This remarkable memoir by 43-year-old psychiatrist Pensack is really three stories in one: his battle to survive HCM (hypertrophic cardiomyopathy), a usually fatal hereditary disease of the heart muscle; the struggle to retain his sanity; and his simultaneous efforts to complete medical school. Collaborator Williams ably helps convey both Pensack's powers of observation and will to survive despite--or because of--his encounters with mortality. Accounts of heart failure, near-death episodes and months of waiting for an available replacement heart, followed in 1993 by the suspenseful, prolonged surgery at University Hospital in Denver, recovery, and beginning of what Pensack hopes will be a new life make for wrenching and engrossing reading. (Sept.)
This account of Pensack's struggles with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), an often fatal heart condition, gives meaning to the philosophical issues surrounding pain and suffering. It's a wonderful book: nonfiction that reads like a thriller. The passage describing Pensack's heart transplant is a real cliffhanger that will keep you on the edge of your seat. The narrative is the stronger for keeping emotions at bay and presenting just the facts: Pensack, who passes his early years comfortably in suburbia, is stalked by the ever-growing and threatening appearance of HCM. If, as Samuel Johnson observed, nothing concentrates the mind so well as a hanging, this book serves to remind that "life is what occurs when the body is well." It's an excellent companion to another strong contender in the medical personal narratives genre, Martha Lear's Heartsounds (LJ 3/15/80). Pensack, a physician and psychiatrist like Lear's husband, shares with us the breaking of his body, mind, and spirit and shows enormous courage in putting them all back together again. Highly recommended.-James Swanton, Albert Einstein Coll. of Medicine, New York
Pensack inherited idiopathic hypertrophic subaortic stenosis, aka hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. This sounds like and is a heavy burden. His mother died of it, his brother and brother's son also suffer from it, and athletes including Hank Gathers and possibly Reggie Lewis have suddenly died young from it. Pensack secretly played basketball after his doctor had ordered him not to and took three years off from medical studies to overcome several bouts of the disease. Ultimately, he earned his M.D., completed a four-year psychiatric residency, married, and fathered two children. The major sequence in his story consists of his long wait for a heart transplant, the detailed account of the operation, and his physical and emotional reactions to that traumatic experience (he nearly succumbed several times, most dramatically from a ruptured aneurysm). A searching account of a death-defying life.
An odyssey of a genetic disease sufferer (hypertrophic cardiomyopathy) through diagnosis, surgery, medical school, psychiatry. Lively narrative. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)