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December 2016

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Bellevue by David Oshinsky

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Even if you don’t live in NYC, it’s possible you’ve heard of Bellevue hospital. If not by name, then by the stories told about it. It was the facility that treated the man who had Ebola in New York, and it is the one that had to evacuate patients in plastic medical sleds down over a dozen flights of stairs during Hurricane Sandy when the building lost power. And that’s just the headlines from the last five years.

Bellevue is a public hospital, providing care mostly to those who cannot pay or who other facilities will not see. It has been providing this care in some form or another since the 1700s, which, given how relatively young the U.S., is impressive as hell. It was on the front line of so many outbreaks, including the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. But it’s the stories from the 1700s and 1800s that I found to be especially fascinating. I know we’re all familiar with the fact that anesthesia didn’t used to exist (but amputations did), and that germ theory took a while to catch on, but reading the background behind these discoveries and their introductions, set against this amazing institutions history, is just incredible.

I’ve started a couple of large histories of medical conditions or healthcare facilities this year. I gave up on Emperor of All Maladies, and I’m struggling to get past the first chapter of Blood. However, this one, released just four weeks ago, was not hard to get through at all. If you have any interest in New York history, or medical history, or just good non-fiction, I think you will find this a worthwhile read.

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