Peripheralia: Digressions From Medical Practice
(by Chris Ellis)
Chris Ellis’s new book is called Peripheralia: Digressions from Medical Practice. It is a collection of fifty of his already published columns from South African Family Practice and the South African Medical Journal. The word “Peripheralia” was coined by the author to describe the conditions and experiences that occur around the periphery of medicine.
The author is a general practitioner in Pietermaritzburg but has also worked as a medical journalist for over thirty years and writes the Unconstant Gardener column for Diversions. He is an honorary lecturer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and was previously associate professor offamily medicine at the University of the United Arab Emirates.
This is his second collection of published columns which follow the anthology, The Soft Edges of Family Practice. The author has a keen eye for observing his patients, his partners and the communities of both his practice and the local hospitals where he works. This body of work is almost impossible to categorize as he writes about the way doctors dress and then on to neurolinguistic programming and to conversational trances and door- handle symptoms. These are qualitative essays on doctors and patients as normal human beings interacting with each other.
The author describes other peripheral strategies such as the sensory garden that he built for the patients of a psychiatric hospital where he had part- time sessions. There are the therapies of watering, pottering, smelling the roses and leaning on rakes.
A recurring theme is that of the way doctors interpret both verbal and non- verbal signals. One does not often come across medical articles with titles such as “Semiotics in the Medical Consultation” and “The Words are the Illness”. Another bee that the author admits to buzzing in his bonnet is practice management. There are columns on the design of consulting rooms, patient flow, the prepared patient and integrated systems that make the most time-efficient way of seeing patients.
So if you want to read about smell as a diagnostic tool, the rules of arguing and isomorphic narratives then this book may introduce you to some of the peripheralia around the practice of medicine.