weekends at bellevue

i just finished reading “weekends at bellevue”, julie holland’s account of the nine years she served as the weekend attending at bellevue hospital’s psychiatric emergency room. my coworker helen discovered the pre-pub copy floating in our midst among the various advanced readers we get every week, but as soon as i saw the subtitle “nine years on the night shift at the psych er”, i knew i had to read it. i’m fascinated by medicine, psychiatry, the human mind, and of course all the strange things our bodies do to us.

helen finished reading the book in three days, and handed it over with the warning that it was “kinda testosterony”. indeed it is, with holland explaining her way through her medical school and residency days as one of the boys with a bravado reminiscent of anthony bourdain. her tales of psychiatric patients–from addicts to murderers to sociopaths to schizophrenics–are completely engrossing in the way that mary roach can make you care about a dead body or a sex change operation. interwoven between these stories is holland’s experience with her own psychotherapist, her relationship with a cancer-surviving butch lesbian from the south, and her coping with the tragedy of 9/11. the book offers a unique perspective on how a doctor treats some of the sickest patients in new york city and how she is treated herself.

i see part of myself in julie holland, the tough, no-nonsense bravado that a girl has to put on to be loved by her father and accepted by the guys, the rock-and-roll exterior and the soft, empathic woman inside. i even considered medical school myself, though i’m sure holland is much better equipped than i when it comes to dealing with a man who murdered his own son or a schizophrenic who pushes a young woman to her death. a residency at bellevue sounds interesting but not worth the medical school bills. stick with reading the book for now.

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