“Do you remember our handshake? The Nussbaum handshake? First you slap, then you shake, then you slide! It’s the Nussbaum sandshake, the Nussnutt landrake, the Fussbutt bandlake, the Cussbutt taketake!”
Martha, a retired nurse battling depression, found herself once again on the psych unit under the care of Abraham Nussbaum, a psychiatrist at Denver Health and author of a new memoir, The Finest Traditions of My Calling: One Physician’s Search for the Renewal of Medicine. After years of hospitalizations, Martha formalized her affection for Nussbaum with “the dreamshake.” Slide and shake, pinky swear, fist bump, explosion.
But why the dreamshake? What did Martha dream about her doctor? Was he a scientist, friend, lover, pill-provider, teacher, technician—or savior?
In a mammoth industry—in 2014, $3 trillion, or $9,523 per American, was spent on health care—competing visions for reform abound. Nussbaum, a 41-year-old Catholic physician, ushers readers through a wild, weird, head scratching, infuriating, and tender odyssey into the dizzying diversity of modern medicine.
Part journalist, part comic, part philosopher, and part shrink, Nussbaum’s search for the healing of healthcare culminates not with the wonders of technology or a recipe for cost-saving, but instead with a fourth-century bishop’s call to build a “poor house” for the ill.
Comedy and Tragedy
On the second day of med school, a young female pathology resident grabbed lunch from the cafeteria and accompanied Nussbaum to his first autopsy. She casually chatted while cutting open an elderly man’s chest—opening the rib cage, removing the organs, and plopping intestines into the sink before ...1
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