Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Review: books about hospitals

You can't diagnose.

You can't prescribe.

But when you're visiting a church member in the hospital, it's nice to know what they're talking about -- especially when they tell you what they have, and how it's being treated, and even (heaven forbid) what went wrong while they were being treated.

One book that can help is Code Blue: A Writer's Guide to Hospitals. Written by a couple of physicians, it describes the who and what and where of everything from the ER to Medical Records.

(And if nothing else, it explains why it is so everlastingly difficult for me to visit church members who've just had a baby -- it turns out that the three things hospitals work hardest to secure are newborns, medical records, and narcotics.)

Want to know more about specific illnesses? Try Sherwin Nuland's How We Die: Reflections on Life's Final Chapter. Winner of the National Book Award, it describes some of the most common ways to go: heart attack, stroke, trauma, Alzheimer's, cancer, and AIDS. To be sure, it's not a fun read -- and Nuland makes it clear that death is usually just as messy and painful as birth. But fore-warned is fore-armed.

One last note: read these books for your own information -- but I'd be extremely wary of sharing any of that information with someone in the hospital or their family. Remember:
  • We're pastors -- not doctors.
  • We don't diagnose or prescribe.
  • And if we think that reading two books gives us the right to tell someone "what's happening" or "what to expect," then we are so dangerously stupid that it's a wonder we can even find a hospital -- much less visit people there.
That said, enjoy the books.

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