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Thursday September 21 2017

Exam Relief: The Meducator’s Book Suggestions

Stressed for exams? Don’t be. The Meducator offers a few books that can help you to relax when trying to avoid the avalanche of textbooks. They also double as great holiday gift ideas. Give them a read!

It’s 4:31 AM, and I should have been asleep hours ago. Instead of a warm bed, a tome on enzyme kinematics and an army of nearly indecipherable Lineweaver Burk plots greet me. My hands crack. My eyes wear. And I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired. My bed mocks me as I type.

I could tell you that I think this helter-skelter lifestyle is the inevitable sacrifice of being a student, where we try to balance sleep, school, and a social life in vain. But I won’t. I can hardly be the voice of reason at a moment like this. I mean: look at me. Here I am after four years of the same promises, schedules and prayers waffling around at four in the morning, reminded that as the clock exhausts on second by second, I – and the open hours to study – erode right along with it.

Instead I’ll tell you to breath, then breath again. Feel your own pulse. Feel the life racing through you even at a time as hectic as this. Sure, it isn’t much. You haven’t worked out, so the beat seems weak. And the rhythm is inconsistent – faster then slower then faster again.

But at four in the morning, such irregularity might just be enough. It reminds you that you’re alive, that you have more moments in store, and that maybe in between those few events that only you will experience, you might even do well on the exam.

This might seem like trite advice with exams rolling on, a surface echo of empty hope while drowning under the avalanche of textbooks, but it helps me. I picked it up – “feel your own pulse” – from the book House of God by Samuel Shem (pseudonym for Stephen Joseph Bergman). It, among other seminal medicinal fiction, has made my exam period a little less miserable, even this late into the night. When I manage to find a few minutes to relax, I open up a book and am reminded that there is a world outside the tomes on allosterism, my climbing stress, and the gnawing, inescapable necessity of doing well.

Below is just a small list of some of those relaxing novels. If there’s a chance, read them. Who knows? They might even make enzyme kinematics a little more interesting too.

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“Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures” by Vincent Lam

Winner of the Giller Prize in 2006, the book chronicle the lives of two people, Fitz and Ming, as they launch themselves through the hoops of medicine. Using loosely connected short stories, the book highlights the challenging lives of the people behind medical miracles. From lost love to the rejection of medical school, it reminds us that while we expect nothing short of greatness from those who provide miraculous cures, the individuals themselves are hardly ever miraculous. Their certainty is just an illusion; their confidence is often just a necessary act. Despite their training, the book suggests that death is never abstract, disgust will never entirely disappear, and some diseases can never be defeated.

“The Plague” by Albert Camus

Written in the late 1940s, “The Plague” by Albert Camus is an existential juggernaut in the field of creative fiction. While peppered with death, dying, and the senselessness of an unknown disease, the book is not about the futileness of life. Rather it underlines the need for optimism in fighting against an unseen but nonetheless ubiquitous foe. Highlighting the struggles of medical workers in the Algerian city of Oran, the book argues that, like in exams, while we may have no control in the challenges we face, we can strive against them with all the strength we can muster. In the end, it is all we can do for it is all we have.

“The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down” by Anne Fadiman

No other book seems to have changed the medicinal field as much as Anne Fadiman’s “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down.” As an anthropological study of the Hmong child Lia Lee, it recounts the medical treatment she received in the US. Without a translator that can help communicate with the Lees and the care needed for Lia’s epilepsy, Lia’s conditions worsen despite both the parent’s and the doctor’s best efforts. At the very least, the story is frustrating; at best, it’s mind numbing. Questions of better treatment versus treatment appropriate, Eastern models of care versus Western ones, and how the snafu could have been avoided crop up in the thorough study. Little answer is provided, and that makes it a great read.

“House of God” by Samuel Shem

Don’t let the title fool you: Stephen Joseph Bergman’s (pseudonym Samuel Shem) book is anything but holy. Rife with rampant sexuality, borderline racism, and unbelievably inhumane treatments of elderly patients (referred to as GOMERs – Get Out of My Emergency Room), “House of God” is a roman a clef with immense potential. It is less about the challenges that the protagonist, intern Dr. Roy Bausch, faces as he goes through his clerkship than it is about the outrageousness of the entire medical machine. All aspects of the hospital are absurd. It is world described in a grisly caricature. The staff, the nurses, the self-serving rhetoric – all highlight the lack of care that occurs when one tries to do everything at once. Instead they do nothing, and all, both the patient and the doctor, suffer.

By Kacper Niburski

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Picture from the cover of “The Plague” by Albert Camus. Copyright Penguin Publishers.

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The Meducator is McMaster University’s undergraduate Health Sciences Journal. It publishes pieces that critically address current issues with a high degree of scientific rigor, but in a way that is accessible to a broad audience.

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