Twelve Patients: Life and Death at Bellevue Hospital

Image of Twelve Patients: Life and Death at Bellevue Hospital (The Inspiration for the NBC Drama New Amsterdam)
Release Date: 
July 1, 2013
Grand Central Publishing
Reviewed by: 

“A must read for anyone with a pulse.”

Dr. Eric Manheimer is such a beautiful writer it almost makes you want to get admitted to Bellevue Hospital just to meet him, except he has moved on after a dozen years at the helm of that megaship of health care delivery.

Nonetheless, it was difficult to put the book down—such was the pull of his stories, the poetry of his words. Twelve Patients: Life and Death at Bellevue Hospital isn’t just a book about health care; it is a book by someone who could write plays.

Dr. Manheimer takes us on the magic carpet ride through a large urban level 1 trauma center, which serves as the vortex for much of our social problems, from health care for the poor and violent trauma wounds, mental illness to alcoholism, even a peek at immigrant lives, end-of-life-care, and his own cancer treatment.

Dr. Manheimer manages to create a nonstop thrill ride while actually educating us on health care policy issues along the way. His brilliant take on the effects of NAFTA on Mexico and how that impacts people in the United States should be required reading in all high schools. The author also reveals much about the treatment of immigrants who arrive illegally and are automatically designated as criminals and put in detention without due process—and this after surviving the perils of a desert journey helmed by traffickers in human lives.

Through Twelve Patients: Life and Death in Bellevue Hospital Dr. Manheimer invokes such genuine humanity, the approach taken in the book should cause a spike in medical school applications—but then we don’t exactly make that affordable for those with altruistic motives.

His chapter on palliative care for a dying patient hones in on the misalignment of health care financing versus humane care. To quote Dr. Manheimer, “How people die and how we participate in their deaths is as much about us as them. Our humanity is at stake when health care is measured by a medical loss ratio and the money spent on health care is referred to as a loss, we are really lost.”

He creates an indelible image with words when he refers to the keening of a mother who lost her daughter to a self-inflicted gunshot wound: “The primal sound still echoes in my ears and my nightmares when the world is still and the night sits heavy in the darkness.”

Do yourself a favor, pour a cup of tea and take your time wandering through the wards in Twelve Patients, for the good doctor has crafted a masterwork using personal stories to illuminate our national health care challenges.

A must read for anyone with a pulse.