In medical school, Matt McCarthy dreamed of being a different kind of doctor—the sort of mythical, unflappable physician who could reach unreachable patients. But when a new admission to the critical care unit almost died his first night on call, he found himself scrambling. Visions of mastery quickly gave way to hopes of simply surviving hospital life, where confidence was hard to come by and no amount of med school training could dispel the terror of facing actual patients.
This funny, candid memoir of McCarthy’s intern year at a New York hospital provides a scorchingly frank look at how doctors are made, taking readers into patients’ rooms and doctors’ conferences to witness a physician’s journey from ineptitude to competence. McCarthy’s one stroke of luck paired him with a brilliant second-year adviser he called “Baio” (owing to his resemblance to the Charles in Charge star), who proved to be a remarkable teacher with a wicked sense of humor. McCarthy would learn even more from the people he cared for, including a man named Benny, who was living in the hospital for months at a time awaiting a heart transplant. But no teacher could help McCarthy when an accident put his own health at risk, and showed him all too painfully the thin line between doctor and patient.
The Real Doctor Will See You Shortly offers a window on to hospital life that dispenses with sanctimony and self-seriousness while emphasizing the black-comic paradox of becoming a doctor: How do you learn to save lives in a job where there is no practice?
Not all doctors come with the confidence and arrogance familiar to us all. Every one of them started out the same way – new graduates in their intern year, struggling to assimilate their textbook knowledge with real life. Matt McCarthy shares his experience in a self deprecating and sometimes comic way.
Taking place over a year’s time, THE REAL DOCTOR WILL SEE YOU SHORTLY shows the reader how McCarthy matures as a doctor and as a self-aware human. He was so awkward and hesitant in the beginning, I wondered if he was going to make it through the year. At times I wondered what made him so timid. There was a career decision elaborated upon early in the book, and I was disappointed in his choice. I truly felt he made the wrong move, given his character and personality. In the final part of the book, he addresses that choice and why he made it. Those words provided some sort of closure for me and I finally agreed with his decision. In his own words:
But as the year wore on, I developed the ability to think outside the diagnosis, beyond the science of medicine to the art of medicine. I discovered that there is so much more to being a doctor than ordering tests and dispensing medications. And there is no way to teach that. It simply takes time and repetition.
…I was meant to do whatever the hell you’d call the extraordinary stuff we did at Columbia. Intern year had fundamentally changed me–it had altered the way I viewed the world and myself–and it was unquestionably the most fun I never wanted to have again.
Patients and cases are outlined, some with great detail, others just to show what lessons he was learning. One of the complaints I have is that some patients’ stories end abruptly with McCarthy never seeing the person again; others just aren’t followed up on. I understand that real life is like that, and these patients are composites of many; but I grew frustrated with things not being tied up neatly. Two cases that loomed large in the author’s life: Benny Santos and Carl Gladstone are featured in almost every chapter, as they illustrate just how far things have progressed over the year. Others, like “Dre” and asthmatic Darryl, just vanish into the night.
That really is my only issue with THE REAL DOCTOR. McCarthy’s writing is easy to follow, and pulls no punches in showing the lay person how hard doctors work and the struggles, internal and external, they face on a daily basis. There is a minimum of gory details, and the medical jargon is easy to grasp. Nor is there the overly glib, broadly humorous style I’ve seen in other books. That was a relief, as I think that takes away from the truly serious nature of the subject
This was a good addition to my “true medical stories” bookshelf. Want your own copy? You can pick it up [easyazon_link identifier=”0804138656″ locale=”US” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].