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August 30, 2002 - Image 80

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2002-08-30

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its &s Entertainment

Wise Eyes

In her new book, physician patient Jamie Weisman looks at medicine
from both sides of the trenches.


Special to the Jewish News

amie Weisman has a unique perspective on
the medical world. She is both a full-time
physician and a full-time patient.
Weisman, who recently finished her resi-
dency in dermatology at Emory University Hospital
in Atlanta, suffers from an unnamed immune system
defect that requires monthly infusions of intra-
venous immunoglobulin and injections of interferon
every other day to prime her response to infection.
That longstanding illness has enabled Weisman to
see and experience good medicine and bad medi-
cine, experiences she describes in a newly published
book of essays, As I Live and Breathe: Notes. of a
Patient-Doctor (North Point Press; $23).
In the book, Weisman flips between her experi-
ences during medical training and personal episodes
of heart-wrenching sickness to explore the doctor-
patient relationship,
medical fallibility and
Dr. Jamie Weisman:
the human spirit.
few, precious few
Weisman, a longtime
made me feel
synagogue member of
for, cupped
The Temple in Atlanta,
safe as a
where she and her twin
into bed
brother Jonathan cele-
brated their b'nai mitz-
of his
vah, began the book
while she was in medical
school at Emory and fin-
ished it during her resi-
dency. It was a busy time.
"Basically I wrote a book, had no social life and
studied as a resident," Weisman said in an interview,
but "it felt good to write it because with writing you
sort out a lot of your emotions."
Her writing is observant and, on occasion, excruci-
atingly graphic. Take the time her family went skiing
in Aspen and her throat became so tortuously painful
that her father couldn't bear to watch her suffering:
"My throat feels as if it has been ripped from my
body," she writes, "shredded with a metal grater,
trampled and then sewn back in with a rusty needle."
But Weisman knows how to laugh, too. Her
account of her parents learning they were going to
have twins leaves you smiling. And so does the
episode when Weisman, as a teenager, decided to eat a
peanut just before she was scheduled to have surgery.
Had Weisman been born perfectly healthy,
chances are she would now be pursuing the literary
career she began after graduating from Brown
University in Rhode Island.
Although she comes from a medical family —
including her father, Atlanta cardiologist Evan
Weisman; her mother, Nancy Weisman, a psycholo-

Fran M. Putney is an Atlanta writer.



gist; and her grandfather, a radiologist — Weisman
never aspired to be a doctor.
She loved literature and after college, she began
working for a publisher in New York. Not long after
that, however, she became progressively sicker with the
unknown illness that had begun when she was a teen.
By the age of 26, Weisman had undergone surgeries
to remove lymph nodes and five bone marrow biop-
sies; her family was told she might develop cancer.
Weisman hasn't developed cancer, but according
to her immunologist, Dr. Charlotte Cunningham-
Rundles, a professor at Mt. Sinai Medical School in
New York, the problems with her immune system
still can't be pinpointed.
Weisman says she was forced into the medical
world as a sick person trying to learn more about
her illness.
"Sometimes I think law school might have been a
better choice, but at the same time, going to medical
school was the best way to make lemonade out of

lemons," Weisman said.
She decided medicine was a profession that could
help her cope with a chronic and expensive illness,
while offering financial stability and good health
insurance. Acquiring a medical education would also
help her understand her own condition and navigate
the convoluted American health care system.
Today, says her father, Weisman probably knows
as much about her illness as anyone in Atlanta.
Her doctors and family were surprised by her
decision to attend medical school and there was
some concern about the risks to her health, includ-
ing stress and exposures to infection.
Nevertheless, they supported her decision. "I've
never wanted to underestimate what Jamie can do,"
said Cunningham-Rundles.

A Can-Do Person

"Jamie is the kind of person who can do anything
she wants to do," said Evan Weisman. "She is so
competent in everything she does that even with her
illness, she has very high criteria for herself and can't
do anything without doing it with excellence."
By choosing medicine, Weisman didn't close the
door on a literary career. As a literary doctor, she
joins a long list of many other physician-writers —
from Russian playwright Anton Chekhov to Arthur

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