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Seven Stories Press

Works of Radical Imagination

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Reflections from a life lived in medicine.

Pediatrician Mark Vonnegut has spent forty years treating children for coughs, fevers, ear infections, and sometimes more serious complaints. In that time he has seen the American medical system change in ways he couldn't have imagined as a medical student--some of them good, others not so good. But what hasn't changed is his commitment to his young patients, whose stories fill the pages of this book. There's Anna Maria, a little girl with an incurable case of bone cancer; Adeline, who has a syndrome so rare none of Vonnegut's fellow doctors have seen it before; Marlowe, whose life-threatening anemia is cured by his just-born baby brother.

Whether recounting the cases that have stuck with him or detailing larger changes in medicine--the privatization of health care, innovations in cancer treatment, the rise of anti-vaxxers and HMOs--Vonnegut is a personable guide through what is often seen as an impersonal system, and his stories sparkle with humanity, candor, and wry wisdom. ("In pediatrics, and most medical care," he says, "if the doctor can just shut up and listen long enough, the patient will give him the diagnosis. Unfortunately, there's not a procedure code or template for how to shut up.") Vonnegut doesn't pull any punches in his criticisms of the medical-industrial complex, but The Heart of Caring isn't a diatribe. It's the story of a life lived in medicine, with all the heartbreak, hope, and everyday heroism that entails.

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“From decades in his clinic serving the front line of care of children and their families, Dr. Vonnegut has written a deeply real, wise, and hilarious book. It is an instant classic in medical literature. His clear-eyed struggle to keep his practice healthy under a sick, ‘money comes first' giant healthcare-for-profit makes his job almost impossible. Yet his riveting journey is a beacon of caring for patients in an American system that could care less—and he suggests how to fix it.”

The Heart of Caring is a manifesto for our times. Vonnegut offers a trenchant diagnosis and prognosis of our healthcare system, with prose as bracing as his observations. With years of experience as a physician—and a few as a patient—Vonnegut is ably positioned to cut through the flotsam and jetsam that passes for medical care these days. A refreshing read!”

“Dr. Mark Vonnegut's "The Heart of Caring" is not only rich with the wisdom of a beloved pediatrician, it is an honest look at the mess that insurance companies have made of our current medical care.”

“The Heart of Caring is a collection of stories from the heart of a caring physician reflecting on his forty years as a pediatrician. I too lived those forty years in medicine and this book touched a nerve and made me cry and laugh. It is a must-read for all new parents, old parents, medical students, physicians, patients, insurance companies, scientists, everyone.”

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After writing The Eden Express, a memoir detailing his struggle with schizophrenia, Mark Vonnegut went to medical school. He lives with his wife and two children in Milton, Massachusetts, where he is a full-time practicing pediatrician. His latest book is Just Like Someone Without Mental Illness Only More So.