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April 18, 1990

Common Heroes: Facing a Life Threatening Illness

Author Affiliations

Massachusetts General Hospital Harvard Medical School Boston

Massachusetts General Hospital Harvard Medical School Boston

JAMA. 1990;263(15):2115. doi:10.1001/jama.1990.03440150133040

With this book Eric Blau, photographer and physician, becomes a clinical chronicler. Common Heroes is both photographs and narrative text—a portrait album of 36 patients (though not the author's), each with a text that reports what patients told the author about "facing a life-threatening illness." Taken out of bed (except for two) and away from the hospital and office, these home portraits are printed alongside verbatim responses to Blau's questions: "What's your illness been like?" "Could you tell me how you feel about facing death?" His questions, of course, may have been more nondirective, but the patients here speak movingly about these themes in a page or two, sometimes in but a paragraph or just a sentence.

Many comment disparagingly on how their doctor imparted the "bad news"; others on the difficulty of talking about their illness (not alone facing death) with family members and friends, despite their devoted attention.