Oscar London, a pseudonymous Berkeley internist who practices out of a two-story sole proprietorship on Webster Street, has published his second collection of satiric essays, a sequel to “Kill as Few Patients as Possible.”
“From Voodoo to Viagra” vents on such topics as: “The 7 Habits of Highly Obnoxious Patients” and “How to Cut Your Doctor’s Bill in Half.” (For his next collection, maybe Dr. London will cover “How not to complain after spending long lonely hours in pain in a doctor’s waiting room, only to become the target of a sarcastic essay.”)
But I quibble, for the writing in “From Voodoo to Viagra” is witty and tart, informative on a array of issues and surprisingly fun, despite the acerbic point of view piercing as one of those long – loooong – needles about to give you a shot.
Dr. London does have his not-so-secret lusts: for Krispy Kreme donuts from Union City; for dissing alternative medical modalities such as the use of St. John’s Wort in treating depression and the use of magnets in reducing pain; and methinks Dr. London moans a bit much over the trials and travails of having the occasional celebrity patient.
Many of Dr. London’s ideas are original and even impressive, such as that “the bloated burger billionaires should direct their charitable funds to the American Heart Association, much as the tobacco execs, out of the goodness of their prosecutor’s hearts, are contributing a bundle to Lung Cancer research.” He also has fascinating things to say about testosterone.
But Dr. London’s voice soars to its most inspiring heights when he recounts his happy experience of making an apt and unusual double diagnosis (in non-English speaking cousins) of Mitral Stenosis – a rare, life-threatening, but potentially quite curable condition. Dr. London loves the practice of medicine: “trading in arthritic broken-down joints for shiny, metallic models that run like brand-new Audi TT coupes” and hitting upon the perfect drug or combination of drugs to effect a cure on even the most bedraggled and hopeless of patients.
While laughter is, indeed, strong medicine, these memoirs primarily show how humor can motivate and soothe the physician.
Nothing wrong with that.
When all’s said and done, Dr. London comes across as sweet. He greatly admires firefighters, and he attributes the fact that married men live longer than bachelors to the way most wives take such careful care of their husbands: “I’ve never seen a husband drag his wife to the doctor. I’ve seen a thousand wives drag their husbands into my office.” He adores his family and – bless him – works hard to serve the “25 patients a day” the HMOs require him to see.
As he says, “in the end, all of us will be most remembered not for what we did but for how deeply we loved.”
Sari Friedman’s work appears in literary magazines and anthologies. She teaches writing in local community colleges.