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Life in the Balance: A Physician's Memoir of Life, Love, and Loss with Parkinson's Disease and Dementia Hardcover – April 1, 2008

4.7 out of 5 stars 46 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

At the top of his professional game at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital and on the Harvard Medical School faculty but at a personal nadir after the death of his wife, cardiologist Graboys began presenting physical and mental signs he at first wrote off as after-effects of prolonged stress and exhaustion. Despite his best efforts to control the situation, first through denial, then by reducing his private-practice patient load, the symptoms doggedly progressed. In the meantime, he remarried. But when he passed out on the wedding day, he knew his problems were more serious than he wanted to admit. Before long, he was diagnosed with the double whammy of Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia, an associated degenerative disease. In this stirring and chilling memoir, he takes an unblinking look at himself as his mind and body suffer unrelenting hits from those progressive illnesses. An unforgettable doctor-as-patient account, including reflections by Graboys’ daughters, sons-in-law, and members of the families blended by his marriage. --Donna Chavez


“Beautifully written, searingly honest . . . lets us see the impact of serious illness on a man who is both doctor and patient.”—Rabbi Harold Kushner, author of When Bad Things Happen to Good People


"[A] stirring and chilling memoir...an unforgettable doctor-as-patient account."--Booklist 


"Doctors get seriously ill just like ordinary people, and some of them never recover from the shock. If of a literary bent, they are often moved to reflect for posterity on this disruption of the natural order, detailing their former hubris and the enlightening misery of health care experienced from the other side of the bed. Against this generally lackluster collection of memoirs, Dr. Thomas Graboys's stands out as a small wonder. Unsentimental and unpretentious, it manages to hit all its marks effortlessly, creating a version of the old fable as touching, educational and inspiring as if it had never been told before."- Abigail Zuger, The New York Times

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Union Square Press; 1 edition (April 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1402753411
  • ISBN-13: 978-1402753411
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.9 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #440,388 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Only fifteen years ago, in 1993, Dr. Tom Graboys was on top of the world. He was one of the most respected physicians in the rarified atmosphere of Boston cardiology and a member of the "dream team", convened to look into the controversial case of Reggie Lewis, the Boston Celtics star. Tom was a stalwart leader in the Lown Cardiovascular Group, named for Bernard Lown, a co-founder of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, which was the recipient of the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1985. Especially in the years leading up to the Nobel, Tom was active in IPPNW and in its US affiliate, Physicians for Social Responsibility.

But Tom was more and had much more than that.

He had a wonderful, accomplished and universally admired wife, Caroline. He had a brilliant mind and an athletic body. And he had a legion of patients who virtually worshiped him, as much for his humanity as for his skills as a Harvard cardiologist.

Tom was known to the rest of us in Boston cardiology as a premier practitioner of non-invasive cardiology in its truest sense. He spoke and published widely on the over-use of expensive and often unnecessary invasive technologies. Even more importantly, he argued tirelessly in favor of seeing, listening to, and treating as a fellow human being the whole patient. Countless times on ward rounds, I have told residents and fellows that my friend Tom Graboys across town would have encouraged us, with evidence to support his view, "not to rush to angioplasty or coronary bypass surgery on this patient".

But even I did not know everything that Peter Zheutlin and Tom himself have disclosed in this magnificent and beautifully written book.
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Format: Hardcover
Dr. Graboys pulls no punches in being real about what his life has become living with a debilitating disease. He writes not only about how this has affected him, but also the effect on his family, friends and the people that are part of his daily life. Anyone who has a loved one, be it family or friend, with a chronic disease should own and read a copy of this book - you will want to read it again. It will give you insight into the emotions and frustrations of living with a disease that currently has no cure. If this book does not touch your soul in some way, you might want to make sure you have a pulse. There is no "happy ending", but there is hope and love.
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Format: Hardcover
For a person to clearly articulate what is going through their mind as they grapple with a debilitating mental dementia (and physical) condition is remarakable. This is what Dr. Tom Graboys does in this book with great clarity. I know that my family who is grappling with a very similar issue with one our parents found the book extremely helpful- and for that Dr. Graboys deserves our real gratitude. He is continuing to provide valuable medical help to patients and their families in a new way- through this book rather than the exam room.

This book is so well written that I think people who don't have dementia related illness among their family or friends would still find the book compelling reading. Dr Graboys chance encounter with the Chief of Neurology in the parking lot is stunning.
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Format: Hardcover
Being a Parkinsonian myself, but without the added Lewy body dementia, I can appreciate Dr. Graboy's attempt to find a graceful way to live with his wife and children, without being too dependent on them except as his disease forces him to be. I admire his courage at telling the story, and doing it before his disease takes away that ability from him too. The book is very well written and with great honesty. I hope I can be like him when I become dependent on my wife and children in a way that really begins to affect their lives. Already, I've been the beneficiary of caring attention from both them and my friends. For my part, I am trying to remain in control as long as possible - I jog 5K every fourth day, weather permitting, and dance at all the parties where there is dancing and music (doing it well enough for people to comment). My greatest handicap is my deteriorating voice, the one thing that led me to retire from my job at the New York VA and my job as a teacher of cardiovascular pathology at NYU School of Medicine. I am just going to start voice therapy lessons. Let's hope they help me regain my voice quality, the one thing that bothers me the most. I have tried to maintain my voice so far by singing at parties - Indians do a lot of this. To my surprise, I have discovered that singing is easier to do than ordinary voice conversation. As for Dr. Graboy's book, I have only praise for it, and I wish him the best in the difficult days ahead. My advice to him: continue to be as brave and as caring as you have been so far. Your loved ones will take care of the rest.
1 Comment 35 of 38 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Hardcover
Walking a fine line here -- Dr. Graboys has been hit by a monstrous piece of bad luck and is fighting it bravely. That said, and rightfully so, I don't think this is a very good book. Far too much of it is devoted to telling the reader over and over again what a wonderful doctor, wonderful guy, and beautiful -- in the physical sense -- guy Dr. Graboys was before struck by Parkinson's and by dementia. He does it, his co-writer does it, his family does it. For me it wore a little thin. So he was part of the dream team for Reggie Lewis? That's impressive, but tell me once, not half a dozen times.

And is no one else terrified by the fact that Dr. Graboys, though suffering from dementia and having had two car accidents in a month, was -- at least at the time this book went to print -- still driving? In my view, though it certainly enables him to maintain shreds of his former life, that's a colossal act of irresponsibility, his own and that of his doctors. Also, and to his credit Dr. Graboys recognizes this point a couple times in the book, with his resources and his ability to buy the best care and support he can, Dr. Graboys is much better off in fighting his disease than the huge majority of those struck by the same fate.

The last two chapters are the best of the book as Dr. Graboys shifts from lamenting his bad luck and lost past to offering a number of thoughtful ideas on coping with chronic disease. More of that and more analysis of the progression of his own symptoms would have made this a better book for me.
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