While medicine had been a very fulfilling career for Dr. Louise Aronson, she never forgot about one of her original loves of writing. Dr. Aronson has used her insider view from treating patients to create a wonderful new book that takes readers into the lives of doctors, patients and families in the neighborhoods, hospitals and nursing homes of San Francisco. The result: a group of meaningful stories on aging called A History of the Present Illness.
Dr. Aronson believes that stories are the single most powerful tool of human communication. They are the only tool that has been around throughout human history, and they capture people’s interest and imagination far more surely and enduringly than do facts. Equally important, by telling short stories, she wanted to counter all the noise and vitriol surrounding health and health care lately and return people’s focus to their fellow human beings. A History of the Present Illness puts readers right into the lives of patients, families, caregivers,and doctors from varying socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds to show what matters most: a shared humanity and its many challenges.
From Doctor to Author
What may surprise many is that this book was 10 years in the making. After finishing her thirty years of education and training as a physician, Dr. Aronson went back to something she’d had a passion for early on in life: writing. When she got started, her writing was very much about processing the trauma of seeing so many people suffer and of trying and sometimes failing to be a person who could help them. Then, she discovered the way she could pay tribute to patients and colleagues by telling some part of their stories – that she might be able to say something about illness and medicine and life that hadn’t been said before or hadn’t been said in that way. So it evolved from self-reflection to focus on using literature to tell untold stories.
A Nudge in the Right Direction
The overwhelmingly positive response of doctors to this book has been surprising to Dr. Aronson. She had hoped the stories of A History of the Present Illness would resonate because she didn’t feel this view of medical training or lives in medicine had been told before. This book provides an honest view of some of the greatest challenges and joys of becoming and being a doctor.
“I could not be more pleased that my fellow physicians seem to appreciate the truth in the short stories and can relate to the experiences and challenges depicted. I hope that A History of the Present Illness, along with my work in Public Medical Communication, continues to nudge doctor/patient communications in the right direction.”
Inspiration for the Reader
There are not many happy endings in the book. However, readers have noted the empathy, humor and insights into lives and the medical experience many go through. Dr. Aronson wanted to show all sides of it in an inspiring yet realistic way. Even if the endings aren’t ideal, there still can be so much of what makes life wonderful in the experience: the love within families, the heroic way that people take care of each other, the people we grow in the face of adversity. The book was written so that patients could see their actual experiences and know they are not alone, that their experiences matter, and that people care.
What’s next for Dr. Aronson? She is working on another book on aging that will be non-fiction but unlike any book on that topic to date. She will once again use her storytelling skills to create a book that takes people by the hand and guides them in a positive and entertaining way through a topic many are hesitant to explore. In the meantime, take a look at this video clip where Dr. Aronson shares her perspective and gives a glimpse into A History of the Present Illness. You can can also read actual excerpts online.