The ten stories in this collection, written by a medical doctor, all focus on the medical profession, where the main character is either a medical student, hospital house officer, or doctor.
As we know, becoming a doctor is often a seven-to-ten year period of hard work, long hours, and the need for the emotional fortitude to survive a punishing system. Along the way, doctors-in-training face many unforeseen, challenging and provocative situations. Perhaps Oscar Wilde said it best: "Experience is one thing you can't get for nothing."
These stories reflect the author's many medical experiences which are woven into these writings, giving a richness and diversity to the plots, and each ending with a little twist.
The title story, "A Harvard Death," is recognized in the medical community as a person who dies in an academic institution, and yet is a moving testament to the healing power of personal connection between physician and patient.
Each story invites the reader to another medical setting as another mini-drama unfolds, or another ethical issue unwinds, or someone faces an ultimate decision, until the final suspenseful "whodunit" story of mystery and intrigue, "Not Always Benign."
Blending pathos and humor with a medical background - much like television episodes of medical drama - Dr. Birken offers these intriguing vignettes with a comment from Bernard Malamud, "life is tragedy full of joy." Such are these stories.
"A Harvard Death is compelling in its portrayal of how medical school changes the lives of men and women who choose this honorable profession despite the vagaries of managed care today. His stories, albeit composites of fictional characters, ring true today given medical ethics, dying with dignity, and medical advances that continue to chip away at the doctor-patient relationship. I was especially taken with his first chapter and portrayal of Mr. D'Amato, who chose to die on his own terms. This resonated inside my gut as I watched my mother make the same decision last year in a Houston hospital, and the compassion of her doctors and nurses after five years of end-stage emphysema. Kudos to Dr. Birken for his compassion and psychological insights which are rare among physicians and surgeons today." Dr. Keith Barton, psychologist and author
"In his diverse collection of stories about the experiences of medical students, Dr. Randy Birken writes with skill and compassion. The more the young doctors discover the humanity of their patients, the more readers appreciate the humanity of those who choose to practice the art of healing." Rosemary Poole-Carter, playwright & novelist (www.poole-carter.info)
"Steeped in the rich tradition of literature and medicine, Dr. Birken writes stories that unflinchingly explore the feelings that accompany the process of becoming a physician: fear and self-doubt, disillusionment and anger, and finally, compassion and confidence. For anyone who wants to understand how doctors really experience their training as it unfolds in the classroom and then in clinical settings, A Harvard Death is a must-read." Cheryl A. Koski, Ph.D., Professor of Writing about Health and Medicine, University of South Florida St. Petersburg