Notables of medical fiction
After nine months of hearing about nothing but viruses and infectious disease, it’s no wonder that the world’s attention has now turned to vaccines. Four companies have promising solutions and the Canadian government announced today that it is expecting to begin administering the vaccine to front line health care workers this month. Great news!
The work of health care professionals and the challenges they endure to help the sick during this exceptional time have been front and centre since the pandemic began. We’ve heard of the tremendous toll their work takes on them, and the extraordinary sacrifices many have made for the benefit of others. For my part, I’m happy to wait until all those who care for the sick and elderly get vaccinated before others get their turn.
With the focus on health care, it got me thinking about some of the amazing books that have been written in and around medicine. Medical fiction is a fascinating genre whose stories focus on hospitals, ambulances, and other medical environments. The best of them contain the drama of humanity in all its guises, with life and death hanging in the balance. They are often stories about the protagonist’s personal struggles, about the fascinating mysteries of human health, and sometimes about the stuff of nightmares.
If you love books about the medical world, there are thousands to choose from. Here are a few of my favourites.
Magnificent Obsession by Lloyd C. Douglas
An engaging and dramatic story of personal redemption and private sacrifice. When carefree playboy, Robert Merrick’s life is saved at the expense of a renowned surgeon, he embarks on a life of philanthropy inspired by the doctor’s private papers. Thought-provoking and inspiring.
Intuition by Allegra Goodman
What happens when a research lab in desperate need of funding crosses the ethical line? Set in the high-stakes atmosphere of a prestigious research institute, the story combines vivid characters with deeply human situation. A mystery with an unlikely plot.
Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures by Vincent Lam
This series of stories with interwoven characters deals with the challenges of med school to the intensity of E.R., to new viruses, to evacuation missions. Gripping and realistic to read first-hand what life is really like for an emergency doctor in an urban hospital. Highly entertaining while utterly amazing.
One Station Away by Olaf Olafsson
An unusual story captured with beauty and honesty, this may technically not be medical fiction, but it’s such a great read, I had to include it. A young neurologist writes about his relationship with three women – his mother, a failed pianist who never loved him, his deceased lover, and a comatose patient he seeks to communicate with via MRI. Intimate and emotionally compelling.
The House of God by Samuel Shem
Shem has painted an unvarnished, and uncensored portrait of what training to become a doctor is truly like. Hailed as one of the most important medical novels ever written, it’s both hilarious and heartbreaking as the cast of characters’ struggle with grueling hours and onerous responsibilities.
The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides
A British mystery about a woman who kills her husband and never speaks again, and the psychotherapist who treats her. Driven by his own obsessions amid the unravelling of his marriage, his determination to get her to talk takes him down a twisting path into his own motivations. A mix of suspense and tragedy with a shocking twist ending.
The White Coat Diaries by Madi Sinha
Trying hard to be the “perfect Indian daughter”, Norah has just landed the medical residency of her dreams. Sleep deprived and disgruntled, she’s ready to quit until she meets her charismatic mentor. But when a fatal mistake is made, Norah must decide how far she is willing to go to protect the secret.
The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue
Nurse Julia Power works at an understaffed Irish hospital in 1918 where pregnant women are quarantined after coming down with an unfamiliar flu. Over three days, these women change each other’s lives in unexpected ways. How chillingly providential that it was published in the year of Covid-19 and we are reminded how little has changed.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
The fascinating story of the discovery and use of a poor black woman’s cells taken after her death in the 1950s. Taken without consent, her family never knew how they were used as one of the most important discoveries in cell culture, studying cancer, disease, viruses, genetics and DNA. A compelling true story about a medical revolution and the medical community’s deception of this woman’s family.
It’s hard to live without hope, and with the arrival of vaccines, we can see a glimmer on the horizon. I hope these vaccines do what they should. I hope they protect us against this terrible disease that has brought so much suffering to so many. I hope that enough people have them to eradicate it forever.
Wash your hands, wear a mask, stay hopeful.
In the meantime, happy reading!
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