What happens when an esteemed California gynecologist chisels the "M.D." off his door and announces to his family and stunned colleagues that he is giving up his lucrative medical practice? Find out in this true account of Paul Brenner's personal search for the meaning of life, as he trades his Mercedes, white coat and speculum for a pickup truck, tai chi and poolside chats with terminally ill patients.
In a narrative that allows the reader a rare peak behind the often-intimidating white coat, Brenner reveals personal details of his life as an ob-gyn, his rejection of that life and his quest to recover his lost humanity and passion for living. From his original epiphany at the site of a Guatemalan earthquake to astute observations made watching an anxiety-ridden vegetarian, Brenner expounds on the modern doctor-patient relationship and laments the state of contemporary health care in America.
"Healing the person has been lost to the science of healing the pathology," Brenner writes. "I was tired, burned out, and burned up. I did not have the heart to fight to convince others that caring counts, acupuncture works, the unborn have intelligence, or maternal/child health is more important than mechanical hearts, organ transplants, and most medical research."
Should the avoidance of death at any cost be medicine's primary goal? If life cannot be saved, should death be embraced? What responsibilities do patients have for their own care? These are some of the questions Brenner grapples with as he begins his search.
Brenner turns to a variety of alternative therapies in his pursuit for answers, including acupuncture, meditation, the laying on of hands, journaling and solitary drives across the country. Along the way, Brenner discovers that each person must accept responsibility for his/her own health. He asks himself, "What is healing? What is health? Is it the absence of disease or the presence of passion?" Brenner realizes he has spent his life trying to keep an impossible vow made to God made when his best friend died at the age of ten-that he would never let anyone die again.
Leaving traditional medicine behind, Brenner discovers a new calling--assisting others in becoming responsible for their own healthcare and redefining the meaning of health.
".....[H]ealth is defined by our response to life," Brenner notes, "and just as life changes, so does our health. Health is the acceptance and appreciation of life."
On one of many light notes, Brenner observes the agony of a strict vegetarian as he picks through spinach salad searching for the "sinister bacon bits." When Brenner jokingly tells him, "You just swallowed a bacon bit!" the man is horrified. The doctor-turned-philosopher points out that while to some people, a bacon bit is a delicious morsel of nourishment to savor, to others it becomes, in their own minds, a poison to be avoided at all costs.
Today's sterile clinics are populated by doctors obsessed with charts and fear of lawsuits, according to Brenner, and patients who need compassion as much or more so than prescriptions and invasive procedures. Both doctor and patient need to relearn to trust each other.
"An essential bond must exist between the healer and the healee in order to initiate the healing process," Brenner writes. "This bond is a bond of trust. Trust has a healing effect because it creates an emotional response."
As marvelous as gene therapy, antidepressants and online medical care may be, they will never replace wisdom, values and perspective. When modern doctors want to surgically divide the disputed baby/life/disease, then it is time for the wisdom of Solomon to determine ownership of life. Imparting that wisdom is part of healing, according to Brenner.
In his observations, Brenner injects common sense, trust and humanness back into medicine and life. Rather than continually fighting disease and natural body processes, such as growing older, doctors and patients should once again embrace the indigenous wisdom within themselves and rediscover the wonder mirrored all around them, whether it is found in a birthing room, on a deathbed or in a simple bacon bit.
After decades of delivering babies for patients, Paul Brenner has brought forth his own gift to his profession and clients-a book replete with wisdom gleaned from powerful encounters with souls on the journey known as "life."