Revisiting The House of God w/ Aaron Rothstein

shemstiegler-tired-doctor

Recently published in The New Atlantis: A Journal of Technology and Society:

Dr. Stephen Bergman, a psychiatrist, published his now-famous satirical novel The House of God under the pseudonym Samuel Shem in August 1978. The book’s protagonist, a young intern, describes the emotional and physical difficulties during the first year of residency. With more than two million copies sold, the work is something of a classic within the medical profession.

Even in medical school, before we started our clinical rotations during our third year, some of my friends and professors recommended I read the novel, so I borrowed it from a fellow student. I enjoyed it but couldn’t fully identify with the characters in the story, which dealt with the hardships of residency: terrible hours, unsympathetic attending physicians, obstreperous and ornery patients, horrible deaths, and flailing personal relationships outside of the hospital because of the amount of time spent inside it. As a student, I hadn’t yet seen these things and from the outside this all seemed unrealistic: How, I asked myself, could this even be close to the reality of a modern academic hospital?

Now that I am through my third and fourth years of medical school as well as my first year of residency I have re-read the book, and I thought it would be interesting to reconsider my initial impression. Indeed, the novel is so much more relevant to me now. In order to illustrate this, it is worth looking at just a few passages.

I got more and more tired, more and more caught up in the multitudinous bowel runs and lab tests. The jackhammers of the Wing of Zock had been wiggling my ossicles for twelve hours. I hadn’t had time for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and there was still more work to do. I hadn’t even had time for the toilet, for each time I’d gone in, the grim beeper had routed me out. I felt discouraged, worn. (p. 41)

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Follow Samuel Shem on Goodreads and Facebook and Twitter

And please join us @ the book launch for At the Heart of the Universe:

Best-selling author Samuel Shem discusses his latest novel, At The Heart of the Universe (Seven Stories Press), from 7 to 8:45 p.m.  on Nov. 14 at the SoHo Playhouse, New York City. Joining Shem for this deeply personal evening of story-telling and dialogue with the audience will be his wife, the author Janet Surrey, and their daughter, Katie Surrey Bergman–and moderator Adam Pertman (Adoption Nation).

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