Eugene Burdick and William Lederer were very smart when they wrote “The Ugly American.” They first penned it as a real-time expose of our country’s inept official representatives to foreign countries. But when they realized that no one would want to believe this, they rewrote their book as fiction. After it was published in 1951, everyone took it seriously.
Plano gastroenterologist Michael Weisberg has shown the same wisdom with his novel, “The Hospitalist.” It’s a fictionalized expose of what’s become a trend in American medicine today: specialists see patients until they need more than office visits can provide, but upon admission to hospitals, they’re turned over to the new breed of doctors now responsible for follow-up. The problem: these “hospitalists” have never seen their new patients before and don’t know them as the referring doctor does…but that doctor is no longer the caregiver.
Dr. Weisberg first introduces three characters who would seem to have nothing in common: an incredibly racist Klan member from backwater Florida; an incredibly bright little boy from the slums of Mumbai, India; and an incredibly dedicated medical student at Nashville’s Vanderbilt University. Over the course of some 300 fast-reading pages, these lives converge and interact. The results – given today’s hospitalist system, which affects them all – are not pretty. The inevitabilities include loss of moral compass, valuation of money above humanity, and even death.
This book’s characters are not highly nuanced; the reader has little difficulty telling the bad guys from the good ones, although there are a few surprises. There are also forays into events and situations that allow Dr. Weisberg to include a fair amount of sex and blue language, along with a more-than-equal sprinkling of medical terminology; he invokes lots of procedures without explanation, but you can make sense of them from context and won’t have to look them up unless you’re extra-curious. And he’s not above inserting a few bits of sly humor; for example, one of his main characters is an Indian doctor whose last name, “Givagushrai,” bears a striking – and certainly intended! – sjmilarity to a Yiddish word loosely translated as “let out a big scream”!
The author’s own medical credentials are beyond reproach; the book’s back cover proudly proclaims that he’s been named to D Magazine ’s “best doctor” list eight times, and has also achieved recognition as one of Texas Monthly ’s “Super Doctors.” And he is serious about his concern for how the hospitalist system reflects a change in U.S. medicine’s emphasis from healing to business. Michael Weisberg’s “ugly Americans” are not overseas, however; they are very much with us here at home!
The Hospitalist by Michael Weisberg, M.D., from Lulu Publishing Services, is available on Amazon in paperback at $17.99 or for your Kindle at $1.99, or as a Barnes and Noble Nook book, also at $1.99.