Personal Review of “Life in the Balance” by Thomas Graboys, M.D. with Peter Zheutlin

Life in the Balance

A Physician's Memoir of Life, Love, and Loss with Parkinson's Disease and Dementia

Today I thought I would write a little bit about the book “Life in the Balance” written by Thomas Graboys, M.D. with Peter Zheutlin.

I must remind myself that I am not an expert professional book reviewer. The following is strictly my personal opinion seen through the eyes of another physician. I am fully aware that many will disagree with me.

The thought that leaped at me as I read the book was the tone rather than the content of his writing. It is a book of his memoirs which permits him to express himself in anyway he chooses. Dr. Graboys and Peter Zheutlin are direct and honest.

They nicely describe part of his background of being in a boarding school, part of his college days and his love of sports. The description of the Boston medical community is superb! There is a pervasive belief among physicians that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions). The sense of self-importance seems to reign high as well as the need to be recognized as superior and successful. They tend to avoid their weaknesses and work hard for prolonged periods of time under colossal fears of failure, anxieties, expectancies and stress. I have attended many medical conferences in Boston. The majority of the speakers and lecturers appear to require excessive admiration. It appears that they give off a false sense of modesty. These characteristics are also seen in other medical communities around the country as well as in many physicians working in the private sectors, perhaps to a lesser degree. When discussing these leading experts, many physicians attending the meetings would refer to them as “snobs” and as being pretentious.

As a psychiatrist, I highly suspect that this is a defense mechanism to skirt their feelings of flaws, shortcomings and imperfections. I ask myself, “Are they ever satisfied with themselves?” Part of me feels sorry for them for having to maintain the status quo. Their internal naggings must be considerably excruciating.

Beginning with the forward, there seems to be a bright portrayal of Dr. Graboys being the “perfect” physician. A godlike physician on a pedestal. Having an “Ozzie and Harriet” like family. However, to his credit, Dr. Graboys openly discusses his insecurities and his strong sense of pride, e.g., not easily being able to tell others in public that he has Parkinson’s disease which results in embarrassment as he fumbles with his hands or stumbles as he walks. Many people see these as weaknesses but I sense Dr. Graboys is attempting to turn them into his friends and strengths as he grapples with the devastating symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and Lewy Body dementia.

He has an illusive style of teaching. Although he aptly describes Parkinson’s disease there seems to be a paucity of details of his probable Lewy Body symptoms.

He has a phenomenal support system and credit must be given to his wife and his family. He also has a strong support system with friends and professional colleagues. He clearly refuses to surrender to the painful effects of his disease. He is honest with his feelings. I like his self sensitivity as well as his profound sensitivity for others. He has not given up and perseveres daily to maintain a sense of balance and of well being.

Why does he continue to drive? Why does he put himself and others at risk? Even if he is driving only short distances. Why does he continue to go to his office? Perhaps it is to help preserve his sense of self and sense of importance. Something we all need. Even though he may not be prudent in driving a car given the severity of his symptomatology, I applaud him for exploring many other avenues of daily living. Spinning seems to soothe him intensely. Forcing himself to continue to socialize and going to parties is an asset even though difficult to do.

His ponderings and reflections on marriage, friendships, love and children enlighten me on how important they are. Something which many of us take for granted. The ongoing ruminating description, however, tended to bore me. I had to put the book down too many times. Not because of the content of the book but because of the lack of movement and provocation for me. Dr. Graboys suggests that he is able to live one day at a time. However, I did not feel uplifted with hope by the time I finished reading the book.

Overall, the book is a persuasive and heartrending depiction of a physician who disallows his illness to pilfer his joy and dignity.

 

Please feel free to post a comment.

 

David

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4 Responses

  1. […] Personal Review of “Life in the Balance” by Thomas Graboys, M.D. … […]

  2. Self confidence is an important life tool- I went to great lengths to help my daughters find that tool. At this point I wish there was some way My Husband , diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia in year 2000, could again find some self confidence.
    In the early years of this disease, he would pass off any error as a joke he did on purpose. and was very surprised when people would try to help him without his asking for help-even accused me of telling everyone he had Parkinson’s. but now he is afraid to try to do anything for fear of doing something wrong..
    Dr. Grayboy’s book gave me insight into some of the other ways my husband tried to control showing his symptoms.
    It also helps to explain what happens on the occasional “show time” that still happens for special people.
    The book helped me find empathy and understanding.
    Di

  3. What a candid portrayal of Dr. Graboys’ Book Life in the Balance. You have
    expressed well the feelings of many lay people that think the same as you have
    elaborated in this review. He is a fine man without a doubt, but you
    embarked on the real side of many humans, and their ego problems.

    Thank you David. Your review is excellent.

    Imogene

  4. Dr. David,

    Loved your article. And hope everyone read it. Especially the part about one of the symptoms of dehydration is confusion.

    I sure wish some nhs remembered how important it is to get their patients to drink and to provide it. I think it could help make taking care of dementia patients easier.

    Thanks again.

    Donna R

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