719. Brian Volck on attending others

Brian Volck on Attending Others.jpg

My friend Brian Volck has a new book out, his third: Attending Others: A Doctor's Education in Bodies and Words (Cascade Books). I finished it early this week and the last few days I’ve been pondering what I want to say about it, trying to boil down one main impression to send you. That’s not an easy task given what a rich and beautiful memoir this is.

Brian is a pediatrician, which means you could read this book for a view into how physicians think and learn. Of course, that wouldn’t be an incorrect approach. Read Attending Others and you’ll discover much about how clinicians make diagnoses and treatment decisions as well as the things they think about before opening the door to meet a new patient – or more interestingly, what they think about after they leave the room. If you’re a physician yourself or an aspiring physician, you will be in the presence of a fine tutor. But read it for that alone and you’ll miss much of what this book offers.

No one is left out of the activity suggested by the book’s main title, regardless of what kind of diploma or post-nominal initials you do or don't have. Attending others is the education written of on these pages. It is the education that develops across 15 chapters, across decades, across a continent and a hemisphere. This book is a journey of the practice of attending others and the hope that emerges from such practice. Even though such attending would look different for each of us depending on who we are and what we do, few of this book's readers will be able to close the book without feeling drawn to look at those around us in a new way.

I copied out six pages of passages from this book and, after looking through them just now, choose these to pass along to you:

"I use my body and senses to diagnose, treat, and reassure. Placing the diaphragm of my stethoscope on the chest of the febrile child, I listen for the rustle of breath, the murmur of a heart. I touch the pads of my fingers to a frightened adolescent’s wrist, taking her pulse. I watch amazed at the ferocity with which a hungry infant nurses at his mother’s breast. I stir with passions that, despite Dr. Osler’s warning, ground my compassion. I am an embodied creature working among other such creatures. It took years to learn that only by nurturing affection for these others can I rightly serve them, much less understand what it means to be healthy."


"They bless me with fierce hope."


[Photo: taken of a swath from the book cover. Click here to have a look at the whole cover, "Pillar," designed by Tim Lowly, about whom Brian writes in the book.]