As the resident fellow for ACEP Now, I plan to incorporate the intersection of the humanities and medicine into the “Resident Voice” column, and I hope to use this space for emergency medicine residents to share their reflections through a broad and creative range of topics. Last month, I invited my fellow emergency medicine residents to share reading recommendations on books that resonated with them. I received an excitingly broad array of recommendations, from poetry collections to short story collections to autobiographies. Here are recommendations and personal reflections from emergency medicine residents across the United States.
Explore This IssueACEP Now: Vol 40 – No 10 – October 2021
The Elephant Vanishes
by Haruki Murakami
Ashley Czaplicki, DO
PGY-3, chief resident
Hackensack University Medical Center, Hackensack, New Jersey
When I was a young girl, I would curl up in the corner of my staircase with a book for hours. I was a Serious Reader. I maintained my bookworm habits throughout medical school, reading e-books from my dark iPhone screen right before sleep. However, residency life has made it difficult to stay both still and awake for great lengths of time.
One day I found myself with a used copy of Haruki Murakami’s The Elephant Vanishes and rediscovered the livening energy of diving into an all-consuming book. Murakami’s 1Q84 left an imprint on me years ago with its fantastical realism, character depth, and clever interweavings of history and pop culture. His voice remains distinct in The Elephant Vanishes, a collection of stories that again illustrate everyday moments in reality adjacent. A casual habit of barn burning. A bakery robbery. A woman who stops sleeping altogether. With each passage, I feel the tugs of a story coming together with lyrical clarity. At each story’s end, an afterglow of contemplation. Even now after midnight, I remain still, awake, and amused at his writing. “Only, she’s driven; her body—and very like the spirit attached to that body—craves after vigorous activity, relentless as a comet. Which may have something to do with why she’s unmarried.”
On Immunity: An Inoculation
by Eula Biss
Adam Lalley, MD
Maimonides Medical Center,
Brooklyn, New York
“Wherever telephone companies were erecting poles,” Eula Biss writes in Notes from No Man’s Land, her essay collection from 2009, “home owners and business owners were sawing them down or defending their sidewalks with rifles.” Telephone wires are now so widely netted throughout our landscape that it is hard to fathom an era when they were controversial. And yet, the elements that fueled 1889’s “war on telephone phones” are still at work today, when vaccination efforts have met with stalwart resistance.
In emergency medicine, we may only have a few minutes to discuss vaccines with our patients. Biss’s later work, On Immunity, can help us to speak to them empathetically. Elegantly written, insightful, and well-researched, the book delves beyond science into the cultural, human, and social factors driving patients toward or away from medical advice. From the perspective of a new mother facing difficult decisions about vaccinating her own child, Biss explores the history of vaccines in the popular imagination, the intersection of public and individual health, and our far-reaching connectedness. “Our bodies may belong to us, but we ourselves belong to a greater body composed of many bodies. We are, bodily, both independent and dependent.”
Milk and Honey
by Rupi Kaur
Kirandeep Sekhon, DO
UT Health San Antonio,
San Antonio, Texas
“Our backs / tell stories / no books have / the spine to / carry” (Women of Color, Rupi Kaur). Like many young physicians, my journey in medicine is one that has perpetually kept my life in transition. From the physical moves for college in the Bay Area to medical school in Los Angeles County to clinical rotations all over the country to now residency in Texas, my bearings have been in a state of flux for the past decade. Every three to four years, I have had to uproot my life and start over with new people and a new environment. As grateful as I am to be on this path, it’s hard. Poetry is how I root myself.
I discovered that through poetry I could express my thoughts in a way that was creatively stimulating but also allowed me to process my emotions. One of my favorite poetry collections is Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur. She divides her book into four different stages of her life, from hurting to healing, and each poem is written during that stage. Her collection is extremely raw and honest. When I read her poems, I feel a connection to my own life, and that gives me a bearing. I started writing poetry more seriously in medical school, but it wasn’t until residency that I started performing it at open mic nights. The vulnerability of performing live is both terrifying and empowering, but more than anything, it has given me a sense of control in my life when so many other aspects are constantly evolving.
Microbes: The Life-Changing Story of Germs
by Phillip K. Peterson
Adam Roussas, MD, MBA, MSE
Cook County Emergency Medicine Residency, Chicago
In early 2020, when the tsunami that would be SARS-CoV-2 was only a receding tide, I enrolled in a health economics course taught by an economist and retired infectious disease specialist. During his lectures, he would often reminisce on his 50 years on the front lines of public health crises. Interest in this topic led me to Microbes by infectious disease physician Phillip Peterson, which bridges the gap between public health, the experiences of experts like my professor, and the public. The first section provides scientific background on the microbial world and reviews historical pandemics. The second section takes a deep dive into modern outbreaks such as the avian influenza viruses, HIV, and coronaviruses, describing how they were managed, their social contexts, and their lasting impacts—for example, Toronto’s billion-dollar 2003 SARS lockdown and the global catastrophe that it likely averted. The final section discusses the future: vaccines, emerging therapies, and the role microbes may play as existential threats to humanity.
After reading Microbes, physicians should feel better equipped to fight disinformation and educate our patients and loved ones on these important topics. As Churchill wrote, “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it,” as it appears we are now.
The Scalpel and the Silver Bear
by Lori Arviso Alvord
Jessica T. Evans-Wall, MD
PGY-3, chief resident
University of New Mexico, Albuquerque
The hospital exists in a space between worlds. Especially for those most in need of the care inside its walls, it is a separate reality from the life before and the life after. Lori Alvord writes with a beautiful intimacy of living and practicing between the worlds of Western medicine and traditional Navajo healing. Her autobiography takes the reader on a journey from Crownpoint, New Mexico, to Dartmouth to Stanford and back to the desert Southwest. Along the way, she tells of how to make bridges between “fixing” and “healing.” She was the first Diné (Navajo) woman to become a board-certified surgeon: