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Medisense reads... Seven Signs of Life

Need a break from revision? Pick out some extra-curricular reading with Hannah's review of Seven Signs of Life by Aoife Abbey.

As an intensive care trainee, Aoife Abbey works in a world where patients' humanity has a tendency to recede into the background. The momentous task of keeping people alive when they are in extremis necessitates a focus on physiological parameters rather than personhood. However, in Seven Signs of Life, Abbey reveals that the psychological dramas which unfold in intensive care are as powerful as the medical ones. Seven emotions – fear, grief, joy, distraction, anger, disgust and hope – provide motifs for clusters of stories about her interactions with patients, families and colleagues.


What Abbey achieves in a subtle but compelling way is convincing the reader of the value of emotions in medicine. In an occupation which entails huge pressure and responsibility (and has a patriarchal history that has not yet been fully shed), many people see emotions as dangerous things to throw into the mix. However, Abbey's reflections prove otherwise: sometimes her feelings help her deliver excellent care, sometimes they provide a prism through which to learn, and they always remind her that the people she treats are human beings with their own inner lives just like her. The correlation between content and form also makes the book a pleasure to read – just as emotions enrich the practice of medicine, beautifully chosen literary quotations enrich the medical stories. Abbey's strength and vulnerability are on equal display in this book, and it is hard not to come away believing that both are necessary to being an exceptional doctor.

Guest Blog: Hannah Rowley, 22.05.2019


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