Perri Klass' latest tome on doctoring is like overdosing on good medicine

July 19, 1992|By Gerri Kobren


Perri Klass.

Random House.

330 pages. $22. Newcomers to the world of Perri Klass are in for a treat. Wry, sensitive, colloquial without being patronizing, this Boston pediatrician "can," she says, "sit down and write True Tales of the Hospital in normal language, stories to be read by normal people, not doctors."

She puts her own humanity on display too. In the neonatal intensive care nursery of her high-tech training hospital, for instance, working with preemies on the very edge of viability who are fated, in many cases, for lifelong disabilities, she tells us, "[W]hat I think is, if I were in labor very prematurely, if the labor weren't stopping, I'd want to be at some small community hospital far away, where they might understand that a twenty-four week preemie was just too small to save. . . . [T]hey might even just call it a miscarriage."

Perri Klass has been writing about her medical school, internship and residency fornational publications since the early '80s. She is also the author of several books based on her adventures in medicine.

Unfortunately, all that productivity works against her: There are some moments in "Baby Doctor" when it seems we have read these very words before -- a good bet, given the fact that parts of the book have appeared in other publications.

And as she herself points out, the habit of translating experience to print might have created "a certain ingenuousness. . . . If I was crying in the bathroom because I had failed to get an IV in and a parent had screamed at me, then, even as I blew my nose, I could hear in my mind, 'So I missed the IV four times in a row, and the baby screamed, and the nurse looked angry, and the baby's mother yelled at me to get out of the room. So I . . . headed for the bathroom, where I promptly burst into tears.' "

Perhaps it's all running together for her, too. Three-quarters of the way through the book, she switches to reporter mode, interviewing doctors about pediatric AIDS and about women doctors.

It's all very interesting, of course; Perri Klass is always very interesting. But Her particular medicine seems to go down better in magazine-sized doses.

Ms. Kobren is a copy editor for The Sun.

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