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The Stethoscope CureReview - The Stethoscope Cure
by Sam Osherson
CreateSpace, 2014
Review by Margaret Riley
Aug 25th 2015 (Volume 19, Issue 35)

As a nurse with an interest (but not a great deal of experience) in mental health, the description of The Stethoscope Cure was irresistible.  I wasn’t sorry for making this choice.  Mr. Osherson took me into the VA Hospital with Dr. Gilverstein through this book, and along the way he invited me into Dr. and Mrs. Gilverstein’s home, and to meet his parents.  He also allowed me to ride along through the streets of New York City on his bicycle, which I would not have thought I find as interesting as I did.  Seriously now, I was never with him or Dr. Gilverstein, have never met them; indeed Dr. Gilverstein is a fictional character.  But it was an interesting ride nonetheless!

Sam Osherson’s style is easy to read.  The Stethoscope Cure involves a hospital setting with medical students and faculty, practicing with veteran patients in a very specific area of care, which can be an overwhelming atmosphere for some.  His writing brings the reader into that setting with ease.  Descriptions of the offices, the medical staff and patients are clear and detailed.  He shares thoughts, feelings, and conversations. 

When not in the hospital with Dr. Gilverstein, the reader might be at home with him and his wife, newlyweds expecting their first child.  She is in school studying sociology, and the time setting of the 1960s is more apparent through her than anyone else in the book, as she finds herself caught in the politics and protests of that time period.  An interesting dichotomy is presented as Dr. Gilverstein works with veterans who have served in Viet Nam, and the visible and invisible wounds they have; his wife is at a university with clear liberal-leaning views and some faculty and students following these viewpoints, some blindly, all with conviction and a desire to help. 

Dr. Gilverstein struggles with the complexities and challenges of relationships.  He is young, in love and newly married, as well as coping with the added factor of his wife’s pregnancy.  He is in a psychiatric residency, dealing with the responsibility of treating patients’ mental status in a high stress environment.  His patients are detailed and realistic, and the challenges of mental illness – having it and treating it - are apparent. 

The setting of the 1960s adds the Viet Nam war to the scene, and the fact that psychiatric care at the time was not proactive with care for those suffering post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  Indeed, it may not even have been included by title in the diagnostic manual for psychiatric disorders of the 1960s.  The other residents and their interactions with their attending physicians provide interesting relationships, including Dr. Gilverstein’s loss of his mentor, setting him back  in his professional development, or at least his own perception of his progress and abilities.

The lives within this book are by no means perfect – there are temptations, disagreements, arguments, and delights; Dr. Gilverstein interacts with his divorced parents, now living across the country from one another.  He deals with sharing the news of his upcoming fatherhood with them, and we share their responses.  He’s a very real person.  I found his cycling about town to be fascinating too; it stuck in my mind after reading the book.  I wondered at the 2015 viewpoint of bicycling as popular and trendy, including bike racing, long distance cycling tours, and “Bike To Work Day” versus his use of a bike as necessary transportation, quick and efficient in a big city.  I found myself wondering if cycling was used in such a matter-of-fact way during the ‘60s in big cities like New York.

Working with mental illness is complex by nature.  The description of how the title is part of Dr. Gilverstein’s development as a physician is very interesting.  I understand how the doctor who describes the importance of the symbolism and importance of the stethoscope came to realize its value.  I won’t provide the detail here, as that would spoil it for future readers.  It is however, also interesting to see how Dr. Gilverstein comes to realize what the elder physician was describing about the importance of the stethoscope, even in a psychiatric setting.  And how he comes to use it at the book’s end. 

The book ends rather suddenly (again, no details to spoil things).  While I found it a sensible and plausible ending I had found myself liking the characters so much I was slightly disappointed to reach the end.  I suppose I wanted to know more about how their lives continued:  how the young adults coped with the end of the Viet Nam war and finding their way into their professions, parenthood, and how the child grew up; how the patients fared as they were treated.  Of course realistically, it was time for the book to end, and I had to deal with not having an ongoing relationship with these folks.

 

© 2015 Margaret Riley

 

Margaret Riley, PhD, MS, RN. Assistant Professor at Regis University, Loretto Heights School of Nursing.


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