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A fortunate man - The story of a country…
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A fortunate man - The story of a country doctor (alkuperäinen julkaisuvuosi 1967; vuoden 1976 painos)

– tekijä: John Berger, Jean Mohr (Valokuvaaja)

JäseniäKirja-arvostelujaSuosituimmuussijaKeskimääräinen arvioMaininnat
252979,976 (3.99)22
Berger's exploration of what it means to heal, now inducted into the Canons series nearly fifty years after its first publication.
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Teoksen nimi:A fortunate man - The story of a country doctor
Kirjailijat:John Berger
Muut tekijät:Jean Mohr (Valokuvaaja)
Info:Writers & Readers Publishing Cooperative
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Avainsanoja:biography, class geography, life story, pix

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A Fortunate Man: The Story of a Country Doctor (tekijä: John Berger) (1967)

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Years ago I was at a dinner party, one of the group being a quietly spoken woman who had largely stayed mute. Somebody happened to say that she had a good dentist. Suddenly this woman exploded. 'How do you know he's a good dentist', she practically spat the words out. It wasn't a question, it was an accusation. None of us really knew how to respond and I still don't, despite having considered it a lot. Not being a dentist, how could I possibly 'know'? Whereas she, it now transpired, was both a practising and academic dentist. We'd strayed onto her turf and there didn't seem to be any getting off it. She mentioned no names, but talked darkly of dentists who were popular in Melbourne but who were clueless at their work. Gulp. My dentist was popular. I liked him. I went about calling him a 'good dentist'. Suddenly my very teeth seemed to loosen in my jaw. I got a tooth ache on the spot.

So, let's change that question to 'How do we define why we see one doctor as good and another not?'

For me, it's 'bedside manner'. Some doctors have it, others don't. Despite thinking it is vital, I have never tried to explain what it is. I've only felt either that I've been in its presence, or, more often, I haven't. Having read this book, I can see how trivial my thoughts were. Berger took the opportunity to explore the question profoundly. I think it is important to note the wording of the question. We are not asking which doctor is better, we are asking which doctor we perceive as better and why.

Enter Dr Eskell, presented in the book as Dr Sassall.
How is it that Sassall is acknowledged as a good doctor? By his cures? This would seem to be the answer. But I doubt it. You have to be a startlingly bad doctor and make many mistakes before the results tell against you. In the eyes of the layman the results always tend to favour the doctor. No, he is acknowledged as a good doctor because he meets the deep but unformulated expectation of the sick for a sense of fraternity. He recognizes them.
The book begins by following Sassall about as he attends to patients. From the very beginning we are aware that he is nothing if not fallible. In the first scenario he tells witnesses to an accident in the forest that the victim will not lose his leg. He does. What confidence on the part of both doctor and writer to begin this way.

And then, after these descriptions, Berger starts his process of analysing what it all means.
This individual and closely intimate recognition is required on both a physical and psychological level. On the former it constitutes the art of diagnosis. Good general diagnosticians are rare, not because most doctors lack medical knowledge, but because most are incapable of taking in all the possibly relevant facts - emotional, historical, environmental as well as physical. They are searching for specific conditions instead of the truth about a man which may then suggest various conditions. It may be that computers will soon diagnose better than doctors. But the facts fed to the computers will still have to be the result of intimate, individual recognition of the patient.

On the psychological level recognition means support. As soon as we are ill we fear that our illness is unique. We argue with ourselves and rationalize, but a ghost of the fear remains. And it remains for a very good reason. The illness, as an undefined force, is a potential threat to our very being and we are bound to be highly conscious of the uniqueness of that being. The illness, in other words, shares in our own uniqueness. By fearing its threat, we embrace it and make it specially our own. That is why patients are inordinately relieved when doctors give their complaint a name. The name may mean very little to them; they may understand nothing of what it signifies; but because it has a name, it has an independent existence from them. They can now struggle or complain against it. To have a complaint recognized, that is to say defined, limited and depersonalized, is to be made stronger. The whole process, as it includes doctor and patient, is a dialectical one. The doctor in order to recognize the illness fully - I say fully because the recognition must be such as to indicate the specific treatment - must first recognize the patient as a person: but for the patient - provided that he trusts the doctor and that trust finally depends upon the efficacy of his treatment - the doctor's recognition of his illness is a help because it separates and depersonalizes that illness.
There are certainly openings for criticising this book. Berger perhaps goes too far in his attempts to explain what he sees. As some have noted, he is not exactly waving the flag for feminism either. I think it's obvious that Berger is feeling his way and that we may see this book as the precursor to what then became his life's work, writing of the European peasant and his vanishing world. Without his thinking hard about Sassell and his community, I find it difficult to see that he would have picked up that cause.

But the most interesting point to be made is that both individual doctors and the medical establishment at large still place such great weight upon it. The faint praise waved in its direction by the ordinary reader, as represented on Goodreads, is incredibly different from the place it holds in medical literature.

Professor Roger Jones, in 2015 as editor of the British Journal of General Practice wrote that 'First published in 1967, this is one of those must-read general practice books, essential for every trainer, trainee and practice library, and one, I suspect, which has been more frequently recommended than read.' The review starts out in rather uncomplimentary terms, but grudgingly ends:
However, re-reading it at one sitting very recently, I recognised the limpid beauty of some of Berger’s prose, the subtlety of his descriptions of nature and of human interactions, and his insights into the needs of ordinary people faced with illness, anguish and loss. His – or is it Sassall’s? – understanding of the role of the general practitioner as a witness and a “clerk of record”, needs to be widely understood, and never more so in these days of therapeutic miracles and performance indicators, when the unmeasurable essence of patient care can so easily be overlooked.
In my opinion, Jones, like lots of others, doesn't understand that Berger is not painting Sassell as a saint, far from it. He is clearly concerned that Sassell is a human being trying to do things that are humanly not possible. And it is made obvious in the text that the 'Fortunate' of the title is not a positive thing. Rather, it is the cause of the doctor's undoing. I don't see at any point during the book anything but concern from Berger. Nobody could read this book and be surprised that its subject killed himself.

In 2005, on the occasion of a general celebration of Berger's work, a special session on A Fortunate Man was held. Leading up to it, Dr Gene Feder said that it was '...still the most important book about general practice ever written.'

The plug for it continued:
Speakers will include Iona Heath, Tony Calland (who was a partner in John Sassall's practice), Patrick Hutt (a recently qualified doctor and author of Confronting an III Society), Jane Simpson (junior doctor), Michael Rosen (broadcaster and writer) and Sukhdev Sandu (critic and writer). They will talk about what the book means to them and what it still has to tell us almost four decades after it was first published.
In 2009, in a post by Dr Peter Kramer, he comments not only on how influential this book was on his own determination to become a doctor, but quotes Iona Heath "If I could choose only one book on the planet, it would be this book." She said it on the occasion of the 2005 event at which a reissue of the book was launched.
On the evening of 26 April 2005, nearly forty years after its publication, and as part of a short London season of events based around the work of John Berger, over 200 people, many of them doctors, packed into one of the lecture theatres at Queen Mary College, London, to testify to one extraordinary book which had shaped their lives and political beliefs. The event was sponsored by the Royal College of General Practitioners, who have just republished it.
Professor Ken Worpole, later commented in his report of the event that 'Rereading A Fortunate Man I was astonished to realise that I had absorbed many of the passages in it by heart and have paraphrased them as my own thoughts and insights over the past forty years, forgetful of their origins in this remarkable work.' His report continues

more here: https://alittleteaalittlechat.wordpress.com/2018/09/11/a-fortunate-man-by-john-b... ( )
1 ääni bringbackbooks | Jun 16, 2020 |
Years ago I was at a dinner party, one of the group being a quietly spoken woman who had largely stayed mute. Somebody happened to say that she had a good dentist. Suddenly this woman exploded. 'How do you know he's a good dentist', she practically spat the words out. It wasn't a question, it was an accusation. None of us really knew how to respond and I still don't, despite having considered it a lot. Not being a dentist, how could I possibly 'know'? Whereas she, it now transpired, was both a practising and academic dentist. We'd strayed onto her turf and there didn't seem to be any getting off it. She mentioned no names, but talked darkly of dentists who were popular in Melbourne but who were clueless at their work. Gulp. My dentist was popular. I liked him. I went about calling him a 'good dentist'. Suddenly my very teeth seemed to loosen in my jaw. I got a tooth ache on the spot.

So, let's change that question to 'How do we define why we see one doctor as good and another not?'

For me, it's 'bedside manner'. Some doctors have it, others don't. Despite thinking it is vital, I have never tried to explain what it is. I've only felt either that I've been in its presence, or, more often, I haven't. Having read this book, I can see how trivial my thoughts were. Berger took the opportunity to explore the question profoundly. I think it is important to note the wording of the question. We are not asking which doctor is better, we are asking which doctor we perceive as better and why.

Enter Dr Eskell, presented in the book as Dr Sassall.
How is it that Sassall is acknowledged as a good doctor? By his cures? This would seem to be the answer. But I doubt it. You have to be a startlingly bad doctor and make many mistakes before the results tell against you. In the eyes of the layman the results always tend to favour the doctor. No, he is acknowledged as a good doctor because he meets the deep but unformulated expectation of the sick for a sense of fraternity. He recognizes them.
The book begins by following Sassall about as he attends to patients. From the very beginning we are aware that he is nothing if not fallible. In the first scenario he tells witnesses to an accident in the forest that the victim will not lose his leg. He does. What confidence on the part of both doctor and writer to begin this way.

And then, after these descriptions, Berger starts his process of analysing what it all means.
This individual and closely intimate recognition is required on both a physical and psychological level. On the former it constitutes the art of diagnosis. Good general diagnosticians are rare, not because most doctors lack medical knowledge, but because most are incapable of taking in all the possibly relevant facts - emotional, historical, environmental as well as physical. They are searching for specific conditions instead of the truth about a man which may then suggest various conditions. It may be that computers will soon diagnose better than doctors. But the facts fed to the computers will still have to be the result of intimate, individual recognition of the patient.

On the psychological level recognition means support. As soon as we are ill we fear that our illness is unique. We argue with ourselves and rationalize, but a ghost of the fear remains. And it remains for a very good reason. The illness, as an undefined force, is a potential threat to our very being and we are bound to be highly conscious of the uniqueness of that being. The illness, in other words, shares in our own uniqueness. By fearing its threat, we embrace it and make it specially our own. That is why patients are inordinately relieved when doctors give their complaint a name. The name may mean very little to them; they may understand nothing of what it signifies; but because it has a name, it has an independent existence from them. They can now struggle or complain against it. To have a complaint recognized, that is to say defined, limited and depersonalized, is to be made stronger. The whole process, as it includes doctor and patient, is a dialectical one. The doctor in order to recognize the illness fully - I say fully because the recognition must be such as to indicate the specific treatment - must first recognize the patient as a person: but for the patient - provided that he trusts the doctor and that trust finally depends upon the efficacy of his treatment - the doctor's recognition of his illness is a help because it separates and depersonalizes that illness.
There are certainly openings for criticising this book. Berger perhaps goes too far in his attempts to explain what he sees. As some have noted, he is not exactly waving the flag for feminism either. I think it's obvious that Berger is feeling his way and that we may see this book as the precursor to what then became his life's work, writing of the European peasant and his vanishing world. Without his thinking hard about Sassell and his community, I find it difficult to see that he would have picked up that cause.

But the most interesting point to be made is that both individual doctors and the medical establishment at large still place such great weight upon it. The faint praise waved in its direction by the ordinary reader, as represented on Goodreads, is incredibly different from the place it holds in medical literature.

Professor Roger Jones, in 2015 as editor of the British Journal of General Practice wrote that 'First published in 1967, this is one of those must-read general practice books, essential for every trainer, trainee and practice library, and one, I suspect, which has been more frequently recommended than read.' The review starts out in rather uncomplimentary terms, but grudgingly ends:
However, re-reading it at one sitting very recently, I recognised the limpid beauty of some of Berger’s prose, the subtlety of his descriptions of nature and of human interactions, and his insights into the needs of ordinary people faced with illness, anguish and loss. His – or is it Sassall’s? – understanding of the role of the general practitioner as a witness and a “clerk of record”, needs to be widely understood, and never more so in these days of therapeutic miracles and performance indicators, when the unmeasurable essence of patient care can so easily be overlooked.
In my opinion, Jones, like lots of others, doesn't understand that Berger is not painting Sassell as a saint, far from it. He is clearly concerned that Sassell is a human being trying to do things that are humanly not possible. And it is made obvious in the text that the 'Fortunate' of the title is not a positive thing. Rather, it is the cause of the doctor's undoing. I don't see at any point during the book anything but concern from Berger. Nobody could read this book and be surprised that its subject killed himself.

In 2005, on the occasion of a general celebration of Berger's work, a special session on A Fortunate Man was held. Leading up to it, Dr Gene Feder said that it was '...still the most important book about general practice ever written.'

The plug for it continued:
Speakers will include Iona Heath, Tony Calland (who was a partner in John Sassall's practice), Patrick Hutt (a recently qualified doctor and author of Confronting an III Society), Jane Simpson (junior doctor), Michael Rosen (broadcaster and writer) and Sukhdev Sandu (critic and writer). They will talk about what the book means to them and what it still has to tell us almost four decades after it was first published.
In 2009, in a post by Dr Peter Kramer, he comments not only on how influential this book was on his own determination to become a doctor, but quotes Iona Heath "If I could choose only one book on the planet, it would be this book." She said it on the occasion of the 2005 event at which a reissue of the book was launched.
On the evening of 26 April 2005, nearly forty years after its publication, and as part of a short London season of events based around the work of John Berger, over 200 people, many of them doctors, packed into one of the lecture theatres at Queen Mary College, London, to testify to one extraordinary book which had shaped their lives and political beliefs. The event was sponsored by the Royal College of General Practitioners, who have just republished it.
Professor Ken Worpole, later commented in his report of the event that 'Rereading A Fortunate Man I was astonished to realise that I had absorbed many of the passages in it by heart and have paraphrased them as my own thoughts and insights over the past forty years, forgetful of their origins in this remarkable work.' His report continues

more here: https://alittleteaalittlechat.wordpress.com/2018/09/11/a-fortunate-man-by-john-b... ( )
  bringbackbooks | Jun 16, 2020 |
Having read this book during my GP training, I picked it up again after John Berger's recent death. I had no idea that he had also written about art and 'seeing' although this would make sense of the use of the visual material and some of the detailed description. Although the type of general practice described was fading even at the time he was recording it, knowing what we have come from is a key step to balancing our technical developments with the compassion and caring which so figure in the life of the rural general practice he depicts. Sarah Matthews. ( )
  Overdiagnosis | Oct 7, 2017 |
En 1967 John Berger y el fotógrafo Jean Mohr acompañaron a John Sassall, un médico inglés que ejercía su profesión en una comunidad rural. La obra narra varias historias del trabajo de Sassall con sus pacientes, a la vez que revela pensamientos sobre su profesión y su vida para acercarnos gradualmente al hombre. Las fotografías de Jean Mohr marcan rasgos indispensables de la historia y dialogan con un texto lleno de reflexiones del propio Berger y otras procedentes del mundo literario y filosófico: de Conrad a Gramsci, de Piaget a Sartre. ( )
  juan1961 | Dec 2, 2016 |
John Berger’s study of a country doctor named Sassell is as thought-provoking as it is ground-breaking (still). Accompanied by numerous poignant photographs from Jean Mohr, Berger’s essay considers what it is to be a country doctor and in particular how Sassall became one, how it changed him, and how he changed it. With an almost clinical detachment, Berger reflects on Sassall’s accomplishments and import of his role. It is both philosophically and phenomenologically rigorous and yet full of light and empathy. Absolutely fascinating.

Of course Berger would not be Berger if his very process of documenting this doctor were not itself a subject of study and reflection. And as Berger struggles with the meaning of a biography that is not of or about some famous political or military figure, we are led to wonder about wider issues, both social and political. Highly recommended. ( )
  RandyMetcalfe | Dec 30, 2015 |
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John Bergerensisijainen tekijäkaikki painoksetcalculated
Mohr, JeanValokuvaajamuu tekijäkaikki painoksetvahvistettu

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Berger's exploration of what it means to heal, now inducted into the Canons series nearly fifty years after its first publication.

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