Doctor’s book offers perspective from both sides of the curtain

Posted Oct. 24, 2010, at 6:18 p.m.

THE PATIENT IN THE WHITE COAT by Rosalind Kaplan, M.D., c. 2010, Kaplan Publishing $25.99/$32.99 Canada, 245 pages, includes index

Open up wide and say “Ahhhhh.”

Scoot down on the table and just relax. This is cold, so let me warm it up. Relax your hand. Relax your arm. This might be uncomfortable. You might feel a little sting here. Squeeze my hand. Take a deep breath. Relax.

Sounds familiar if you’ve been to the doctor’s office; if you’re the doctor, you’ve said these things a thousand times. So have you ever wondered how it looks from the other side of the paper gown? Read the new memoir, “The Patient in the White Coat” by Rosalind Kaplan, M.D., and find out.

When, upon being awakened one morning, Rosalind Kaplan’s mother told her husband to “Call 911. I’m dying” — then did — Kaplan’s father elected to forgo an autopsy. Partly because of the unknown circumstances of her mother’s death and partly for peace of mind, Kaplan, who had just finished her medical residency, ordered a series of routine tests on herself.

She was feeling fine. She was tired, but wasn’t every new, busy doctor? There were brushes with medical minicrises over the years, but Kaplan fully expected the results to show that everything was well.

She was shocked to learn that it wasn’t.

Abnormal tests indicated that Kaplan had hepatitis C, a then little-understood cousin to hepatitis A and B. Kaplan wore herself out trying to figure out where she’d gotten it. Then she looked for a possible cure, but because the disease was so “new,” treatment was still in the trial stage.

Her first experience in this new frontier began inauspiciously: Kaplan was kept waiting for nearly three hours in a soulless waiting room filled with outdated magazines. She then was accepted for six months of treatment that didn’t work. She didn’t like her doctor.

A second round of treatment came after the birth of her daughter, then a third some years later. During it all, Kaplan was given a unique peek at “the wrong side of the curtain.”

A physician living with chronic disease, she admits, has certain advantages. She can order her own tests and interpret her own charts. She can bypass receptionists by using her title. She can share what she learns with her patients at bedside.

I enjoyed reading this book, overall. It’s short, to-the-point and interesting. But what I liked best about “The Patient in the White Coat” was Kaplan’s unabashed openness and complete truthfulness.

Kaplan doesn’t always maintain a stiff upper lip here; she tells her readers that it really stinks to have this disease. She is honest about her fears, her needs, and her lack of discussing both with her husband, and she talks about the effect that the disease had on her relationship. She’s more than willing to scold, through this book, doctors who forget their humanity when caring for sick, frightened patients.

No matter what end of the stethoscope you’re on, this quick-to-read book is worth the time. Pick up “The Patient in the White Coat,” pull up an exam table, and relax.

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old, and she never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 12,000 books.

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