Skip to main content

CRIII #1: House of God by Samuel Shem

Yay! It is once again time for Cannonball Read! And this year I am officially in! If you're interested in the specifics, check out the link here. Basically, the goal is to read and blog about 52 books in one year. For every one of the registered participants who completes the task, a donation is made to a scholarship fund which benefits the son of beloved Pajiba commenter AlabamaPink, who passed away last year. I managed to complete CRII with just over a month to spare, so I do not fear this challenge! Onward!

This year's first book is House of God by Samuel Shem. House of God is the well-known Jewish hospital in a large New England city (hint hint) where recent medical school graduate Roy Basch finds himself for his first year of medical internship. Over the course of the year, Basch rotates through the hospital, dealing with the gomers (Get Out of My Emergency Room!) who never get well and yet are too old and sick to die, the young people (who DO die), the patient families, residents, attendings, private physicians, administrators, nurses, housekeepers, and the other interns. He makes friends, including Chuck, a fellow intern from Memphis whose destiny has been decided entirely by mail-in cards, Gilheeny and Quick, two policeman who spend their time as "lay analysts," Potts, a gentle intern from the South, and the mysterious Fat Man--a resident who lays down the LAWS OF THE HOUSE and never seems to steer Roy wrong.

However, during the course of the year--in the shadow of the Watergate scandal and the nation's mass disillusionment--Roy finds himself hardening into a cynical, bitter man. He has to contend with a "ROR" (relationship on the rocks) and mounting stress that begins to turn him into a person he no longer recognizes. He has trouble playing hospital politics, particularly when he feels that they are detrimental to the patients. By the end of the book, Roy and the rest of the interns have to decide whether they want to continue on for a second year at the House of God or whether they would be better off somewhere else.

The author, real name Stephen Bergman, was actually a medical intern at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical center, which is just down the street from the illustrious institution in which I work. Although I don't have the same viewpoint as one of the interns or residents, since I am a mere phone-answering paper-monkey, I definitely recognize some of what was going on in this novel. The personality types represented (particularly those further up the departmental food chain) ring true, though certainly exaggerated for the sake of satire. I also recognize the behavior of patients. Medical technology has changed since the mid-seventies, but people never do.

It's an interesting piece of writing, and I would recommend it to anyone who works in or around the medical profession. Although it is raunchy and funny and over-the-top, it's--as John Updike notes in the preface--doing for the medical profession what Catch-22 did for the military. It holds up a fun house mirror and dares the reader to look in and see what he or she recognizes.

It may also make you think very seriously the next time you step into an emergency room...

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

CR3 # 17: Mount Misery by Samuel Shem

Mount Misery is the sequel to Samuel Shem's first book, House of God (review here). It follows Dr. Roy Basch as he leaves the House of God and moves to psychiatric hospital Mount Misery to begin his psychiatric residency. Unfortunately, it turns out that psychiatrists are just as crazy, confused, and often detrimental as medical doctors. As Dr. Basch cycles through the various sectors of the hospital (talk therapy, admissions, Freudian Analysis, drug therapy) he is horrified to discover that it seems everything he is being taught is not only wrong, but potentially dangerous. He begins to fall into terrible patterns of behavior, mirroring the problems his patients are having. Each area is worse than the last, with one doctor who thinks the best way to treat is to be aggressively hostile, one who cares only about insurance premiums and efficiency, one who treats with silence and "regression," and one who thinks the only viable treatment is to pump every patient full of exp…

CBR9 #2 - Southern Gods

I've had Southern Gods on my TBR list for so long I no longer remember why I put it there. Was it a recommendation from Amazon? From Goodreads? Did someone I know recommend it? Did it cross my path as a "If you liked __________ then you'll like this too!"

Maybe I heard it through the grapevine?

I only know that recently, I happened to come across it on my wishlist and decided to go ahead and splurge on it.

I'm glad I did.

In 1951 Memphis, war veteran and leg-breaker-for-hire Bull Ingraham gets a new assignment: a record company has lost one of their employees somewhere. Early Freeman set off to deliver new records to radio stations, and has seemingly disappeared off the face of the earth. His boss at Helios Records is anxious to find him...and also anxious to find a mysterious blues musician whose music can do terrible things to the living -- and to the dead.

Meanwhile, in Arkansas, Sarah Rheinhart leaves her abusive husband and returns to her family home, where …

CR3 #30: The First Wives Club by Olivia Goldsmith

I saw the movie of The First Wives Club before I read the book. It's a cute chick flick, in which scorned women take comedic revenge on their former spouses. They become better friends and everyone winds up happy in the end. I was somewhat surprised (though not much--the differences between film and literature are often wide) at how different the book was--I am used to changes in plot or small character changes (combining two characters into one, or perhaps changing to a more pleasant ending) but the major change here between novel and movie was the tone.

The story is basically the same; After a close friend's suicide, three middle-aged female friends get together and beginning reviewing their lives. They realize that much like their late friend, they have been screwed over by the men in their lives--the men used them to get to their high social and financial positions, then screwed them over both personally and financially. The three women decide to use their wits and their co…