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'Post-intensive care syndrome': A doctor's new book is an eye-opener

You Can Stop Humming Now

Click on any of these links to purchase this fantastic book,


Matt McCarthy, Special to USA TODAY Published, 11:06 a.m. ET March 29, 2018:

Doctors are a tough crowd. When one of our own writes a book, we’re inherently skeptical and, if I’m being honest, a touch envious. What can this physician have to say, we wonder, that I don’t already know?

As Daniela Lamas reveals in her dazzling new book, You Can Stop Humming Now (Little, Brown, 256 pp., ★★★½ out of four), the answer becomes clear after just a few pages: quite a bit.

Dr. Lamas begins her book by letting us in on a secret: during residency training, she was known as the one who wouldn’t let patients die. Regardless of the prognosis, she would not accept death as a potential outcome for those under her care. I can vouch for this.

Lamas and I were part of the same intern class at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center a decade ago, and she quickly established herself as a uniquely gifted and devoted physician with a talent for writing. Back then, she wrote pieces that challenged the status quo, pushing the boundaries of what doctors-in-training could (and should) write about. Her work irked hospital administrators, but it delighted the rest of us.

Lamas is now an attending physician in Boston, caring for critically ill patients in the intensive care unit of the hospital where she was born. She has a decade of medical practice under her belt, and in her new book she effortlessly captures the rhythm and mayhem of modern medicine.

Author and physician Daniela Lamas.

This slender volume is not a typical medical memoir, however; we’re not here to learn about the author's development as a physician. The focus is on others, those who have survived the intensive care unit and are struggling to cope with the challenges of life with chronic critical illness.

Intrigued by their stories, Lamas starts a clinic to help them navigate their new lives. It’s a provocative idea, but she initially has difficulty attracting patients. “These were people with terrifying memories of what had happened to them in the hospital, people who might not be willing to return...” Some were understandably scared of hospitals while others had new memory deficits and simply couldn’t remember to come back.

Eventually, the patients trickle in, and together they work though the challenges of adjusting to daily life. One patient is afraid to be alone with his young son, worried that he could die and leave his child without a father; another is too anxious to cook, fearing she will forget to turn the oven off.

Lamas helps bridge “the chasm that separated what happened in the intensive care unit from what came afterward.” She explains to patients that they’re confronting a new entity in medicine: post-intensive care syndrome. “We gave our patients a name and a diagnosis,” she writes, “and with that, I think, a degree of reassurance and perhaps even hope.” Warmth and humanity radiate from every page.

Lamas and her team are doing something innovative, providing a lifeline to patients we tend not to think about: those who should feel fortunate just to be alive. But these men and women have very real problems and conditions that go under-reported and untreated. The patients in this book have something important to say, and so does the author. We should all be listening.

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