Attending Others: A Doctor’s Education in Bodies and Words

Available now from:
Cascade Press
Eighth Day Books
and your local bookstore.

Watch the book trailer video at the bottom of this page or watch the complete interview here.

Book Description

“Becoming a doctor requires years of formal education, but one learns the practice of medicine only through direct encounters with the fragile others called “patients.” Pediatrician Brian Volck recounts his own education in the mysteries of suffering bodies, powerful words, and natural beauty. It’s a curriculum where the best teachers are children and their mothers, the classrooms are Central American villages and desert landscapes, and the essential texts are stories, poems, and paintings. Through practices of focused attention, he grows from detached observer of his patients’ lives into an uneasy witness and grateful companion. From the inner city to the Navajo Nation and from the Grand Canyon to the mountains of Honduras, Volck learns to listen to children unable to talk, to assist in healing when cure is impossible, and to love those whose life and experiences are radically different from his own.This is not a how-to book or a brief for reforming medical education. Attending Others is a highly personal account of what the author learned about medicine after he completed his formal education. The short answer, it turns out, is pretty much everything.”

Praise for Attending Others

“Part memoir, part meditation, and all heartbreakingly and beautifully evocative, Attending Others is a very rare book indeed. This is a story about doctors and patients, and the mysterious and extraordinarily intimate realm they inhabit together; an elegant rumination upon one doctor’s coming of age, as it were, bringing to mind the work of both Richard Selzer and William Carlos Williams, and Wendell Berry too.”
Bret Lott, (author of Jewel)

“Brian Volck is a rare talent, combining an extraordinary intellect, a deeply compassionate soul, and a well-honed sense of artistry. And, by the way, he is also a physician of the highest order. He brings all this to bear in Attending Others.”
Leslie Leyland Fields, (author of Surviving the Island of Grace: Life on the Wild Edge of America)

“Volck introduces the reader to characters and stories with an assurance in style and storytelling that is the mark of a master. More than any achievements of craft or even its considerable art, though, I was moved, compelled, and instructed by the book’s wisdom and sheer heart.”
Robert Clark, (author of Mr. White’s Confession and River of the West: A Chronicle of the Columbia)

Watch a complete interview with the author here.

Praise for Attending Others (continued)

“Perhaps because a doctor must find words to give us when we are most broken and in need of encouragement, the best have learned the healing art of words. Dr. Brian Volck joins their company with this glorious memoir.”
Richard Rodriguez, (author of Brown: The Last Discovery of America and Darling: A Spiritual Autobiography)

“As a story-teller you are an excellent artist. I know this because you are able to reveal, in no more words than necessary, not only how you do your work, but more importantly, why.”
Wendell Berry, from a letter to the author

“Volck is a good listener. More to the point, and unlike most of his professional peers, he is a terrific writer. His stories of attending to others are artful but without artifice; the lessons he shares and the means by which he shares them reflect erudition and wry wit. But what comes through most in this deeply humane book is wonderment and gratitude for the privilege of serving the sick. “Practice doesn’t make perfect,” he writes, ” though it can make better, wiser, and kinder.” A luminous and deeply affecting book.”
Paul Farmer MD, Co-founder of Partners in Health, author of Infections and Inequalities: The Modern Plagues, and subject of Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World

“Brian Volck’s stories are not just about medical life, though medicine is his profession, his vocation, and a frame and focus of the stories that make up this rich memoir. The attention Volck pays is deeply relational, informed by complex, resilient family life and a mindful, openhearted spirituality that draws him to the desert in whose silence he weaves words into life-giving stories about those who have been his teachers as he attended them. He invites his readers into a vision of healing and wholeness that begins and ends in resilient humor and deep humility.”
Marilyn McEntyre, Adjunct Professor of Medical Humanities, UC Berkeley-UCSF Joint Medical Program, (author of Patient Poets: Illness from Inside Out and Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies)

“An intimate journey into the ‘infinite queue of lives’ that a doctor is entwined into over the course of a career. Brave, honest, and engaging.”
Danielle Ofri, MD, PhD, (author of What Doctors Feel: How Emotions Affect the Practice of Medicine)

“With humility and humor, Volck commands both the idioms of medicine and the lyricism of poets. He confesses to flashes of fear but also to moving moments when the icy distance that lies between doctors and patients has melted. The practice of medicine often restores people to health, as Volck’s memoir reveals, but medicine can also fail. Even then, as Volck points out, a doctor has something significant to offer: ‘We gave them all we could,’ he writes, ‘our time, our presence, our attention.’”
Jeanne Murray Walker, (author of The Geography of Memory: A Pilgrimage Through Alzheimer’s)