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You Can Stop Humming Now: A Doctor’s Stories of Life, Death and in Between

Image from Little, Brown and Company

Book Review by Jeffrey Millstein, MD

You Can Stop Humming Now:  A Doctor’s Stories of Life, Death and in Between
By Daniela Lamas

Release date: March 26, 2018
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Pages: 256

You Can Stop Humming Now is a physician’s wonderful series of reflections on treating the very sickest of patients, those who end up in the intensive care unit (ICU). Many do not survive, but those who do are forever changed by their ICU experience. Just how they are changed and how they and their families cope is what Dr. Lamas so thoughtfully explores in this volume. “This is not a book about death,” she explains. “…This is a book about life. It’s a book about how people live today, both in the shadow of and enabled by previously inconceivable advances.” The title refers to a technique patients are taught to prevent complications during vein catheter placement, and is a trigger for the author’s poignant contemplation.

Dr. Lamas takes us along on her journey, realizing that her intense, hospital-focused training has left her disconnected from her patients’ post-ICU lives. A journalist since before she entered medical school, she is naturally drawn to stories and uses them very effectively to show us how she came to discover and appreciate this dimension of care. Lamas introduces us to a fascinating group of patients: a young investment banker with cardiomyopathy, an older man with multi-organ failure, a man whose life depends on a plug-in heart assist device, an art student with a rare genetic disease and others battling brain injury, cystic fibrosis renal failure and pulmonary fibrosis. Each patient has much to teach us about life in the ICU and beyond.

As a practicing primary care physician, I have had the privilege of following my patients for many years, through their struggles, losses, successes and milestones alike. Dr. Lamas shows us that these lasting connections do not have to be unique to outpatient medicine. Her curiosity and humanity inspire her to follow her patients’ narratives, and become a healing presence in their lives long after they have left the critical care setting. She introduces us to “chronic critical illness” as she learns to understand it herself, following patients from the ICU, to RACU (respiratory acute care unit), to LTACH (long-term acute care hospital), and then sometimes home, each stage having its unique physical and emotional challenges.

Dr. Lamas writes with the raw honesty of a journalist, but this is a deeply personal work. She shares the stories that have so far shaped her as a doctor, both during training and as a young attending physician. The book is as inspiring and meaningful to an experienced clinician as it would be for medical students, residents in all specialties, and anyone interested in the making of a great physician. Dr. Lamas’s career is one I will follow with great interest.