Jerome Groopman's The Measure of Our Days


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Jerome Groopman's The Measure of Our Days is a compelling look at what we can learn about living when life itself can no longer be taken for granted because of severe illness. Jerome Groopman, M.D., one of the world's leading researchers in cancer and AIDS, is Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, Chief of Experimental Medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. His laboratory helped to develop the new protease inhibitors for the treatment of AIDS, and in January of 1998 his laboratory identified another gene that appears to play a role in breast cancer.
Groopman has written extensively for many publications such as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The New Yorker, and The New Republic and Time magazine as well as medical and scientific journals. The Measure of Our Days tells the reader about Groopman's technique with patients, not directly, but through stories. Groopman takes his title from a Psalm of David, Psalm 39, "Lord, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is; that I may know how frail I am.
Dr. Groopman, as well as being a prolific writer, has an exceptional insight of the importance of confronting one's death, both for the patient and for their family and friends. The eight patients he synopsis’s vary extensively in their personalities and in their ailments, yet each of them in the end display a kind of heroism, strength, and the power to change their lives no matter what their diagnosis. Groopman's book is more than a collection of moving stories about sick people; it is about the strength hope gives us in times of need.
Groopman accounts the illnesses and deaths of four AIDS patients; there is the young boy who survived acute myeloblastic leukemia, but died of AIDS, from a blood transfusion, later in his teens; the physician with hemophilia, a fellow in Groopman's own research laboratory, who had been infected with HIV; an aged European businessman, and a young woman who contracted AIDS on vacation in Martinique. The book shows how she disengaged herself from the other AIDS patients in the waiting room because she did not want to face her future with this illness. She did not even tell her mom until she decided to adopt a child. Dan also hid his illness until he felt he had to tell Groopman incase it could effect his work.

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Dan felt he had to keep his illness to himself cause it might effect his place in the research team. Alex, the European businessman, also was disengaged from his family because of his lifestyle. These cases show the disengagement theory. Disengagement theory describes how associations between people and other members of civilization are disengaged or altered in quality; each of these events constitutes a form of disengagement.
There are three cases of cancer, a man with renal-cell carcinoma, the young woman with metastatic breast cancer who refuses medical treatment in favor of Tao healing, and his friend who was successfully treated for a lymphoma, only to have acute leukemia develop. There is the Boston matriarch who has myelofibrosis, who is rich and set in her ways. She tells Groopman that “the mayor should be Irish, the barber Italian, and the doctor a Jew." (p.169)
Perhaps without intending it, Groopman raises vital insights about the outlook of medicine’s future; one dilemma it illustrates where future physicians like Groopman will come from. Will we run out of compassionate physicians? Hopefully, we will not. I worry about a kind of physician who is not only an superb medical professional, wonderful teacher, and an exceptional research scientist. Physicians with these talents have always been in short supply, but now they are in very short supply. Another cause for concern is time for talking, hand holding, reassurance, and grieving with the sick and their families. Being a friend not just a doctor. Groopman found time for all these acts of understanding and compassion, despite his responsibilities to everything.
Groopman is an unforgettable personality too, fighting for his patients, worrying over their illnesses. He acknowledges the disapproval that doctors are often too removed and while he does, he takes us behind, revealing the emotional suffering of working with terminal illness; occasionally clinical detachment is the only way a physician can make it through the day. At times it is also the most effective way to save someone's life.
The collective power of the stories is very emotional, and so is each story individually. Groopman portrays life and death in a passionate, emotionally involved way that we all long to have in our doctor. “The Measure of Our Days” is a powerful book and the reader gains and understanding of the imperfection of human life. The dialogue between Dr. Groopman and his patients is gripping. By reading this book, we can be thankful for and worth our own lives, and the life lessons learned from these terminally ill patients. Definitely a good book, especially for people who are interested in pursuing a career in the medical field.
If I had to sum up the book's premise, it would be: patients who love and are loved fight the hardest to live, sometimes beyond the point where most physicians have given up on them. Most of Dr. Groopman's patients in this book die after extensive chemotherapy, surgery, and physical therapy--the whole painful and nauseous limits of modern medicine. Good literature requires a good character. This story has eight interesting, poignant characters, men and women that the author learns to understand and love as he treats them. He is good at finding their strengths and also their flaws.
These stories of terminal illnesses also clarify the physician's role as a healer, a confessor, a teacher, a friend, and companion. Groopman shows how doctors can be more human when with a patient and their families. Measure of Our Days was a very interesting read, while at times depressing it also gives hope and encouragement to anyone reading this book. While I would recommend it to anyone, I think anyone facing a terminal illness needs to read this work. This is an exceptional work! Anyone would be fascinated with this topic, as it is universal.


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