Welcome back to The DO Book Club! For February, I read Womb With a View: Tales from the Delivery, Emergency and Operating Rooms by Rebecca Levy-Gantt, DO. If you’ve read this one, please share your thoughts in the comments below. And if you’d like to write a book review for a future month, please email Andy Brown at email@example.com.
In this short memoir, Dr. Levy-Gantt takes readers through her training to become an OB-GYN. Similar to The DO Book Club’s May 2020 selection, This is Going to Hurt, the book is broken up into chronological anecdotes, from her first exposure to the field to her more recent experiences as a private practitioner. Most of the anecdotes represent a lesson learned or a formative memory she has drawn upon over the rest of her career.
Like many physicians, Dr. Levy-Gantt was first drawn to her specialty during a clinical rotation as a third-year medical student. Delivering a baby for the first time, she says, was a profound moment — like a light bulb turning on in her head.
“I felt it in every part of my being. I was not a religious person, not even particularly spiritual. When I lifted that baby, crying and slippery, onto his mom’s belly, I felt something, some sort of energy. This is what I was called to do, my calling, my life’s work. I was not deciding … This specialty had chosen me” (p. 8).
It’s euphoric moments like this which lead Dr. Levy-Gantt to refer to OB-GYN as the “Happy Specialty,” but the book does a thorough job of detailing how it can be “filled with the happy, sad, interesting, devastating, and unbelievable, sometimes all on the same day” (p. 2).
“Bringing life into the world is one of the best feelings and brings the most joy,” she writes. “[But] the sadness is truly heartbreaking. When things go wrong in [OB-GYN], they often go horribly wrong, unexpectedly wrong, and … leave deep emotional scars on family, friends, and health care workers” (p. 17).
These emotional highs and lows are interspersed evenly, creating a rocky reading experience at times, but also one that feels wholly representative of a career in this specialty.
Dr. Levy-Gantt shares a poignant story from her first year of residency that physicians may identify with and find particularly heartwarming. She was rounding with a fourth-year resident in a post-surgical ward, and they visited a patient who looked frail and reported having trouble eating. The resident then asked Dr. Levy-Gantt to follow him outside, where they got in his car and went for a drive.
The resident explained as he drove that he had seen the patient several times on his oncology rotation and that her cancer was quite advanced. They stopped at an ice cream shop, where he purchased a milkshake before driving Dr. Levy-Gantt back to the hospital. She was still unclear about what was going on until she realized it was for the patient.
“[The patient] looked at him with what seemed like a combination of disbelief and gratitude, but she reached out weakly and took it …
Her eyes filled with tears, and so did mine. This was her doctor, who had made a very special trip, just for her, in the hope that her ailing body could tolerate this tasty treat and that she would feel a bit better. At that moment, I witnessed how being a good doctor entailed much more than simply knowledge and technical skill. I saw how it is also about connecting in real time with real people, offering them kindness in addition to medical care. …
I knew the Hippocratic Oath said to do no harm, but to that I now added the Milkshake Oath: Be sure to make patients feel seen, respected, and cared for, and sometimes a milkshake may be just what the doctor ordered” (p. 15).
Though this book is less than 100 pages long, it packs a powerful punch on many levels. I read it in about an hour and a half, but I felt like I had been immersed in the stories for much longer than that. I would recommend it to any physician, or to anyone who wants to get a better idea of what daily life looks like in one of medicine’s more demanding fields.
Overall, Dr. Levy-Gantt does a great job of helping readers understand the distinct disappointment that comes with unfortunate patient outcomes. Yet she also makes it clear that joy is always at the heart of her specialty.
“No other specialty … would have made me as happy and as fulfilled as this one,” she writes. “No words can describe the feeling of delivering a healthy baby, solving a woman’s long-term reproductive problems, or hearing a heartfelt thank you after spending time and effort to ensure a patient feels better” (p. 88).
For March, The DO Book Club will be reading The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue. We encourage all who are interested to read along (this book club can be followed at any pace)! If you are unable to get out to a local library or bookstore due to COVID-19, we recommend checking out eBook options.
As a reminder, if you read Womb With a View or any previous Book Club selection and want your reflections to be shared in future posts, or want to write your own book review for a future month, please leave a comment below or email firstname.lastname@example.org.