors motor along with a little fear of litigation in the sidecar." He observed the patient's chart and mused that it represented all that remained of a human being. When a confused patient heard from the author that she didn't require surgery, but a second opinion from a specialist seemed to urge it, Watts explained that she had actually received similar advice filtered through the personalities of two differentphysicians..Often illuminating, though the more elaborate passages may strike some as showing off.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781587298004
  • Publisher: University of Iowa Press
  • Publication date: 4/28/2009
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 206
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

David Watts practices medicine in San Francisco. A poet, musician, television host, and teacher, he is the author of Bedside Manners: One Doctor’s Reflections on the Oddly Intimate Encounters between Patient and Healer, Blessing, Making, Taking the History, and Slow Walking at Jenner-by-the-Sea. He produced Healing Words: Poetry and the Art of Medicine, which was broadcast nationally on PBS in the summer of 2008.
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Table of Contents

Contents

xi Acknowledgments xiii Preface: What You Might Expect to Find Here Facts and Lies The Orange Wire Problem Brain Damage Let Eagles Come The Chart in the Window Thank You Mr. Nicholson Talking about Christmas Silence Knows the Right Questions One Cancer Cell Anathema Telling the Truth in the Realm of Truth Ghosts in the Machine Blood Butterfly Is Something Wrong with Your Prostate?
The Soft Animal of the Body Aspirin and Beauty Notes from the Center of a Perpetual Breakdown Ready for Anything A Critical Distance The Way We Know What We Know Third Opinion Hanna’s Volvulus The Case of the Missing Molecule The Pill on the Shelf Mother Teresa and the Problem of Care The Doctor’s Pill Afterword: Brilliance

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 8, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Guts, Gusto, and Graciousness

    David Watts charmingly reveals the challenges of both doctor and patient in thought provoking essays (bio-vignettes) that you can't put down or easily forget. He brings unabashed humor and poignancy front and center from behind the door in the doctor's office as he tells the tales of decades of his ministering to the sick.

    Throughout The Orange Wire Problem and Other Tales from the Doctor's Office, Watts speaks reverently and poetically about the human condition when confronted with disease or just the maladies of being human. He is refreshingly honest and serious about the mysteries of science and healing when he says, "I see the mysterious in the way some people heal faster than others. I see it rise in us and bend us certain ways as we are confronted with illness or mortality, as if it waits for this, as if mystery always intends to rise up when we least expect it."

    Looking at another side of him, Watts' sense of humor sparkles in an incident when a somewhat irrational female patient manipulatively turns the tables and is concerned about Dr. Watts' prostate, after he's reluctant to order the irrelevant enzyme tests she demands. She says, "You know, sometimes when men...well you know, the men they have prostate problems like women have menopause and sometimes men have, well you know, prostate mental problems..." He's thinking, "...she was diagnosing my prostate by way of my brain, the culprit responsible for the glitch in the orderly procession toward her beloved enzyme tests." In his inimitable way, he sums up, "Learn a little somethin' every day. Prostate mental problems, yes indeedy."

    And then there are the beloved insurance companies: Ya gotta love him for the 17cent check from MediCal, labeled "full payment for services rendered," he has framed on his wall, as well as his unwillingness to fight big government for payment. You can almost see Watts shrug his shoulders as he moves beyond the bureaucracy to give his patients what they need.

    We should all be so fortunate as to have Dr. Watts as our personal physician, after all he'll prescribe a pill that he suggests you don't swallow, just keep it in your pocket or in a locket around your neck - most likely your symptoms will disappear. And we're right back to mysteries.

    Thank you, David Watts, for a bit of your soul.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 13, 2009

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