As a child on Long Island, Jay Baruch’s first love was books. He was taking his allowance down to the Oscar bookstore in Huntington, where Oscar himself sold Baruch his favorite books, inexpensive Signet paperback editions of classic Jules Verne adventure tales.
Baruch tried to write his own fiction, influenced by Verne, but self-consciousness held him back. “It was hard for me to free myself to write,” he said.
It wasn’t until college, where he majored in English, that another career path presented itself: a volunteer opportunity at a local hospital led Baruch to medicine. These days, he’s an ER doctor in Providence — and he’s also a writer, with two collections of short stories, and now a volume of essays, “Tornado of Life” (MIT Press), which tells true stories of what happened. happens in his busy, emergency department of a big city.
Stories, argues Baruch, are the key to everything. “Sometimes in medicine we ignore the complexity of patient stories,” he said. But, he added, it’s important that clinicians learn to listen, lean into uncertainty and try to understand what each patient is going through.
Baruch is convinced that “borrowing from my life as a creative writer and putting those skills to the bedside” makes him a better doctor. “As writers, as artists, we accept disorder. The mess, the problems, that’s a starting point. This is where the investigation begins,” he said.
“The book was born out of a sense that the challenges my colleagues and I faced weren’t always about broken bodies,” Baruch said. “The parts that really troubled us were those quieter times, when we didn’t know how to react to those complex, difficult, and vulnerable stories.”
Jay Baruch will read in person at 7 p.m. on Thursday, September 1 at Harvard Bookstore.