As I Live and Breathe, Notes of a Patient-Doctor by Jamie Weisman, M.D.

Claire Zulkey

It is clear that her enthusiasm for life has influenced her enthusiasm for writing and medicine.  The reader of 'As I Live and Breathe' will likely finish the book with a newfound appreciation for illness, medicine, and life in general.

As I Live and Breathe, Notes of a Patient-doctor

Publisher: North Point Press
Length: 244
Display Artist: Jamie Weisman, M.D.
Price: $23.00 U.S.
Author: M.D.
"The quality of mercy is not strain'd
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven

-- ace beneath: it is twice bless'd;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes."
— William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice

A typical twist in medical stories is where the "doctor becomes the patient," most lately exemplified in the television drama "ER," as Dr. Mark Greene struggled with a brain tumor.  In these scenarios, the doctor wrestles with sudden helplessness.  He is used to having all the answers, but now somebody else holds the information.  He was the one dictating orders in a white lab coat, but now he lies prone in bed in a paper gown.

As I Live and Breathe, a memoir by Jamie Weisman, M.D., explores the opposite situation.  Stricken with an unusual and mysterious immune deficiency syndrome that causes her daily discomfort, makes her susceptible to everything from painful infections to cancer, and requires monthly intravenous infusions of immunoglobulin, Weisman decided to become a doctor as a means of better understanding the body that betrayed her, gaining control, instead of relinquishing it.

Not unlike Atul Gawande's book Complications, Weisman mixes personal tales and opinions with a revealing glimpse into the medical world, showing us the errors, egos, and human side of medicine.  Both use a simple, engaging narration to tell their tales that make the reading easy and enjoyable.  Weisman utilizes a dry humor at times, discussing tongue-in-cheek the impoliteness of infant and child patients, or when she says "We know that ICU stands for both Intensive Care and In Case U might die."

While Gawande brings a human element to a discussion on medicine, Weisman freely mixes her medical observations with her personal stories.  We are told of the trials and tribulations of medical school as well as her childhood and the birth of her own daughter.  After a year spent with a facial deformity, Weisman shows us the importance of looking healthy, as well as feeling healthy.  And, sadly, we see the doctor who does become the patient, as Weisman watches a surgeon and family friend succumb to a brain tumor.  Weisman waxes on the importance of him in her life versus the relative unimportance of her to him, as she says, "The doctor has many patients, but the patient only one doctor, or a few."

While Weisman is certainly passionate about her subject matter, at times she pontificates, especially on the subject of patients who contribute to their own illnesses, when she herself must struggle with a disease so unfairly inflicted upon her.  "There isn't any food or other substance I love enough that I wouldn't sacrifice it to have my health back.  And so for me to see otherwise healthy men and women cripple themselves is sad, baffling and infuriating." 

She also clearly has an axe to grind regarding the cost of health care, as she has been denied life insurance and has figured out that she has gone well through the estimated worthwhile expenditure of $30,000 per year of life saved.  However, Weisman can also touchingly glorify the beauty of human life as she marvels at the magic of the senses, her language almost flowery at times.  In fact, this may be the one technical weakness to which she succumbs, especially as at one point she compares medicine to murder mysteries and The Wizard of Oz, nearly on the same page.  Her frank discussions redeem this, however, as she says, "Some writers say that every death is unique, but I have found that every death is more or less the same."

Weisman's observations on both sides of the patient/doctor fence are illuminating.  For instance, she knows firsthand, but also by being around similarly ill people, that "often the patient ends up consoling the listener," after describing their illnesses.  Her sensitivity ultimately shows her compassion as a doctor, as she says, "The patients I met shaped the doctor I would become," as she describes how the 'regulars' in her infusion room took care to describe their diseases in words that went beyond medical textbooks.  She has experienced the necessary professionalism of being a doctor, yet understands physical pain, as she says, "Pain changes you.  Your mind and your body temporarily become enemies, and your body has a strong advantage."

While Weisman's experience as a doctor and a patient provide her certain advantages, she also realizes the conflict of interest:  "After all, if you are sick, the last thing you want to hear about is your doctor's problems."  But at the same time, Weisman has made it clear that it is important for the patient to know that she knows, first-hand, what they are going through.  Or, the same medical knowledge that she uses to understand her own illness can turn against her, making her paranoid during her own pregnancy.

Weisman has created a poignant, compelling memoir, not only with the delicate balance between the patient and doctor, but that between sickness and health.  It is clear that her enthusiasm for life has influenced her enthusiasm for writing and medicine.  The reader of As I Live and Breathe will likely finish the book with a newfound appreciation for illness, medicine, and life in general.

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.