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Death of the Good Doctor -- Lessons from the Heart of the AIDS Epidemic

“This haunting memoir is an important addition to the canon of AIDS literature. Scannell writes beautifully and with an insight that escapes most physicians.”
Abraham Verghese, author of My Own Country and Cutting for Stone

“Kate Scannell is the rare doctor who has been transformed by her patients. In this irresistible, informative, and enormously moving book, she tells us not only her own story, but theirs.”
Gloria Steinem


“When Kate Scannell began work with AIDS patients in 1985, her idea of a good doctor was one who saved lives, not lost them, one who used state-of-the-art technological intervention to battle disease no matter what the cost. Now, in an enormously moving, thoughtful and compassionate memoir, she recounts how she discarded her traditional medical training and learned how to rely on her own sensibilities. Death of the Good Doctor: Lessons from the Heart of the AIDS Epidemic is the story of more than a dozen of Scannell's patients, the differing demands that each brought, and the relationships that developed. The individuals that she met on the ward, she writes, ‘shook me, stunned me, alarmed me, twisted me, righted me, tricked me, and amazed me.’ Their stories do the same for us, and some even make us laugh.”
–Robert Armstrong, The Minneapolis Star/Tribune, Jan 30, 2000

“In a series of essays, she offers haunting portraits of the men and women she served—and of herself, as she learns to recognize and grapple with her own anger, grief, comfort, and joy. … Scannell's writing is direct, at times deceptively simple, and often moving. … This is a rich collection of snapshots not only of people with AIDS but of the journey of their physician. Scannell's need to write the stories of her patients is also shadowed by her knowledge that, before she finished writing these stories, she herself had been diagnosed with cancer.”
Felice Aull, Medical Humanities, New York University

“This is one of the most startling and beautifully written books I've ever read from a doctor… . Scannell begins to interact with patients in ways that take us deep into the psyches of caretaker and sufferer until we don't know which is which. Since she announces at the beginning and end her personal journey with cancer (the news is broken the day after she leaves her five-year tenure on the AIDS ward), Scannell's recollections are tinged with a sense of time slowing way down, of mindfulness exploring each detail of life's last events, of an enlarged respect for each person's unique manner of passage and joy.”
–Pat Holt, Northern California Independent Booksellers Association

“Most of the essays in this book transcend even the best of Oprah’s T.V. Book Moments."
–Thom Nickels, Lambda Book Report, May 2000

“When Kate Scannell was working on the inpatient AIDS ward at Fairmont Hospital in Oakland from 1985-1990, fear of AIDS and discrimination against people living with the disease were common. ... Scannell's vignettes are all stories of people who died, with Scannell finding the key to character in the preoccupations of these dying patients: the man who chooses Target store for his final outing, the transsexual who laments that she will never be a lesbian because she is too ill to have her penis removed, the patient who worries that he will not know how to die correctly. When Scannell refers to ‘the good doctor’ she means the Western-trained physician who leads with technology. ...[Scannell] bears witness to suffering that remains hidden, even to most health professionals, who look the other way.”
Toni Martin, East Bay Express, February 25, 2000

“Her storytelling style allows the reader to put a face on the epidemic and give meaning to the statistics, as they are introduced to several of Scannell’s patients.”
Journal of the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care

“Somewhere in the Introduction I was hooked, and well before the end of the first chapter I was thanking heaven, or at least my editor, for my good luck ...to experience the remarkable characters who people this history of the early years of the plague. Scannell is a writer. [The] stories are stunning, the lives they tell memorable and important. Scannell [knows] just when to insert her own feelings and experiences in the narrative. ... DOTGD is a remarkable book, part history, part memoir, that reads with the grace and elegance of good fiction. ... Scannell writes with wit and sensitivity.”
–Deborah Peifer, Bay Area Reporter,February 17, 2000

“There has been much talk in this section of the magazine recently about the near uselessness of AIDS literature written by members of the medical establishment. … Death of the Good Doctor by Kate Scannell, M.D., is a delightful exception. … [It] is a surprisingly easy read; more like a short story collection with unifying threads of main characters and location.”
Arts and Understanding, March 2000

“In Death of the Good Doctor, Scannell glides effortlessly from compassionate physician to skillful memoirist.”
–Karen Mancuso, New York Blade, March 2000

“An elegant and touching account of her tenure as clinical director of a county hospital's AIDS ward at the height of the epidemic (1985 to 1990), Kate Scannell's Death of the Good Doctor records her journey from the aggressive, invasive, never-say-die medicine that she had been trained to perform to a more compassionate, realistic practice in which she might be just as likely to prescribe fresh pastries or an outing as she would antibiotics or extensive laboratory tests. Structured around the stories of 11 of her most memorable patients, Scannell's narrative skillfully conjures the panic years of the AIDS crisis -- political squabbles, public indifference, and the roller coaster of medical "breakthroughs" that proved dangerous or ineffective -- always returning to the individual and the small acts of kindness that make a difference to the terminally ill. Her own recent diagnosis with cancer adds a poignancy to her reflections that is not lost on Scannell. Writing of AIDS years after leaving her post and returning to research, she explains that she is "moving between grief and acceptance of this disease": "After a dark period of responding to so much suffering and death with unmitigated grief and defiance, I have been able finally to find some peace, walking more comfortably, day-to-day, alongside the certainty of my own death."
–Regina Marler, Amazon Review

“When Scannell found herself assigned to a county hospital AIDS ward, she realized that much of the medicine she had studied was irrelevant. She chronicles the intimacy of her relationships with her patients, and discovers the inadequacy of the "good" doctor who battles illness to keep patients alive regardless of their suffering. She writes not only as a physician but as a woman who entered medical school never having seen a woman doctor.”
Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)

“As I read deeper into her memoir, I found my resistance to this sobering, often heartbreaking material giving way to the kind of rapt interest you derive from the most vivid written accounts of riveting true-life experience. ... Here we can see, in unflinching prose, aspects of life and death which we might not have been otherwise able to face at all, were it not for the virtues of an unusually mature and acutely observant sensibility. And I mean no disrespect when I say that there are weird, ironic and horrifically gripping moments in Scannell’s memoir that can seem like something out of "The X Files."
Brian Reiselman, author of Where Darkness Sleeps and Dream Girl

“[Scannell's] moving and beautifully written memoir ... makes an important contribution to the early history of the epidemic, when medical authorities and politicians were still discussing quarantining people with AIDS.”
Book Marks, March 2000

“Dr. Scannell is a gifted writer. … Marvelous reading.”
Kate Elman, Older Women's League: East Bay Chapter Newsletter, March/April 2000