Aneka Larsen has some medicinal book recommendations for those idle holiday minds…
Two common ailments among medical students are:
- The desire to run away and hide, just for a little bit, please
- Constantly asking yourself why you are putting yourself through this
To cure you of these truly debilitating conditions, I offer you two very important prescriptions.
PRESCRIPTION ONE: A BOOK TO HELP YOU ESCAPE MEDICINE
The World Without Us – Mireille Juchau
This is a book that feels like Australia. The Australia of my childhood, tucked away in a neat little bundle of memories, sacrosanct and intangible. What a treat to dive back in, to explore the muddy riverbanks, bush land and tight-knit community of a rural town that is infused with its own unique history and culture. The Big Smoke is a whirlwind of excitement, but it sure feels nice to momentarily escape, nestle into the cosy, green tableau of the Ghost Mountains and dream for a while.
The Müller family are a made-up family in a made-up town somewhere in a northern rainforest. Their family is complex. A distant mother heals herself with painting and secret sojourns to the woods. A gentle, eccentric father tends to bees and his two young girls, Tess and Meg. The girls try to make sense of their world, their mother, and the ever-changing emotional landmine that is growing up.
Juchau offers up a plethora of and touching and nostalgic insights into life and adolescence in rural Australia. They are a community of strange yet jarringly familiar characters; A doomsday fanatic, a wily family friend, busybodies, cult members, farmers, merchants and criminals. As well, the imagery is familiar and comforting; sections of the book are demarcated with odes to flowers, the rain, and the bees. There are narratives I remember from my own past; Silly competitions with my sister, a refusal to speak, running away from home, riding silently in the passenger seat through the dirt roads of my hometown. The knowledge that members of your community do not like your family for reasons you are too young to understand. The special attention proffered by a favourite teacher who encourages your curiosity and offers you books to devour. The feeling of being home.
If you come from somewhere else; somewhere quieter, somewhere that flickers behind your eyes as you fall asleep, a place far from flashing, beeping, bustling Sydney, then I hope you read this book. It was a pleasure to fall into, a pleasure to be carried away by, and a truly dream-like dance through the warming nostalgia of an Australian childhood.
PRESCRIPTION TWO: A BOOK TO REMIND YOU OF WHY YOU’RE DOING MEDICINE
The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat – Oliver Sacks
As someone who today listened to six lectures in the library, came home to read a chapter on the GIT exam, and then fall asleep across the table from my dinner, I have a deep understanding of what it feels like to question one’s life choices. Luckily for me, there are those in the world who act as beacons of inspiration, guiding the way from out behind my bowl of soup, into the wider world of real medicine making a real difference to real patients. The first of such beacons was, for me, Oliver Sacks. A brilliant neurologist and author, whose books emanate a profoundly sincere respect for his patients, and a humbling acknowledgment that the people we care for can be our most important teachers.
The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat is a series of case studies that detail the intriguing and bizarre neurological phenomena Sacks encounters throughout his career. Such cases include a man suffering from agnosia who is compensated with a gift for music, a woman who can no longer feel her own body, an elderly man seemingly stuck in his past, a man who cannot believe that his leg is his own, and a ninety year old woman who has started to feel “frisky”. Sacks regales these stories with deep consideration not just for the neurological pathology, but for the character and substance of the patient before him. Each case study illuminates a special individual and reminds us of the privilege studying medicine affords us – the ability to play a significant role in the lives of significant individuals.
Anatomy atlases, ankis and academia abound can make anyone feel apathetic from time to time. Admonish these unwelcome feelings by reminding yourself of the people you will meet, the stories you will hear, and the difference you can make. There is no better way to do that than with the tried and true, evidence-based method of immersing yourself in an Oliver Sacks novel. This is one of his best. NNT = 1.