In her autobiographical account of
life, death, sickness, and healing -- Jamie Weisman speaks with a narrative
voice that starkly emphasizes the fundamental attributes of the powers of
The autobiography begins amidst the
backdrop of Weisman's treatment for a rare autoimmune disorder, requiring
intensive medical therapy, surgical interventions, and monthly blood
transfusions. It is Weisman's encounters
and fundamental ability to interact with the other patients and nursing staff
at her monthly transfusions that motivates her, and ultimately propels her to
attend medical school, to learn the art of healing and relieving illness and
sickness. The author wonderfully
articulates the motivations, emotions, and process of self-awareness that one
must undergo while contemplating a career in the medical profession, especially
in light of having experienced the dual role of patient and physician.
Weisman also provides remarkable
and profound insight into the rigors and interpersonal challenges one faces
while training to become a physician.
The daily exposure to life and death, and the daunting yet miraculous
ability of physicians-in-training to synthesize and place their experiences
into perspective is well done. At one
point in the autobiography, Weisman recounts an encounter with her own
physician and healer at a charity fundraiser, who is now dying of cancer. Dr.
Gussack, the physician who removed one of Weisman's swollen glands due to her
immune disorder as a young adult and prevented her from disfiguring scars, is
now "utterly changed, shrunken and hollowed out…he was bald except for a
few wiry strands of colorless hair and he had lost his handlebar mustache. All around … were the supposed modern-day
heroes; these massive men who win adoration and millions of dollars just for
playing a game, while across the room was my hero, the shadow of a man on a
The author's candid yet kindhearted
discussion of life, death, disease, healing, tragedy, and hope is the heart of
this autobiography. Although many
physician-authors have written about the changes and revelations that occur
when a physician is transformed into a patient, this is a first where the
physician starts as a patient.
Weisman's discovery and understanding of the art of medicine and the
meaning of the words "medical doctor" resonate with us each of us,
who have personally experienced the complex and confusing foray into the world
Weisman's reflections and
observations would not be complete, however, without some insight into her
personal life. After completing medical
school, despite several surgeries and disease relapses, Weisman finds her
soulmate and husband, Victor Balaban.
Despite medical advice to the contrary, she then decides to start a
family; and the subsequent miracles that bless her are equally endearing as the
author and her family arrive full circle.
The autobiography is replete with
themes of complexity, connection, fear, confusion, joy, and the uncertainties
of life. But in the end, Weisman
"finds [herself] reduced to and daily confronted with the fundamental
blindness of humanity...illness has forced [her] to make consciously the choice
that the greater part of humanity makes without thinking each day, to soldier
forward in our ignorance." Weisman
has provided a unique and valuable contribution with As I Live and Breathe -- reminding each of us not to take anything
for granted, and to rejoice in those aspects of humanity that make life itself
a beloved gift.
2003 Kari Karsjens
Kari Karsjens, JD, American Medical