A History of Present Illness

Little, Brown. Aug. 2022. 176p. ISBN 9780316381062. $25. F
DEBUT Neurologist and New York City physician DeForest has written a distinctive debut novel, a first-person narrative of a woman serving her medical residency in New York City. She describes learning anatomy in the cadaver lab with her residency team and doesn’t flinch when she discovers where the medical school bodies come from—unclaimed remains, the indigent, and the chronically isolated. On the emergency ward for psychiatric patients, the doors stay locked, the guards are armed, and the narrator notes how the drugs administered to these patients disrupt their metabolisms and cause their hands to shake and their identities to disintegrate. She confronts the moral dilemma of employing machines to keep a life going with no hope of recovery, studies apocalyptic diseases resistant to all medications, and learns that what people of color face in everyday life is worse in a hospital. It is a journey fraught with instant, life-changing decision every hour of the day until the residents all make it to graduation—and beyond to their careers.
VERDICT DeForest’s fast-paced, tell-it-like-it-is story describes medical school in harrowing detail, with all the niceties stripped away. Essential insights for lay readers.
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