Singular Intimacies: Becoming a Doctor at Bellevue

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When Danielle Ofri enters the doors of New York's legendary Bellevue Hospital as a tentative medical student, she is plunged into the teeming world of urban medicine: mysterious illnesses, patients speaking any one of a dozen languages, overworked interns devising audacious strategies to cope with the intensity of a big-city hospital. In a facility where poverty and social strife are as much a part of the pathology as any microbe, it is the medical students and interns who are thrust into the searing intimacy that is the doctor-patient relationship. With each chapter, Ofri introduces us to a new medical crisis and a human being with an intricate and compelling history.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
These essays, some previously published, about the author's 10 years as a medical student, intern and resident at the oldest public hospital in the U.S. resonate with insight, intelligence, humor and an extraordinary sensitivity to both the patients she treated in this inner-city facility and the staff she worked with. The cofounder and editor-in-chief of a literary magazine, the Bellevue Review, Ofri is now an attending physician at Bellevue and brings to this memoir a combination of medical information and some very expressive writing. The author acknowledges that when she arrived to work on the wards, she had no idea what her responsibilities were or how to perform typical student tasks like drawing blood. Along with the technical skills she absorbed working overtime in a stressful atmosphere, Ofri also learned to truly care for her cases. In "Finding the Person," she describes, for example, why she continued to speak to and maintain a bedside manner with a comatose woman in front of the dying woman's family. "Intensive Care" recounts the story of Dr. Sitkin, a difficult supervisor who both alienated and won the respect of his medical team, and eventually took his own life. The tragic loss of her close friend Josh, a 27-year-old, who died from a congenital heart condition ("The Burden of Knowledge"), caused her to doubt the foundation of medical training, that knowledge is power. The pieces in this powerful collection are tied together by the struggle of a clearly gifted physician to master the complexities of healing. (Apr.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
As Ofri relates in this marvelous book, becoming a doctor is a complex process. The author, who trained at New York City's famed inner-city, 250-year-old Bellevue Hospital and cofounded the Bellevue Literary Review, relates cases that revolve around gravely ill patients who die in stark and painful circumstances. Her gifted storytelling discloses a variety of patients, their medical needs, and the doctor-hospital-patient interface. How does "the System" make a doctor? The answer is still a big mystery (as David Duncan's Residents also makes clear). New, book-smart graduates must sometimes feel like impostors as they take up their residencies, but a few years later they discover that they have become doctors. It is this alchemy that Ofri's well-crafted prose successfully exposes. Her sometimes stressful and sad stories reveal that the connections made by a resident-physician with patients is a demanding part of medical training, a part that finally makes becoming a physician uplifting. Highly recommended for most medical collections and where patrons also enjoy works by Abraham Verghese and Atul Gawande. [A chapter was selected for The Best American Essays of 2002 and won the Missouri Review Editor's Prize for Nonfiction.-Ed.]-James Swanton, Harlem Hosp. Lib., New York Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Heartwarming memoirs of a young woman’s years at a venerable New York City hospital, where she is transformed from bewildered medical student to assured physician. Ofri, an attending physician at Bellevue and editor-in-chief of the institution’s literary journal, writes movingly of the human connections between doctor and patient. Versions of most of these 15 chapters have been previously published, but here they form a cohesive narrative of a compassionate and perceptive doctor’s development. When she began her initiation on the wards as a third-year medical student, the author left the orderly routine of classroom and research laboratory (she had already earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry) for the chaos, ambiguities, and rich rewards of learning how to help living and dying men and women in an inner-city hospital. With her first patient, the grandfatherly Zalman Wiszhinsky, she learns not only how to draw blood but the singular intimacy of sharing another human being’s life-and-death experience. A cast of vivid characters--a Rikers Island prisoner with an AA battery in his stomach, an obnoxious and abusive drug addict, a psychiatrist in fierce denial about his lethal pancreatic cancer, a middle-aged woman in a permanent coma--all play a role in Ofri’s complex emotional and intellectual growth. She shares her fears, her humiliations, her failures, her uncertainties, her growing competence, and her triumphs. What is unmistakable, however, is that long before becoming a thoroughly trained and skilled physician, Ofri was already a singularly caring woman, aware of her patients as real-live fellow human beings. Let’s hope there’s a whole library of books to come from this talentedphysician/writer.
From the Publisher
What is it like to become a doctor? Danielle Ofri answers with candor and humility and pride. This book should be required reading by anyone contemplating a life in medicine.—Richard Selzer, surgeon and author of Letters to a Young Doctor

"Any reader, physician or not, will find in Singular Intimacies the essence of becoming and being a doctor."—Robert S. Schwartz, M.D., New England Journal of Medicine

"Her vivid and moving prose enriches the mind and turn the heart. We are privileged to journey with her from her days as a student to her emergence as a physician working among those most in need."—Jerome Groopman, author of How Doctors Think

"This is a wonderful book, a true classic medical memoir. Ofri deftly assembles tales to paint an indelible portrait of a great American hospital. I highly recommend it for physicians, would-be doctors, and anyone interested in medicine in all its behind-the-scenes glory."—Sandeep Jauhar, author of Intern: A Doctor's Initiation

"Danielle Ofri is a finely gifted writer, a born storyteller as well as a born physician, and through these fifteen brilliantly written episodes covering the years from studenthood to the end of her medical residency, we get not only a deep sense of the high drama of life and death, which must face anyone working in a great hospital, but also a feeling for the making of a physician's mind and soul."—Oliver Sacks, MD, author of The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat

"Danielle Ofri has so much to say about the remarkable intimacies between doctor and patient, about the bonds and the barriers, and above all about how doctors come to understand their powers and their limitations."—Perri Klass, MD, author of A Not Entirely Benign Procedure

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780142004388
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/27/2004
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 650,165
  • Product dimensions: 5.14 (w) x 7.77 (h) x 0.73 (d)

Meet the Author

Danielle Ofri

Danielle Ofri, MD PhD, is an attending physician in the medical clinic at Bellevue Hospital, and Assistant Professor of Medicine at New York University School of Medicine. She divides her time between seeing patients, teaching medical students and residents, editing and writing.

Dr. Ofri was born in New York City. She studied physiology as an undergraduate at McGill University in Montreal. She spent the next decade at New York University Medical Center and Bellevue Hospital for her medical and scientific education. She obtained her PhD in biochemistry along with her MD, followed by a residency in internal medicine.

After residency, Dr. Ofri spent nearly two years traveling. She worked as a free-lance physician in a variety of communities from East Hampton to rural New Mexico. In between job assignments she spent time in Mexico, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Peru learning Spanish for her eventual return to inner-city medicine. During her travels she dragged along her laptop, grateful to finally have time to write down the stories that had accumulated during her years at Bellevue. These stories have been published in numerous literary and medical journals, and are now collected in book form.

Dr. Ofri has a particular interest in the relationship of literature and medicine. She has introduced a program encouraging medical students to experiment with literary descriptions of patient encounters to help explore the complexities of illness.

Dr. Ofri is one of the founders and the Editor-in-Chief of the Bellevue Literary Review, a literary journal devoted to writings about the human body, illness, health and healing. She is also Associate Chief Editor of the Bellevue Guide to Outpatient Medicine, a textbook of internal medicine published by British Medical Journal Publications. Additionally, she has developed a bilingual collection of educational materials for patients.

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Table of Contents

Singular IntimaciesPrologue Possessing Her Words

One Drawing Blood
Two AA Battery
Three Stuck
Four Change of Heart
Five July 1st
Six The Professor of Denial
Seven The Burden of Knowledge
Eight In Charge
Nine Time of Death: 3:27 A.M.
Ten Immunity
Eleven Finding the Person
Twelve Positive
Thirteen M & M
Fourteen Intensive Care
Fifteen Merced

Epilogue Possessing Her Words


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