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2022 L&H - Facilitator Notes


Book: The Hospital: Life, Death, and Dollars in a Small American Town by Brian Alexander

Facilitator: Hailey Haffey, PhD

"In The Hospital: Life, Death, and Dollars in a Small American Town, journalist Brian Alexander details the struggle of one small-town hospital in Bryan, Ohio, to adapt, survive, and serve its community despite ongoing fragmentating infrastructure and economic difficulties that were only exacerbated by the 2008 recession. And while resources necessary for the industrial community of Bryan to thrive economically dwindle, Alexander argues that healthcare challenges for towns like Bryan emerge not only from personal economics but at the intersections where hospitals and insurance companies do business. He argues that Bryan ‘wasn’t much different from many other places,’ and that it ‘was a microcosm of America’s sickness,’ in which government reimbursements are insufficient to support operating needs. Alexander’s investigation into Bryan reveals how hospitals’ management decisions impact continuity of care, accessibility of necessary diagnostic tools, and the functionality of systems of referral, billing, and payment. Alexander thus connects Bryan’s hospital management history, community histories, and compelling individual health stories of patients to show how healthcare disparities build over the course of a lifetime through social determinants of health—and how these determinants render community members increasingly vulnerable when healthcare institutions have to weigh financial decisions against community needs for medical care."


Book: Mercy Street by Jennifer Haigh

Facilitator: Rachel Borup, PhD

“Since the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade, women’s reproductive healthcare and rights have been on the minds of many Americans. Jennifer Haigh’s novel, Mercy Street, which was published a few months before the Dobbs decision, takes as its focus an abortion clinic in Boston and the people who work and seek care there, as well as the people gathered outside to protest these services. With great skill and empathy, Haigh puts characters from opposing worlds on a collision course with each other. Beyond being a riveting story, this novel does what novels do best: challenges us to think through our beliefs and helps us gain greater understanding of all people.”


Book: The Doctors Blackwell: How Two Pioneering Sisters Brought Medicine to Women and Women to Medicine by Janice P. Nimura

Facilitator: Susan Sample, PhD, MFA

“Elizabeth Blackwell was the first woman to receive a medical degree in 1849, soon followed by her younger sister, Emily. Together, the ‘lady doctors’ established the New York Infirmary for Indigenous Women and Children in 1857, the first hospital for women; twelve years later, they opened Women’s Medical College in New York City. While their remarkable achievements as feminists and medical pioneers have rightly earned them heroic stature, the stories of these women are complicated and fascinating. Nimura’s book, a finalist for the 2022 Pulitzer Prize in Biography and a New York Times bestseller, invites us to explore the limits of possibility for women in medicine then and now, and to question our cultural expectations of ‘heroines.’”


Book: The Mike File: A Story of Grief and Hope by Stephen Trimble

Facilitator: Mark Matheson, DPhil

“Stephen Trimble, a friend and colleague to many of us, recently published a book called The Mike File: A Story of Grief and Hope. The title refers to an envelope of records and clippings from the life of his brother, Michael, who struggled with severe mental illness and passed out of Stephen’s life when the latter was still a child. Michael died alone in Denver in 1976 at the age of 33. The file remained in Stephen’s mother’s possession, but its contents were unbearably painful for her, and she discarded it. His father secretly rescued the file but later believed he had accidentally thrown it away. In fact the file survived, and Stephen found and opened it after his father’s death in 2011. What Stephen discovered in this envelope is the subject matter of The Mike File, a book that engages with the overwhelmingly difficult life his brother lived, a family history of intense pain, and his own reluctance to open the past and learn about Michael. It’s an especially moving story of how serious mental illness can devastate a family. It’s also about how systems of care in this country failed Mike and often continue to fail others who suffer psychosis. A personal narrative with implications for both medicine and our collective political life, The Mike File is a compelling story of love and loss. I’m very pleased to tell you that Stephen will join us for our discussion of his book, and I’m certain it will be a memorable evening.”


Book: Exit by Belinda Bauer

Facilitator: Sadie Hoagland, PhD

“Belinda Bauer’s Exit is a dark, humorous story with a mystery at its heart, making it the perfect summer read for the Literature and Healthcare Discussion Group. “A touching crime novel that explores the nature of life and death with heart and soul,” the story follows Felix, a man who has made a career out of offering euthanasia services to terminal patients and making the death appear natural (Kirkus Reviews). But when Felix teams up with a new partner, Amanda, they attend a death that goes horribly awry when the wrong patient dies. They flee the scene as Calvin, a police officer, arrives. The story is told from both the perspective of Felix and Calvin, as each man tries to figure out if what happened was an accident, or a murder set-up. The Guardian writes that this “tender, funny and sometimes (in the best possible way) farcical novel about life and death is a sheer delight.” While obviously engaging questions about our right to die, the novel also provides a cast of lovable—if not odd—characters and will surely yield a lively discussion!”


Book: Blood Work: A Tale of Medicine & Murder in the Scientific Revolution by Holly Tucker

Facilitator: Maureen Mathison, PhD

“In Blood Work, a Tale of Medicine and Murder in the Scientific Revolution, author Hailey Tucker tells the tale of the social and religious contexts of early experiments on blood transfusions. Not long after Harvey's discovery of circulation, natural philosophers began investigating the concept of transfusion, first, between animals, and then animal to human. Just as novel medical advances, such as stem cell research, create controversy today, transfusions revealed some of the objections to research that seemed to violate beliefs of the earlier era. Tucker conveys in detailed prose just how much transfusions gripped the scientific imagination, detailing the history of debates and rivalries, and the politics that surrounded it."


Book: Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted by Suleika Jaouad

Facilitator: Sadie Hoagland, PhD

“In 2010, an aggressive form of acute myeloid leukemia interrupted the life of Suleika Jaouad. She was a recent Princeton University graduate, 22 years old living with her boyfriend in Paris. She returned home to New York where she endured nearly four years of chemotherapy, a grueling clinical trial, and bone marrow transplant, which she wrote about in a weekly column for the New York Times, “Life, Interrupted.” Her memoir, published last year, describes not only how cancer interrupted her life; it ventures into new territory: the kingdom where one is no longer sick but neither is one well. To help her navigate, Jaouad begins a 100-day, 15,000-mile car trip with her dog across the country to visit people whose letters responding to her newspaper column had kept her going. Her book has been called a classic American “road-trip adventure” in the tradition of Steinbeck and Kerouac. Her story, though, is more complicated. Jaouad’s journey takes her “where the silence was in my life.” As she engages honestly with life and death, sickness and health, Jaouad steers herself and readers toward reconciliation that is essential for healing.”

MAY 11

Book: The Genome Defense: Inside the Epic Legal Battle to Determine Who Owns Your DNA by Jorge Contreras

Facilitator: Sadie Hoagland, PhD

The Genome Defense: Inside the Epic Legal Battle to Determine Who Owns Your DNA by University of Utah faculty Jorge Contreras narrates the lawsuit that reverberated throughout the biotechnology industry. At the center of this story is Myriad Genetics, a company that originated at the University of Utah and eventually controlled the patents on the BRCA1/2 genes. The US Supreme Court ruling in 2013 on this case changed patent law and the way that DNA is treated in the legal system. The Genome Defense tells a story that started in Utah but had effects on biomedical research and treatment far beyond our state.


Book: Hamnet: A Novel of the Plague by Maggie O'Farrell

Facilitator: Mark Matheson, DPhil

Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet: A Novel of the Plague, was published in 2020. It’s set in late Elizabethan England, and it offers O’Farrell’s imaginative representation of William Shakespeare’s family. Shakespeare and his wife Anne Hathaway lost their child Hamnet, probably to the plague, in 1596. Shakespeare wrote Hamlet in 1600. O’Farrell tells her story from Anne’s perspective—“Agnes” as she calls her--and the novel is a meticulous evocation of rural English life at the end of the 16th century. It’s also a deep meditation on a marriage, on the death of a child, and on grief and art. I look forward to hearing your responses to this well-received historical novel, and we can think together about why it has proved so popular and moving to readers in our own time.


Book: The Birth of the Pill by Jonathon Eig

Facilitator: Hailey Haffey, PhD

The Birth of the Pill: How Four Crusaders Reinvented Sex and Launched a Revolution by Jonathan Eig offers nuanced insight into the political, scientific, religious, historical, and personality considerations at play in the development of the birth control pill. In our present moment, the top courts in the United States are routinely called to rule on the constitutionality of proposed restrictions to reproductive healthcare—including access to birth control medications. As anyone with an eye for these stories knows, headlines related to women’s reproductive freedom are standard fare in any news cycle—a fact that reiterates the constancy of our cultural conversations about women’s ability to control their own bodies and health.

With the persistence of reproductive health in the news, Jonathan Eig’s energetic journalistic style is welcome in this text as we ask ourselves about what we can learn from the formative stages of reproductive health policy and research in the United States. By documenting the pill’s arguably perilous creation story, Eig conveys the complexity of conversations about gender, physical autonomy, belief, science, bias, money, and love that led to the pill’s development and are necessary reading for our ongoing quest to ensure continued access to the pill today.


Book: We Are All Perfectly Fine: A Memoir of Love, Medicine and Healing by Dr. Jillian Horton

Facilitator: Gretchen Case, PhD

We Are All Perfectly Fine: A Memoir of Love, Medicine and Healing is Jillian Horton’s memoir of addressing her own burnout as a physician, medical educator, parent, and human. The story she tells in this book is centered on her experience at a retreat for burned-out physicians at a Zen center, but reflects on her life well before she became a physician. Although reading a memoir might not seem like a way to approach burnout, in fact, this book came to our attention for Healthcare and Literature based on the strong recommendations of faculty and staff at the University of Utah who have found it useful to their own lives and medical practices.


Book: Pull of the Stars: A Novel by Emma Donoghue

Facilitator: Rachel Borup, PhD

Inspired by the upcoming centennial of the 1918 flu pandemic, Emma Donoghue began writing a novel about the historic pandemic a couple of years before Covid-19 hit.  Published in early 2020, just as cities around the world were going into lockdown, Donoghue’s novel proved especially timely.  The story focuses on the heroic actions of a passionate young nurse named Julia who overcomes incredible obstacles to care for her patients in the makeshift “maternity/fever ward” of an overcrowded, under-resourced Dublin hospital.  Many readers find Julia’s commitment to her profession and her patients inspirational.  While Julia is a fictional character, the novel is meticulously researched and features an appearance by Dr. Kathleen Lynn, “the rebel doctor,” an actual political leader in Sinn Fein and medical doctor as well as gripping descriptions of clinical practices of the time.