After reading Verghese’s semi-autobiographical novel Cutting For Stone, there was no doubt I wanted to read another of his books. My Own Country is a non-fiction, a memoir of his five years working with AIDS patients in a small community in Tennessee. Dr. Abraham Verghese, born in India and raised in Ethiopia, was one of thousands of foreign doctors recruited by US hospitals during the 1980’s. I was fascinated by the industry as explained by Dr. Verghese. Because of the earning potential of various medical fields, American born doctors gravitated towards the specialties that paid the most, leaving gaps in areas where direct billing for services didn’t exist. If a foreign doctor wished to compete for a coveted hospital position, they stood a better chance going for the gap specialties. This is how Dr. Verghese ended up specializing in infectious diseases.
He did his residency in Boston in the mid 1980’s, when AIDS first began to rear it’s ugly head. No one knew what caused the disease at first, because the HIV virus had not yet been identified. It was, however, known to be transferred through bodily fluids, namely blood or semen, and it primarily attacked the male, homosexual community.
Verghese walks us through his life and through the life of AIDS as it spread from cities into the remotest of US locations, including a small valley nestled in the hills of Tennessee, where Dr. Verghese accepted a position at a local VA Hospital. Simultaneously working at the “Miracle” Clinic and the University Hospital, Dr. Verghese encountered his first AIDS patient in the small community of Johnson City in 1985.
Verhese’s writing is simply wonderful. Evoking a fascinating look at both the medical treatment of AIDS, and the simultaneous reactions of a community both afraid and angry as a result of this disease, Dr. Verghese pens a book that compels you to look beyond the scientific facts and into your own heart. I highly recommend this book. I’m placing it among my list of all-time favorites.
5 stars (out of 5)
Published in 1995
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