Michele Harper, M.D. opens her heart in a memoir about her experiences in medicine, The Beauty in Breaking. But this book is more than that. It’s part meditation on finding herself amid divorce, moving to a new city, and finding peace in yoga and stillness. She’s also recovering from a traumatic childhood, even while establishing herself in a new life.
Harper builds her chapters around various Emergency Department patient stories. And while she tells them using plenty of medical detail, they aren’t the whole focus. Each patient teaches the doctor something or makes her ponder an issue. And while she does that, parts of her own life weave into her thought process and writing. In this gentle, thought-provoking way, the author captures a lot of non-chronological ideas.
Harper is a Black woman and works in some hospitals that feel like a better fit for her than others. Her residency is in the Bronx, but when she moves to Philadelphia, she works in a teaching hospital in less diverse part of the city. Ultimately, she decides that working at a Veterans’ Administration hospital fits her desire to work with underserved communities. Yes, she discusses race and its impact on medical care. But it’s not the sum total of this book.
Like many thirty somethings, Harper contemplates the relationships in her life. Having just left a marriage, she wants to focus on herself for a while. Hence, the yoga and meditation aspects of the book, which also dovetail with her ideas about complementary and holistic medicine.
All in all, this is a nuanced book about life as a physician in the U.S. medical system. Harper is a gentle voice while also conveying strength. She shares from the heart, and a sense of caring for fellow humans is at the center of her book. What she seeks is the balance of also caring for herself, which I think most women relate to.
I expected more about the medical aspects of her life, specifically being a black woman in medicine. And while that is a part of every page, it’s not the sum total. Instead, Harper stitches various aspects of her life together into a mosaic of lived experience and possibility.
The Beauty in Breaking is a unique memoir. If you’re interested in memoirs strictly about medicine, others may deliver more. But if you’re interested in a complex woman with a troubled family background finding her way in a challenging profession, then give this a try.
Pair with Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women that a Movement Forgot by Mikki Kendall for another Black woman’s perspective. Or try The Shift: One Nurse, Twelve Hours, Four Patients Lives by Theresa Brown, for a more fully medical memoir.