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Grief Connects Us: A Neurosurgeon's Lessons on Love, Loss, and Compassion

Grief Connects Us: A Neurosurgeon's Lessons on Love, Loss, and Compassion


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In his exceptionally thought-provoking and moving memoir, neurosurgeon Joseph D. Stern explores how personal loss influences the way physicians relate to patients and their families.

How does a doctor who deals with the death of patients on a regular basis confront his own loss when his beloved sister is living out her last days?

Despite a career as a neurosurgeon, Joseph Stern learned more about the nature of illness and death after his younger sister, Victoria, developed leukemia than his formal medical training ever taught him. Her death broke down the self-protective barriers he had built to perform his job and led to a profound shift in his approach to medicine.

During the year of his sister’s illness, Dr. Stern developed a greater awareness of the needs of patients and their families; of the burdens they carry; of the importance of connection, communication, and gratitude; and of what it means to ask the right questions.

Grief Connects Us bridges the gap between patients and doctors, providing a window into their shared concerns. Interspersing reflections from Victoria's journal, stories of patients and colleagues, and insights from experts, Dr. Stern has orchestrated a symphony of voices guiding us toward greater mutual understanding and appreciation of the beauty and fragility of life.

No matter which side of the patient-doctor relationship you find yourself on, listening with empathy, a willingness to be vulnerable, and emotional agility are skills we can all develop to improve how we meet difficult, unavoidable challenges.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781949481518
Publisher: Central Recovery Press, LLC
Publication date: 05/11/2021
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 318,864
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

Joseph Stern, MD is a partner in the country’s largest neurosurgical group practice, Carolina Neurosurgery and Spine Associates, and practices neurosurgery at the Moses H. Cone Hospital, the flagship hospital of Cone Health in Greensboro, North Carolina. Dr. Stern has published three recent essays in the New York Times: “Dying in the Neurosurgical I.C.U” (January 14, 2020), “Moral Distress in Neurosurgery” (August 15, 2019), and “Grief As My Guide: How My Sister Made Me a Better Doctor” (September 14, 2018). Visit Dr. Stern at

Table of Contents

Foreword Sanjay Gupta, MD ix

Introduction: A Neurosurgeon's Journey 1

Part 1

Chapter 1 Diagnosis 9

Chapter 2 Learning to Tie Knots/Arc of a Career 27

Part 2

Chapter 3 The Patient's Perspective 43

Chapter 4 Reconnecting/First Visit 55

Chapter 5 Transplant/Second Visit 77

Chapter 6 Leukemia Returns: In Memoriam 89

Chapter 7 Pat (Also a Love Story) 105

Part 3

Chapter 8 Doctors Speak: Conversations with Colleagues 129

Chapter 9 Patients SPEAK: The Healing Garden 159

Part 4

Chapter 10 From Emotional Armor to Emotional Agility 199

Chapter 11 Enhancing Palliative Care: Asking for a Most Benevolent Outcome 217

Chapter 12 Compassion as a Core Value: Improving the Patient Experience 231

Conclusion: Compassion and Coronavirus 247

Acknowledgments 259

References 263

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