by Pauline W. Chen

REVIEWED BY MICHELLE GREEN

CRITIC’S CHOICE

MEMOIR

Like many of her colleagues, transplant surgeon Pauline W. Chen chose medicine because she wanted to heal the sick. What she and her med-school classmates didn’t expect was that “our profession would require us to live among the dying,” she writes. “Death, more than life, would be the constant in our lives.”

In her compassionate, compelling memoir, Chen details the ways in which doctors are trained to live with that constant. The message: Death is a clinical, rather than an emotional, event. But instead of pulling back, Chen wanted to confront her fear and sense of helplessness and to learn from those whose deaths touched her. She remembers a young Asian woman, an organ donor whose nearly perfect body mirrors her own. And a surgeon who, by sitting with the wife of a dying patient, shows her how to help when all seems lost. Now, writes Chen, instead of turning her back, she will join “family members, embrace those who look particularly lost” and, in the shadow of death, “tell them of the final comfort of their presence.”

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