Please come and hear me read from Making Sense of Medicine on Tuesday, August 2, at 7pm, at Baltimore’s Ivy Bookshop.

My translation from the Hebrew of Natan Alterman’s poem The Shadow is now posted at the Manhattanville Review, and also — below! (Check out the journal website for a little squib about my translation philosophy or lack thereof.)


The Shadow
Natan Alterman
From Hebrew: Zackary Sholem Berger

Once there was a man and his shadow.
One night the shadow stood up
took the man’s shoes and coat,
put them on. Passing by
it took the man’s hat from the hook,
trying as well to remove his head —
without success. It took his face off
and put that on too. If that weren’t enough
next morning he went out with his walking stick.
The man ran down the street after him
shrieking to his friends: What a terrible thing!
It’s a shadow! A clown! It’s not me! I’ll
write the authorities! He can’t get away with it! He wailed
bitterly, but little by little got used to it, fell silent, till at last
he forgot about the incident.

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Making Sense of Medicine by Zackary Berger

Making Sense of Medicine

by Zackary Berger

Giveaway ends July 27, 2016.

See the giveaway details
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Quinlan blurb 13320987_10154278145634711_5657150635582954309_o Brown blurb DeBronkart blurb Lehmann blurb

1. Catch me at noon at NYU talking ab13315479_10154279615769711_1999091312233455447_nout uncertainty and shared decision making.






2. At 6:30pm 13320987_10154278145634711_5657150635582954309_oat the Sidewalk Bar and Restaurant at 6th and A in Manhattan I’ll be reading from my new book, Making Sense of Medicine. This is part of the Prose Pros reading series.


I saw a woman yesterday making a decision that might lead to her death, and I feel powerless to stop her. I cannot talk about her in detail. Her gastrointestinal tract is not working – it is putting out too much. Her body thus is deprived of functional fluid in the blood vessels, which makes it difficult to supply the kidneys, and their filtration is failing. She is wobbling, has fallen several times.

Medicines might decrease her output, or supplement her diet with the nutrients her body cannot retain. But she thinks they harm her.

Surgery might help repair her gastrointestinal tract to absorb the nutrients she is losing, which might help her kidney function. But she is afraid surgery will kill her.

Neither of these beliefs is completely out of the realm of normal. Medications are routinely prescribed for slim benefit and without due discussion of harms. Surgeons can underestimate risk, and surgery can lead to terrible consequences.

I think and write a fair bit about letting patients make decisions that are right for them, but every once in a while — and maybe more often than that — I face someone who is digging themselves a very deep hole. My nightmarish vision is that they are watching it fill with their own blood.

I laid out the options: she cTVA_Douglas_Dam_jack_hammerould take medications; seek the advice of the surgeon or other specialists. I urged her to keep the appointment with the kidney doctor. One option, I said, would be to admit her to the hospital to get her treatment with more dispatch; the other would be to find a facility where she could live more safely while still maintaining a modicum of independence.

None of their satisfied her. I imagined that she was encircled, entrapped by an impenetrable wall, and all the rhetoric, empathy, and understanding were thin reeds that broke into shards against the rough bricks. I felt like I was sitting and staring at her, willing her to change her mind, and I had no power. Rather, I do have power, and exercising it might be helpful, coercive, or both. Would that be the action of my best professional or humane self?

We parted with a handshake and a thank you for each other’s time.

She thanked me for giving her my expertise as a doctor, though it did not change her mind or course of action.

And I thank her for teaching me what I can be thanked for.

It’s time to register (free) for our Partnering with Patients conference, June 1, 2016, at Johns Hopkins. It’s open to all.

Please submit an abstract in any field related to shared decision making. Deadline May 1.


Happy Purim 2016 from Zack, Celeste, Blanca, Micah, and Eleanor!
אַ פֿריילעכן פּורים פֿון שלום, סעלעסט, ביילקע, מיכל און אסתּרל!
איחולי פורים שמח משלום, סלסט, ביילע, מיכל ואסתרל

[NB: dairy hamentashen!]

If you predict your people is about to be destroyed,
And your instincts are impeccable, you’re bound to be annoyed.
Nothing seems to work. Your side’s down several thousand.
Don’t despair. Just don your dress, or grab your Shabbos hosen:
Be a hero bold, or heroine hearty.
Foil the bad guys’ plans, and plan a party.

“Kick out the refugees,” they said, “They pray weird and look funny.
I heard that guy will kick them out. Spend only his own money.”
No fatalism, honey-bunch. Now is not the time.
Redemption might be stuck in traffic, but wouldn’t it be fine
If you dressed up all nice as Savior Smarty?
Get the bad guys drunk and let them party.

You’ve read the story every year, you thought it allegory.
Depredation, war, and rape — all things blood-and-gory
Only happen in the books. At least to those unlike us.
But we were once the depredated. They still do try to fk us.
Fast is fasted. Scroll is written. Fate’s captain is still charting.
Get the bad guys stuffed. But first let’s party.

זאָלסט נישט שווײַגן אין דער שוואַרצער שעה
כאָטש רווח און הצלה זײַנען אַלץ נישט דאָ
(און וועלן נישט קומען, ביז מע ווערט גרײַז-גראָ)
נײַערט זינגען פֿון זעלבסטשוץ און הנאָה.

פֿאַרבעט דײַנע שׂונאים און זײַ די מלכּה
וואָס שמייכלט אויף דער משתּה און פּלאַנירט אינעם אַלקער
און לאָזט זיך נישט טשעפּען, כאָטש דער וויזיר לאָקערט
טאַנצט מיט דעם סקעפּטער בעת נשמה פֿלאַקערט.

זה שיר הזמן הזה
מלא ספק ואי-סיפוק
זה שיר בלי התחלה
וסוף לו — אין. שום קיץ.

אכן אשיר בזמן הזה
שיר הפסקה ואיפוק
זה ניצחון של אספקה
בלי התלה על עץ.

Multifaceted philosopher Hilary Putnam has died. In 2008, I interviewed him for the Jewish Forward on his approach for religious thought. 12821510_1194112173934389_7934087212595550885_n