Tracy Kidder on How One Doctor Brought Healing to the Homeless
This Week on The Literary Life with Mitchell Kaplan
On today’s episode of The Literary Life, Mitchell Kaplan is joined by Tracy Kidder to discuss his latest book, Rough Sleepers: Dr. Jim O’Connell’s Urgent Mission to Bring Healing to Homeless People, out now from Random House.
From the episode:
Tracy Kidder: At times, Jim [O’Connell] imagined that he and his colleagues were practicing disaster medicine as if this underbelly of Boston was in the midst of a war or had been hit by an earthquake. The situation was appalling. The work was overwhelming, and he had to admit to himself: it was utterly fascinating. It was obvious that he and his colleagues weren’t addressing the many root causes of their patients’ misery. What they were doing was trying to figure out how to ameliorate some of the deepest suffering that lurked in the city, and that job seemed challenging enough.
How do you treat HIV in a person who has no place to live? How do you treat diabetes in patients who often can’t find their next meals? How do you treat physical illnesses and mentally ill patients whose activities of daily living are completely determined by the consumption of alcohol? The search for narcotics at medical school? Questions like that just hadn’t come up. He and his colleagues had to look for the answers themselves … The work consumed virtually all his waking hours. About 100 hours a week, he figured. I actually saw one of his worksheets from back then, and it was truly 100 hours. But he recalled thinking, Well, this is easier than residency anyway. This was his first job as a full-fledged doctor. He wanted to do it.
Tracy Kidder has won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the Robert F. Kennedy Award, among other literary prizes. His books include Mountains Beyond Mountains, Strength in What Remains, The Soul of a New Machine, House, Among Schoolchildren, Old Friends, Hometown, and A Truck Full of Money.