Jul-Aug 2000 Table of Contents

Balancing Act

Words of Wisdom for Patients and Physicians

Recommending a good book can provide manna for your patients and enrich your communications with them.

Fam Pract Manag. 2000 Jul-Aug;7(7):82.

Life bestows changes on us all: a new baby, a teenager, a midlife crisis, a parent or spouse with dementia, a terminal illness. During my years in practice, I've found that a well-written book can ease the concerns of an expectant mother or offer words of wisdom to a family devastated by the unexpected.

Recommending books and reading those that my patients have suggested has not only provided balance in my life, but also has provided us with common ground on which to talk about life's experiences.

The books I exchange with patients in my practice tend to fall into three basic categories: cookbooks, soul books and consciousness raisers.

Cookbooks

The simplest and most practical books I recommend are the “cookbooks,” a select few of the hordes of how-to books that fill the shelves of our local bookstores. Each of our expectant mothers receives a copy of What to Expect When You're Expecting by Arlene Eisenberg. We use the book as a frame of reference when questions arise during pregnancy. Talking with patients about Without Spanking or Spoiling by Elizabeth Crary allows me to screen for discipline problems during well-child exams. I suggest Jeanne and Don Elium's Raising a Son and Raising a Daughter to patients interested in honing their parenting skills.

Many of you may already be doing this much for your patients. But I challenge you to do more. Find reasons to recommend books like Adventuring With Children by Nan Jeffrey. Parents who read this book will gain great perspective with which to face their physical and spiritual journeys. I also like to recommend books that help families with time management, such as Confessions of a Happily Organized Family by Deniece Schofield.

Soul books

The second type of book — “soul books” — provide food for our journey. Soul books are old-fashioned, meaty stories whose art carries seeds of comfort and wisdom. They're less safe than cookbooks, but may ultimately be more rewarding to your patients.

Encourage parents and children to experience books such as The Giver by Lois Lowry or Eleanor by Barbara Cooney. Together, these books give a glimmer of sorrow's virtue. Throw your ugly-duckling, preadolescent patient a lifeline by recommending that old-fashioned teller of tales, Andre Norton, or any other authors that may have softened your own adolescent journeys. Allow Anne Morrow Lindbergh to provide a safe harbor for women of all ages by recommending to them her Gift From the Sea.

For families that have trouble talking about their issues and who are open to experiment, I suggest Put Your Heart on Paper by Henriette Anne Klauser. Some might quibble that a book exploring written communication belongs in the cookbook category, but because writing generally reflects soul issues and not ego issues, I place it at this table.

Consciousness raisers

The final group explores society's diseases, sheds light on our own shadowy pasts and prepares our families for change. Books that raise consciousness belong in your practice, in your life and in the reach of your patients. They contribute to our sense of who we are in the world.

To those anticipating real or imaginary loss, consider recommending that gem of an historical magnifying glass, How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill. Almost everyone can better understand adolescent girls after reading the gritty, readable Reviving Ophelia by Mary Bray Pipher, PhD. By focusing on the forces decimating this country's young women, it speaks to all families. Finally, Endangered Minds by Jane M. Healy, PhD, explores the potential effects of our cultural shift from learning by reading and listening to learning by watching. You may not agree with all the conclusions, but the questions are powerful and evocative.

The challenge

So there you have it. A yeasty baker's dozen that includes guides for the ego, grist for the soul and fire for the belly. I hope you'll use these recommendations to push your patients back to the center of your work — and put that coding book back under the desk where it belongs.

Dr. Mohl is a staff physician with the Deaconess Billings Clinic in Red Lodge, Mont.

Copyright © 2000 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
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