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Something for the Pain: One Doctor's Account of Life and Death in the ER Hardcover – September 17, 2008

4.5 out of 5 stars 70 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

With a relentlessly honest look at modern emergency medicine, Austin, a former firefighter now living in Durham, N.C., writes in his debut book of his transformation to a highly capable ER doctor struggling to stay one jump ahead of death in the crowded critical care ward. The book begins deftly with Austin, a sleep-deprived physician, trying to avoid mistakes stemming from fatigue by relying on his instincts, frequently both skill and luck, to treat patients with gunshot wounds, brain tumors, asthma, heart ailments and general problems. In a narrative blur of flashbacks, he tells of his career as a firefighter before landing in medical school, which was followed by an internship at a local hospital and marriage to a lovely nurse and having a family. What makes this inspiring medical memoir stand out is the courageous measure of Austin's humanity in taking on the endless weight of suffering, and what he becomes to his co-workers, his patients, his family and his community. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

An intensely personal and truthful account...If you are considering a career in emergency medicine, you must read this book. -- Eugenia Quackenbush, MD, FACP Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine, UNC School of Medicine

Austin...can turn the simplest procedure into an occasion for elegy...phrased with the elegance of Thoreau. -- David Bradley, author of The Chaneysville Incident

Moving, troubling, and revelatory...[Austin] tells a story of disturbing power. -- Joy Castro, author of The Truth Book

[Austin] shows us something universal about how we all break and heal each other and ourselves. -- Rachel DeWoskin, author of Foreign Babes in Beijing
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (September 17, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 039306560X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393065602
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1.1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (70 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #842,848 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
As a former ER doc, one of the things that drives me insane is reading books where the physicians are so compassionate, I wouldn't recognize them among the dozens (hundreds?) of docs I've worked with over the years. Sure, we're all nice to little old ladies from nice families but it's the six sigma guy who can be that way with the drug addict in the middle of the night. Outsiders - our friends and family even - will never understand the daunting nature of this profession. This is an even handed narrative of the frustrating day to day work that emergency docs (and nurses) do, usually without thanks. Good job, Paul, for telling it like it is.
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Format: Hardcover
This book was refreshing. Dr Austin allows the reader to see what it is really like for a person who works with life and death every day. I was thrilled that this was not just another medical book, but one about a real person and the joys and struggles he faced. Anyone who has ever worked in an ED will be able to relate to the frustration and emotional feelings he dealt with. This book made me laugh but it also brought me to the brink of tears. It was a great read and I am recommending it to all my friends, especially the ones who don't work in health care. I certainly hope he has another book in him!!
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The vast majority of books written by doctors are filled with details about cases and diseases; rarely touching on the struggles these individuals face at home due to extended work hours, stressful decision making and sleep deprivation. It was refreshing to read a book written by a doctor that examined his personal, as well as professional, life.

In "Something for the Pain", Dr. Austin exams cases that bothered him, but rather than examine exactly what when wrong with the case, he examines how that case made him feel and why. Not just medically, but mentally as well. He also takes a deep and very honest look into how his job created problems with his home life. Along the way we get an insight into life in an ER.

During a volunteer career as a firefighter, with a stint in ambulances, I can state that the book not only sounds true, but caused my nerves to twitch just a little. He hit some feeling and emotions dead on, and I have to admit that I hoped these were feelings I had buried. His discussion of treating drunks was as close to real as I have ever seen.

This is a wonderful book with a lot of insight to offer. My only complaint was that the chapters didn't line up chronologically, so when I was trying to compare work with his home relationships, I occasionally had problems. This is a pretty simple thing and could be fixed by changing the chapter order. Overall, an excellent read and maybe a book we all need to read before we get caught in the machinery of the ER.
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Format: Hardcover
Something for the Pain: One Doctor's Account of Life and Death in the ER has much to recommend it, but ultimately the author tries to serve too many masters in too few pages.

The title led me to belief the focus would be on Dr. Austin's hospital cases, but the book was split between his career and his family. In theory, that's even better, because it interests me to know how people in stressful jobs learn to cope and keep their personal lives together.

The problem is that the book is short and by the end I don't feel like either aspect is fleshed out. Dr. Austin wisely tried to connect the joint focuses by pairing the ER stories with how they resonate with his life outside of the hospital, but there was just not enough room to really do either full justice.

There are two really potentially good books here that could have combined into one great one, but neither tale was detailed enough to lead to a fully satisfying experience.

A theme of the book is the author's struggle to find a balance between compassion and professional distance. It's a great topic. However, his writing voice errs on the side of detachment, and there is a feeling that he's still protecting himself from feeling too much. I don't know this is the case, but the tone comes across as if the doctor more than the man is in the writer's chair.

I'm glad I read this book, I admire the writer, and I would love to hear/read more about his experiences, but this particular book didn't quite meet my expectations from when I selected it, nor did it become the even better book that it wanted to be.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I just finished reading Dr. Paul Austin's book and enjoyed every minute of it. For almost every person's case he described I had memories of my experiences which were very similiar. I have been there like him as a doc, though I'm over twenty years his senior. His descriptions of the chaos, clamor, urgency, raw emotions, fatigue, and even smells of night shifts in a busy ER brought it all back again. He was very wise to accept his wife's advice early on to get "Therapy". Had he not done so he would not be the husband, father, and physician he is today. He took therapy seriously and learned some essential coping skills. These were not taught in medical school, though they are essential to live successfully while caring for others. I wish I had learned them many years sooner. You must be able to feel pain and sadness and deal with them in a healthy manner to feel joy. Helping a person or persons in distress, maybe only a few a day, is the true calling of a Physician and primarily what he or she should aspire to. His description of learning to vary his emotional permeability or aperture is excellent, and it should be repeated often to young medical students who don't have any idea what a life and profession enhancing necessity that skill can be. I refer to it "Rapidly Oscillating Skin", i.e. from thick skinned one minute rapidly changing to thin skinned the next as required by the situation.

There is much experience and wisdom in this small book. I would recommend it to any doctor in training, or later, with repeated reviews prn. Nice work, Dr. Austin!
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