Bellevue has seen some sh*t.
As New York City’s oldest public hospital, Bellevue hospital has been on the front lines of virtually every health crisis that hit our fine shores in the past 280 odd years.
In this breathtakingly detailed history, Pulitzer Prize winning author, David Oshinsky (author of the equally cheerful Polio: An American Story), takes readers through this medical institution’s storied past. That description makes it sound like a bit of a snoozer. But, a textbook this is not. This well-paced tome puts you right in the thick of the action. You’ll walk in the shoes of the medical team; you’ll smell the (really, really awful) smells.
The subject matter can, at times, be grim, but is invariably interesting. You’ll learn that anesthesia was more prevalent during the Civil War than movies featuring battle-weary soldiers and saw-wielding doctors would have you think. Bellevue also introduced and popularized medical photography. There are also plenty of great tidbits about NYC. After reading this book, you’ll know where all the bodies are buried. (Spoiler alert: In NYC, more than a few famous parks have taken their respective turns as impromptu graveyards for some of Bellevue’s less fortunate visitors. Think about that next time you spread out your picnic blanket.)
For fans of historical medical dramas, such as The Knick, this book will be a treat. It also serves as a nice complement to And the Band Played On and Angels in America, given Bellevue’s role in the early days of the AIDS crisis.
When you hear “Bellevue,” you probably think: mental hospital or somewhere both medical and dreadful. This book’s real accomplishment is restoring pride in an institution whose contribution to health sciences continues to impact our lives today.