Letter to a Young Female Physician – Suzanne Koven

Your training and sense of purpose will serve you well. Your humanity will serve your patients even better.

Although each essay in this book can be read separately, together they paint a picture of Suzanne Koven’s life, from her childhood recollections of her father’s orthopedic practice and always choosing to be the doctor during childhood games of Careers to her own residency and eventually her work as a doctor. Throughout, the reader witnesses Suzanne struggling to maintain a work-life balance, parenting her children, caring for her ageing parents and figuring out how to be the best doctor she can be for her patients.

I find my patients much more interesting than their diseases.

Although I was introduced to a number of the author’s patients, albeit de-identified and with some details changed, there were times I was holding out for a resolution that failed to come. I wanted to know what became of these people whose stories I was just becoming invested in.

For some reason I also became invested in the story of the white pine trees, where the infection of one may result in the infection of its neighbours. My biggest frustration with this book was not learning whether the two pine trees survived or not. Why do I care so much about this? Perhaps it was because of what those trees symbolised to the author. Regardless, I felt cheated by not knowing their fate.

My favourite parts of this book involved the author’s relationship with her mother and how it changed throughout her life.

The reflections on what it is that makes a good doctor would be particularly valuable for newly trained doctors, who are finding their feet in a world where having empathy for their patients can prove just as important as knowledge of their medical conditions.

Students worry about knowing enough. Patients worry about them caring enough.

Content warnings include ableism, attempted suicide, eating disorders, racism, sexism and sexual harassment.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and W. W. Norton & Company for granting my wish to read this book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

In 2017, Dr. Suzanne Koven published an essay describing the challenges faced by female physicians, including her own personal struggle with “imposter syndrome” – a long-held secret belief that she was not smart enough or good enough to be a “real” doctor. Accessed by thousands of readers around the world, Koven’s “Letter to a Young Female Physician” has evolved into a deeply felt reflection on her career in medicine.

Koven tells candid and illuminating stories about her pregnancy during a grueling residency in the AIDS era; the illnesses of her child and ageing parents during which her roles as a doctor, mother, and daughter converged, and sometimes collided; the sexism, pay inequity, and harassment that women in medicine encounter; and the twilight of her career during the COVID-19 pandemic. As she traces the arc of her life, Koven finds inspiration in literature and faces the near-universal challenges of burnout, body image, and balancing work with marriage and parenthood.

Shining with warmth, clarity, and wisdom, Letter to a Young Female Physician reveals a woman forging her authentic identity in a modern landscape that is as overwhelming and confusing as it is exhilarating in its possibilities. Koven offers an indelible account, by turns humorous and profound, from a doctor, mother, wife, daughter, teacher, and writer who sheds light on our desire to find meaning, and on a way to be our own imperfect selves in the world.

Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? – Caitlin Doughty

Illustrations – Dianné Ruz

We can’t make death fun, but we can make learning about death fun.

A book written by a funeral director, answering questions asked by kids, about death? This future corpse had to read this book! I now know the answers to over thirty death related questions, some I’ve always been curious about and others I didn’t know that I needed to know until I came across them here.

Can I keep my parents’ skulls after they die?

Will I poop when I die?

What would happen if you swallowed a bag of popcorn before you died and were cremated?

What if they make a mistake and bury me when I’m just in a coma?

Caitlin Doughty not only answers the question that’s asked but sometimes also adds an ‘if you were asking because of [insert interesting reason here], allow me to suggest an even cooler idea’ or offers solutions to multiple hypothetical tangents.

What’s left behind in the cremated remains is a thrilling combo of calcium phosphates, carbonates, and minerals and salts.

Bacteria farts, the rainbow of livor mortis and putrefaction, leakage and corpse onesies (unionalls) are all explained. I also learned some fun death question adjacent facts, such as the scientifically determined ideal temperature for popping popcorn – “356 degrees Fahrenheit”, if you’re interested.

Written in a conversational way, with some much needed humour given the topic, Caitlin combines her experiences with those of her colleagues and adds some science, cultural differences and some good ol’ myth busting. A couple of times small pieces of information would be repeated in later chapters; they were relevant each time they were mentioned and the repetition was often pointed out in the text. It was more noticeable to me because I inhaled the book.

Accompanying the text are some wonderful illustrations by Dianné Ruz. They’re quirky and add to the humour.

I enjoyed this read even more than I expected to and only wish I could have passed it along to my Nan, who I’m certain would have appreciated it even more than I did. Well, except for the chapter that debunks Viking funeral myths. See, my Nan was the coolest person I’ve ever met and her dream funeral consisted of being transported via a carriage pulled by a team of Clydesdales in the middle of the main street to the ocean, where she would be sent off Viking funeral style.

I approximated the Viking part by buying a wooden boat shaped candle holder, loading it up with some of her ashes, setting it alight and drenching myself trying to get it far enough into the ocean so it wouldn’t surf its ways back in.

I’m fairly certain Nan would have also been willing to donate her awesome manicured nails in aid of Ragnarök, should they be required.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Every day, funeral director Caitlin Doughty receives dozens of questions about death. What would happen to an astronaut’s body if it were pushed out of a space shuttle? Do people poop when they die? Can Grandma have a Viking funeral?

In Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs?, Doughty blends her mortician’s knowledge of the body and the intriguing history behind common misconceptions about corpses to offer factual, hilarious, and candid answers to thirty-five distinctive questions posed by her youngest fans. In her inimitable voice, Doughty details lore and science of what happens to, and inside, our bodies after we die. Why do corpses groan? What causes bodies to turn colors during decomposition? And why do hair and nails appear longer after death? Readers will learn the best soil for mummifying your body, whether you can preserve your best friend’s skull as a keepsake, and what happens when you die on a plane. Beautifully illustrated by Dianné Ruz, Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? shows us that death is science and art, and only by asking questions can we begin to embrace it.