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As I Live and Breathe: Notes of a Patient-Doctor    Dr. Jamie Weisman order for
As I Live and Breathe
by Jamie Weisman
Order:  USA  Can
North Point, 2003 (2002)
Hardcover, Paperback

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The author of As I Live and Breathe has a unique perspective; she is a patient who decided to become a doctor after her own harrowing illness, a congenital immune deficiency, was diagnosed. She tells us that 'The patients I met shaped the doctor I would become', sharing with the reader experiences from both points of view, including disturbing encounters as a doctor, of fellow patients in extremity.

While the difficulties of diagnosis and gruelling details of treatment are fascinating for anyone with an interest in medicine, what I found most valuable in the book was its articulation of the patient's anxieties, and also Dr. Weisman's musings on topics such as the value of a life. As a patient the author questions 'Why me?' ... 'It is always when I feel the prick of a needle that the "why me?" thoughts come, as if they were smoke leaking out through the tiny hole in my arm.' As a doctor she advocates with eloquence the importance of considering each patient's life to be of equal value.

The author shares in detail her own experiences of facial deformity (fortunately corrected by surgery) and a time when she came close to death due to the 'arrogance and laziness' of a fellow physician. She discusses medical mistakes in general, both those that she considers unforgivable and the more common results of 'human fallibility'. There is a wonderful analogy of illness as a 'murder mystery', developed effectively, in terms of false leads, major and minor characters, and how obvious the answer seems to be once the culprit is revealed.

Despite her uncertainty of living to see a child grow to adulthood and the risks of interrupting medication, the author decided to have a baby, and the anxiety began ... in a statement to which all parents can relate, she quotes her own parents saying that 'worry is at the heart of raising children, and with each successive stage of your child's life, you take your worries to the dealership and trade them in for a whole new set.'

Early in the book, Jamie Weisman talks of her surgeon hero, Dr. Gussack; after performing the tricky surgery on her face he died young of a brain tumor. Read As I Live and Breathe and you will spend time with someone who is herself a heroine, and who affirms the joy of life, however long or short it may be.

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