Memory Lessons: A Doctor’s Story by Jerald Winakur, MD is a rare and valuable first-person account by an MD who is also a caregiver walking the road of Alzheimer’s with his father.
A joy to read, Dr. Winakur’s writing reads as like a literary work–poetic in places and philosophical in others. He sheds light on the hidden details of what it means to be a medical doctor across a thirty-year period (a bonus for readers) while trying to be a good son and caregiver to his head-strong father.
Is it any easier to be a caregiver, because he is a doctor? No. In fact, it seemed harder at times. He visited his father regularly, sometimes daily; even though he was not his father’s doctor.
The book is like a tapestry woven from the vivid threads of his life—from the not-so-easy relationship with his father to their shared love of birds and fishing; from his early years in medical school through residency to his own medical practice. He opines on the real costs of medicine shared by patients, doctors, and insurers; partly due to governmental regulations and partly, to emotional costs. If you have an opinion about your current medical care, read this book. You’ll gain some unexpected insights.
I was touched by the number of similarities between his recollections and my own. One example is Dr. Winakur, his brother, and their mother hid his father’s shoes. We used to hide my father’s shoes; hence his (grammatically incorrect) question, “Where’s my shoes?” Another example is his father’s oft-repeated advice: Let that be a lesson to you. Similarly, my father advised: Keep your head about you. These lessons of our fathers will stay with us during our own life journeys.
Two highlights of this book were particularly memorable.
- The foremost is his touching and philosophical views on falling as we age. He writes of how we fold back down to the earth. Winakur even offers perspective on falls at home and in skilled nursing care settings. Coming from an MD, his words are credible and enlightening.
- The second, and important for all of us, is to have an engaging and candid discussion of the meaning of life and death with our loved ones–one discussion Dr. Winakur regrets not pursuing with his father.
A great eye-opener for caregiving families. General practice physicians are urged to read Memory Lessons to gain a better appreciation for and understanding of caring for older people; especially, Chapter Six. Social workers and nurses working with older people; particularly, those showing signs of dementia, will receive much benefit from reading this book.
Reviewed by Brenda Avadian, MA in early 2009