1987 marked the pinnacle of medical memoir, or so Dr. Oscar London would probably tell you. London’s memoir, Kill as Few Patients as Possible, opens with a warning to other doctors seeking to be the World’s Best Doctor: The position has been filled.
As you may have gleaned, most of the humor in London’s book about working as a private-practice doctor relies on hyperbole. Even the titles.
My personal favorite is “Don’t Forget to Make a Cameo Appearance at Your Office Daily,” where he discusses how he deals with his desire to “run screaming” from his office. His solution? He doesn’t look at his appointment book in advance, but instead chooses to “arrive, on time, each morning at [his] office and let the horror of the days appointments unfold gradually.”
Though the humor in the book makes it seem light-hearted, London makes some serious points. In chapter after chapter he writes that doctors need to slow down an take their time with patients. “Don’t Plant Time Bombs In Your Office,” explains that the World’s Best Doctor moves “fast but not so fast that I empty my office of problems that come back to haunt me.”
“Keep Banker’s Hours,” tells doctors to leave room in their schedules for acutely ill patients, or to make house calls or hospital visits to other patients. House calls you ask? Apparently the World’s Best Doctor makes them, and says it’s the way to “become a legend in your own time.”
There is one area where I think London’s humor is misplaced. Like many medical professionals, London is not a fan of drug addicts, and though private practice is probably not the best place for addicts to be treated, his humor relies a little too much on stereotype to believe he would be sympathetic in any situation.
For example, he writes that he instructed his receptionist to be alert for “slurred speech, the sound of gunfire in the background, a faint whistle in the foreground.” I get it, drug addicts can be serious drains on medical resources, but he write that his reaction to mentally ill patients is to “activate the trapdoor beneath the patient’s chair,” and that seems over the line.
Though the book is funny, all of the chapters are so similar it becomes monotonous. It’s probably better to pick it up and read a funny chapter once in a while rather than trying to read it all at once like a normal memoir.
I mean, hyperbole is like medicine–only good in small doses.