Dr. Laura Nathanson's life story mostly features wishes granted.
Her ambition as a child was to "escape" the Midwest-in her case, Lakewood, Ohio, "city of schools and churches." She agreed with e e cummings that in the geographically flat center of the country "all elsewheres are equal." She wanted more varied and exciting "elsewheres."
Her first "elsewhere" was Radcliffe College. But in the early Sixties, Radcliffe was the Cinderella of Harvard, except that there was no glass slipper awarded. The only way she could stay on the Dean's List (one of her scholarship requirements) was by taking English courses featuring literature she had already read.
Next, she found herself one of eight women in a Tufts Medical School class of 107, just as Vietnam was claiming many male residents. Unlike Harvard, Tufts and its affiliated training hospitals welcomed her and her female classmates without any discrimination whatsoever.
Just before she started her internship at Boston City Hospital, she re-met Harvard classmate Charles (Chuck) Nathanson, and fell in love. They were married at the end of her second year of residency, as Chuck was beginning to write his sociology Ph.D. thesis for Brandeis. Their wedding took place on the roof of Boston City Hospital, the morning after her last night on call, on national TV, with staff and patients attending.
For thirty years, the two of them deeply enjoyed each other and their one-and-only child, Sara; and during that same time, Dr. Nathanson deeply enjoyed practicing general pediatrics.
Pediatrics is unlike any other specialty, because Pediatricians share patient responsibility with the child's parents. Condescension, arrogance, and unnecessary medical jargon are not tolerated. Only teamwork succeeds.
Dr. Nathanson reflects her professional delight in her books about childcare. Parents often report that they keep the books, stained with coffee and baby burp, by their beds, relying on them for advice, reassurance, and also a chuckle in the middle of the night.
Her most recent book, however, is a response to a personal tragedy. At the age of 60, Chuck Nathanson died on June 5, 2003. A profusion of errors by nine San Diego doctors at Scripps Clinic/Green Hospital in La Jolla, who missed and then misdiagnosed a potentially curable cancer, resulted in unnecessarily delayed diagnosis and treatment-which in turn led to his death.
Grieving, blaming herself, Dr. Nathanson felt betrayed by her beloved profession. Finally, she wrote "What You Don't Know Can Kill You," HarperCollins, 2008.
In it, she tells non-medically-trained readers how to protect themselves and their loved ones from preventable medical errors-in particular, how to "vet" their medical records themselves. Almost all medical errors evolve from inaccurate patient facts, sloppy logic, and deviations from ethical behavior. These errors reveal themselves in the record, and do so in plain English. They are relatively easy to spot, and doing so may save a life.
She is now writing a Young Adult novel about a twelve-year old male skateboarder with a nine-year-old brother, a Dad deployed in Iraq and a Mom who is doing her best. The provisional title is "Gus's War."
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