Author: Andrew Bomback

Review – Doctor

Posted March 15, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – Doctor


by Andrew Bomback

Genres: Non-fiction
Pages: 176
Series: Object Lessons
Rating: two-stars

Object Lessons is a series of short, beautifully designed books about the hidden lives of ordinary things.

A 3-year-old asks her physician father about his job, and his inability to provide a succinct and accurate answer inspires a critical look at the profession of modern medicine.

In sorting through how patients, insurance companies, advertising agencies, filmmakers, and comedians misconstrue a doctor's role, Andrew Bomback, M.D., realizes that even doctors struggle to define their profession. As the author attempts to unravel how much of doctoring is role-playing, artifice, and bluffing, he examines the career of his father, a legendary pediatrician on the verge of retirement, and the health of his infant son, who is suffering from a vague assortment of gastrointestinal symptoms.

At turns serious, comedic, analytical, and confessional, Doctor offers an unflinching look at what it means to be a physician today.

Some of the Object Lessons books are histories of the object under discussion, peeking into history through a very specific lens. Andrew Bomback’s Doctor instead looks at being a doctor right now, with only a little historical context in the form of his musings about his idolised father. There’s some contrast between being a doctor now and how it used to be, and some discussion of how doctors navigate the world — all alongside his experiences as a father, how his profession impacts his children, etc. It’s more of a memoir than anything: how enjoyable you find it will depend on how you find Bomback as a person, to some extent.

Bomback Jr isn’t one of those doctors perpetually driven by “making things better”, and his frustration with some patients — his contempt, even — drips off some of the pages. Without thought, he lists the patients he dislikes, ending with: “healthy, never sick, never really needed to see me, but convinced there is something wrong that I am yet to find”. He hates those patients more than the patients who refuse to comply with his treatment plans.

It’s fashionable and easy to hate on those with health anxiety (“hypochondriacs”, “attention seekers”), but consider: there is something wrong with us. That fear that we can never quiet is ultimately the problem we need help with — and it’s a doctor’s job to get to the root of the problems we present to them, and to help us, because they have the expertise to see what we do not. There are options: addressing underlying trauma, providing lifestyle advice, and yes, medication too.

If you don’t know that, if you can’t see that, if you just casually dismiss those people as not needing help, well… you’re a shit doctor, and you should feel a deep shame. And sure, he’s mostly concerned with patients’ kidneys rather than general practice, and maybe he himself can’t help with health anxiety (though I notice he was happy to prescribe Xanax if his patient’s wife said he needed it), but he can at least have some damn humanity and recognise that fear, rather than complain about them because their fear makes them question his vaunted expertise.

So needless to say, I did not end this book thinking “ah, Dr Bomback sure is a nice guy”, which I’m sure is what he’d like people to think. I know what he’d think of me, and I am profoundly relieved he’s unlikely to ever have to treat me. I’d hate to get on his nerves by so rudely having medical trauma.

Rating: 2/5

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