Book Club: The House of God

Do you ever get disillusioned with medicine?  Maybe you became a nurse practitioner to help the chronically ill only to find they aren't willing to make the necessary life changes.  Or, maybe you became a physician assistant to help the acutely sick in the emergency department only to find the ED filled with drug seekers.  If so The House of God is for you.

The House of God is both disturbing and hilarious, leaving readers filled with a mix of repulsion and disbelief.  Based on author and psychiatrist Stephen Bergman's (the book is published under the pseudonym Samuel Shem) personal experiences at Harvard Medical School's Beth Israel Hospital in 1974, this satirical novel depicts the life of medical intern Roy Basch and his five colleagues as they learn to become physicians.

Intern Roy Bash and his colleagues work under an array of residents and doctors from the so-called "Fat Man" who believes patients fare best with no intervention at all and encourages students to falsify medical records to "Jo" who runs test after test on dying elderly patients causing an endless stream of other medical problems in her attempt to diagnose the patient's initial complaint.  Science doesn't rule in the House of God, but rather the personal philosophy and billing practices of the treating physician.

Although crude, medical providers will find The House of God an introspective and revealing read.  As I read about interns ordering test after test on cancer patients begging their doctors to just let them die and the money maker of the House of God, the so called "bowel run", ordered on patients whether they had a gastrointestinal complaint or not, I found a disconcerting number of similarities between the morbid, irresponsible way psychiatrist Stephen Bergman portrayed his horrible experiences as an intern in the 1970's with the way we practice medicine today.  I caught glimpses of certain coworkers in his characters and similarities in the way hospitals continue to operate today.

The House of God's brutally honest portrayal of one physician's encounter with medicine is a rare find.  Regardless of personal opinion about the uncensoredness of Bergman's writing, The House God will no doubt spawn discussion among medical providers who read Bergman's story.  While this novel may make readers cringe with discomfort at times, it's this rawness that shows the continued need for change in the corrupt American medical system

Did you like The House of God?  Do you see parts of your hospital environment in Bergman's characters and portrayal?  Would you recommend this book to others?

Next month's book club column will feature Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche By Ethan Watters.  Start reading now to participate in next month's discussion!