Andres's Reviews > Weekends at Bellevue: Nine Years on the Night Shift at the Psych E.R.

Weekends at Bellevue by Julie Holland
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Jul 22, 09

bookshelves: medical, arcs
Read in July, 2009

I should point out two things that may influence my 5-star review: 1) medical narratives fascinate me completely, and 2) I've grown up hearing the kinds of stories found in this memoir from a family member who has worked in a similar setting. So right from the start this book grabbed my attention and just 2 days later left me looking for other similar titles.

The author shares her almost decade long experience working at the Bellevue Comprehensive Psychiatry Emergency Program (CPEP), which is the "regular" emergency room equivalent for those who are mentally distressed or unstable. The bulk of the story focuses on her years working the weekend overnight shifts, chronicling the patients she encounters and tries to help, and how it affects her over time.

This is warts-and-all account and the inclusion of some sexual peccadilloes is in line with her honest reporting of all her personal battles, including growing frustrations with patients and the start of professional burnout. The patients she writes about are always interesting but limited to the time she spends with them, which is minimal because as she points out toward the end of the book, she only cares for them in a triage setting, helping them get better enough to go elsewhere for (hopefully) longer term care. It is this lack of extended care that eventually wears on the doctor because with the typical severity of the disease afflicting her patients she comes to learn it's better to imagine they've gotten better after leaving the emergency room than to be weighed down with knowledge that, more often than not, they haven't.

This is a very illuminating work about mental health and how it affects patients, doctors, and their families. It is also a telling example of the battle doctors face when they have to have just enough compassion for the patients to care for them but also balance it out with just enough detachment so that they don't get burned out when patients are too difficult or impossible to care for completely. Throw in hospital politics, changes in staff, and a family to the mix and you'll have a good idea just how complicated working in this field can become, and in Weekends at Bellevue you'll see how the author deals with and overcomes these obstacles.
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