An ER doctor shows how empathy, creativity, and imagination are the cornerstones of clinical care
To be an emergency room doctor is to be a professional listener to stories. Each patient presents a story; finding the heart of that story is the doctor’s most critical task. More technology, more tests, and more data won’t work if doctors get the story wrong. When caring for others can feel like venturing into unchartered territory without a map, empathy, creativity, imagination, and thinking like a writer become the cornerstones of clinical care.
In Tornado of Life: A Doctor’s Journey through Constraints and Creativity in the ER, ER physician Jay Baruch shares these struggles in a series of short, powerful, and affecting essays that invite the reader into stories rich with complexity and messiness. Patients come to the ER with lives troubled by scales of misfortune that have little to do with disease or injury. ER doctors must be problem-finders before they are problem-solvers.
“Defibrillating a lifeless heart is a gripping moment familiar to most television viewers,” Baruch writes, “but it’s arguably an easier task than what I believe is a more critical activity, one charged with more dramatic energy: finding the heart of a patient’s story and responding to it.”
Take Cheryl, for example, whose story is a chaos narrative of “and this happened, and then that happened, and then, and then and then and then.” She tells Baruch she is “stuck in a tornado of life.” What will help her? And what will help Mr. K., who seems like a textbook case of post-combat PTSD but turns out not to be?
Baruch describes, among other things, the emergency of loneliness (invoking Chekhov, another doctor-writer); his own (frightening) experience as a patient; the patient who demanded a hug; and emergency medicine during COVID-19.
These stories often end without closure or solutions. The patients are discharged into the world. But if they’re lucky, the doctor has listened to their stories as well as treated them.
Tornado of Life in the media:
- The Boston Globe interviewed Baruch on the book, his career, and his writing process.
Creative writing skills inform the work of an ER doctor
- Baruch was a guest on the Clear+Vivid with Alan Alda podcast discussing storytelling in the ER.
Jay Baruch: In the ER, your story matters
- Salon.com published an excerpt from Tornado of Life on the perspective shift that occurs when a doctor becomes a patient.
When an ER doctor becomes an ER patient
- Baruch wrote an op-ed for STAT News, discussing the resource and time challenges in the healthcare system.
Mrs. J wanted a blanket in the emergency department. Saying no chips away at my soul
- Tornado of Life was included in a round-up of recently published books in The New York Times.
Newly Published, From Emergency Rooms to Cross-Country Road Trips
- An excerpt of the book appeared in Literary Hub on the value of “not knowing” in practicing medicine.
How Creative Thinking Can—and Should—Inform Medical Science
- Health Digest published a write-up of Tornado of Life, giving tangible tips to doctors and healthcare professionals.
Emergency Room Doctor Jay Baruch Explains How To Advocate For A Loved One In The ER
- Baruch was interviewed for the ACEP Frontline podcast for their author series.
Tornado of Life — Jay Baruch
- Library Journal reviewed Tornado of Life and called it “an homage to the people Baruch has treated, failed, and helped.”
Tornado of Life: A Doctor’s Journey through Constraints and Creativity in the ER
- New Books Network interviewed the author for its science and technology podcast.
Jay Baruch, “Tornado of Life”