Author Eric Manheimer is head of New York’s Bellevue Hospital–one of the oldest and busiest hospitals in the country. As the title suggests, he tells his story of “his” hospital by telling the personal stories of twelve patients cared for in Bellevue. Like New York City itself, the patients are the fabled “melting pot” of ethnicities, socioeconomic levels, educational backgrounds, and careers. Mental health, homelessness, domestic abuse, poverty, immigration status, and other factors contribute to the severity of the patient’s needs.
This was not a book I could race through–it requires too much of an emotional connection to read it, digest it and recover [though there are no unnecessarily gruesome details] to read it fast. I have had a family member in the prison system so I was in no way shocked that are prisons are our mental health care of last resort. Nor was I especially shocked by the ways people must cobble together a living, or how the form substitute families–I’ve lived much closer to this than the author.
What did shock me was that he was able to keep doing his job while being treated in “his” hospital for a type of cancer the treatment of which required having his head bolted in place on a table for radiation!! THAT really amazed me.
Sadly, it was also a revelation that all those stories of Nazis fleeing to Argentina might have more truth than I thought. One woman’s story involved being taken from her parents, who were viewed as enemies of the country’s [then] oppressive military regime and given to “pure” regime-supporting military families ala Hitler’s Lebensborn. I gasped reading this. Pure evil. I admit, this is not a new revelation, but I have too little familiarity with South American politics to have known of it before.
Overall, I was amazed at the work of this institution. It also reinforced for me that while access to health care is not a “right,” our nation must sort out it’s horrible patchwork of payment systems and make it easier for patients to receive the care they need, regardless of income.
Twelve Patients: Life and Death in Bellevue Hospital by Eric Manheimer
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My review from my old blog, published April 21, 2014
This book is being devoured by book clubs, so I knew I’d read it eventually. I was apprehensive though–a hospital in the most bungled natural disaster in American history? Wouldn’t it be the ultimate in rubber-necking to read this? No. It was the ultimate in human experience–both the good and the bad kinds. I felt for most of the people in this book–most. I won’t say which ones did not earn my sympathy. But it does make all those deadly dull emergency planning meetings I’ve attended over the years seem worthwhile. And those emergency posters SHOULD be posted. Read this book and you WILL volunteer for the Red Cross and go thru their training and answer the call. Ditto FEMA classes (Did you know you can earn college credit for those?). This book is why I generally prefer non-fiction–this is REAL. It happened. These are real people. Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink.