The Last Physician: Walker Percy and the Moral Life of Medicine

Overview

Walker Percy brought to his novels the perspective of both a doctor and a patient. Trained as a doctor at Columbia University, he contracted tuberculosis during his internship as a pathologist at Bellevue Hospital and spent the next three years recovering, primarily in TB sanitoriums. This collection of essays explores not only Percy’s connections to medicine but also the underappreciated impact his art has had—and can have—on medicine itself.
The contributors—physicians, ...

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The Last Physician: Walker Percy and the Moral Life of Medicine

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Overview

Walker Percy brought to his novels the perspective of both a doctor and a patient. Trained as a doctor at Columbia University, he contracted tuberculosis during his internship as a pathologist at Bellevue Hospital and spent the next three years recovering, primarily in TB sanitoriums. This collection of essays explores not only Percy’s connections to medicine but also the underappreciated impact his art has had—and can have—on medicine itself.
The contributors—physicians, philosophers, and literary critics—examine the relevance of Percy’s work to current dilemmas in medical education and health policy. They reflect upon the role doctors and patients play in his novels, his family legacy of depression, how his medical background influenced his writing style, and his philosophy of psychiatry. They contemplate the private ways in which Percy’s work affected their own lives and analyze the author’s tendency to contrast the medical-scientific worldview with a more spiritual one. Assessing Percy’s stature as an author and elucidating the many ways that reading and writing can combine with diagnosing and treating to offer an antidote to despair, they ask what it means to be a doctor, a writer, and a seeker of cures and truths—not just for the body but for the malaise and diseased spirituality of modern times.
This collection will appeal to lovers of literature as well as medical professionals—indeed, anyone concerned with medical ethics and the human side of doctoring.

Contributors. Robert Coles, Brock Eide, Carl Elliott, John D. Lantos, Ross McElwee, Richard Martinez, Martha Montello, David Schiedermayer, Jay Tolson, Bertram Wyatt-Brown, Laurie Zoloth-Dorfman

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“For Walker Percy’s fans and for readers who are just discovering his work, The Last Physician provides an explanation for why his stories were so seminal in the maturation of many an adult and many an aspiring physician. The issues he wrestled with in his fiction—isolation, ambivalence, alienation—are just as important in today’s society. The Last Physician is proof that Walker Percy’s work will endure, will continue to stimulate discussion, and will continue to inspire generations to come.” —Abraham Verghese, author of The Tennis Partner: A Doctor’s Story of Friendship and Loss

The Last Physician offers the pleasure of Walker Percy’s companionship in leading an examined life. The authors talk with and through Percy’s characters about medicine, about art and suffering, and about how their lives became richer as they acknowledge their share of the world’s troubles.”—Arthur W. Frank, author of At the Will of the Body: Reflections on Illness and the Wounded Storyteller: Body, Illness, and Ethics

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822323693
  • Publisher: Duke University Press
  • Publication date: 10/28/1999
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 184
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Carl Elliott is Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Bioethics at the University of Minnesota. He is the author of A Philosophical Disease: Bioethics, Culture, and Identity and The Rules of Insanity: Moral Responsibility and Mental Illness.

John D. Lantos is Associate Director of the MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics at the University of Chicago. He is the author of Do We Still Need Doctors? and coeditor of Primum Non Nocere Today.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction 1
Dr. Percy's Hold on Medicine 9
The Act of Seeing with One's Own Eyes 16
Why Doctors Make Good Protagonists 38
From Eye to Ear in Percy's Fiction: Changing the Paradigm for Clinical Medicine 46
Prozac and the Existential Novel: Two Therapies 59
Ethics in the Ruins 70
Walker Percy and Medicine: The Struggle for Recovery in Medical Education 81
Now You Are One of Us: Gender, Reversal, and the Good Read 96
Inherited Depression, Medicine, and Illness in Walker Percy's Art 112
Pathology Rounds with Dr. Percy: The Modern Malaise, Its Causes and Cure 134
Walker Percy, Reluctant Physician 150
Afterword: Writing and Rewriting Stories 160
Contributors 163
Index 165
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