February 1983

Letters to a Young Doctor

Author Affiliations

Farmington, Conn


by Richard Selzer, 205 pp, $13.95, New York, Simon & Schuster Inc, 1982.

Arch Intern Med. 1983;143(2):392. doi:10.1001/archinte.1983.00350020222052

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The collection of short pieces entitled Letters to a Young Doctor by Selzer repeatedly captures the misery of the sick, the despair of the mortally ill patient and his physician, and the permeative atmosphere and odor around the demented and incontinent. One believes in and admires the author's love of patients. Unfortunately, overwriting or self-satisfaction intrudes every few pages, diminishing the impact of each essay.

The old literary term conceit conveys the tone of this book. One senses that the young physician addressed in the title is a conceit—a convenient invention. Just so, a "patient's diary" seems to betray another hand in the phrase, "My gaze was lashed to the dance of the calcified artery at his wrist." If these writings are aimed at physicians, how do we benefit from a passage detailing that an apex beat beyond the anterior axillary line signifies cardiomegaly? If at literati, can the

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