Monday, December 12, 2011

Weekends at Bellevue--Julie Holland, M.D.

photo: Book cover, from Goodreads

Fascinating book about a woman who had been in charge of deciding who does, and does not, get admitted to a stay at Bellevue.  She did this for nine years.  Obviously the book is about many of the patients, but the coolest thing about the book is the sheer number of other things it's also very much about: admitting you're crisped at your job; branching out; moving on with life; the different forms of mental illness; how we're all mentally ill, in varying degrees.  Having the courage to switch gears in life.  Changing as a person.  Letting down your often necessary defenses--and then realizing that doing so makes you incapable of doing the job you needed the defenses for to begin with.  I saw a lot of myself in here, and a couple of family members and friends--and a few ex-friends.  It helped me to understand all of them better in small, but important, ways.

It's a quick read.  You may grit your teeth at the oddly sudden and thorough instances of her sexual interludes, as I did, though I understood they were meant to underscore her adrenaline addiction.  All of the psychopathy stories are quick snippets, from the unknown patients, to Spalding Gray and the aftereffects of 9/11 on NYC.  She doesn't linger too long on any one person or event, but mentions the big ones long enough to sustain the shock and horror they instilled in her and everyone else.  Many of her patients, for example, saw dozens of professionally attired men jump out of the WTC to their deaths.  She says that, more than any other facet of the attacks, it was this that mostly traumatized and PTSDed her patients--watching the bodies fall.  And land.  Her narrative voice skims and occasionally probes, while at the same time staying far enough away from the patients so the reader doesn't feel like a morbid voyeur, rubber-necking at the psychopathic miseries of others.

I read this because I thought such a character had a place in one of my novels--where else, perhaps, would a possibly real, re-visiting Jesus or Lazarus be sent, after all, but to a place like Bellevue?  I don't know that such a plan would work now, but I liked the experience of reading this to find out.  It took two days to read.  Highly recommended.


  1. I'll have to check it out. On 9/11 I watched a documentary called “The Falling Man” ( about the photo from the NY Times of the man falling from the towers, and the search to figure out who he was. It discussed the falling people more generally as well, and how that image was one of the most disturbing of all the tragic events. You might find it interesting.

  2. Thanks, C. I've heard about it and I've seen a bit of it, but I'll have to check out the whole thing. Very disconcerting, I'm sure. Horrible.

  3. Now I really feel compelled to read this book. I've been in the WTC many times as a tour coordinator, Windows On the World events were an annual gig. Remember how you could see the street no matter what floor you were on? It's not unusual that the jumpers felt the ground wasn't that far off. All of it - was tragic.

  4. I remember that I could see the whole world from there...and beyond. Even the Empire State Building didn't feel the same.