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Doctor learned compassion witnessing his brother’s fatal illness

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Dr. Daniel Mishkin

Inspired by his brother’s unsuccessful battle against a disease that claimed his life far too early, Dr. Daniel Mishkin has written a book that should be required reading for his fellow physicians. The title says it all: From the Other Side of the Bed: What Patients Go Through and What Doctors Can Learn.

A native of Montreal, Mishkin is the chief of gastroenterology at the non-profit organization Atrius Health in Boston, as well as a consultant for new technologies and medical therapies, and a professor at Harvard Medical School.

He will speak about his new book at Tifereth Beth David Jerusalem Congregation (TBDJ) in Côte-Saint-Luc, Que., the synagogue in which he grew up, on Dec. 2.

Fifteen years ago, Dr. Barry Mishkin, Daniel Mishkin’s older brother, passed away from acute lymphocytic leukemia at the age of 34. At the time, Daniel Mishkin was starting his medical residency and a fellowship, while Barry Mishkin was the chief resident of internal medicine and then a gastroenterology fellow at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.

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He left a wife and a three-year-old son behind.

Barry Mishkin’s family stood by his bed from the moment of his diagnosis to his last breath, according to his brother. Throughout that time, Mishkin said he witnessed facets of medicine that were both positive and negative. The Other Side of the Bed, which was published in July, chronicles Mishkin’s experience of accompanying his brother through his illness, and the lessons he took from it.

Throughout that harrowing time, he learned the empathy and compassion that guide his work to this day – values that that make up the central message of his book and have been incorporated into the curriculum at Harvard.

Daniel Mishkin graduated from McGill University medical school and completed his residency at the Jewish General Hospital, before moving to New York to complete his fellowship at Albert Einstein.

Both brothers came by their specialization honestly – their father, Dr. Seymour Mishkin, has been a Montreal gastroenterologist for more than 45 years. He and their mother are members of TBDJ.

Mishkin believes the book will also be valuable reading for caregivers who are seeking support and solace from someone who has been there.

Overnight, Barry Mishkin found himself fighting for his life against an aggressive form of leukemia. Rushing from teaching rounds to his brother’s bedside, Daniel Mishkin witnessed the toll the disease takes on the patients and families. He took on the stressful task of advocating for his brother’s care, a responsibility he shouldered from the moment his brother was diagnosed, until he passed away more than three years later.

Through the long journey of chemotherapy, remission, a failed bone marrow transplant and countless daily tests of morale, Mishkin witnessed a side of medicine that can be difficult for doctors to comprehend.

He recounts anecdotes from his medical career, to illustrate what should be crucial principles of patient care. From giving a difficult diagnosis, to confronting institutional hierarchy, to facing death with dignity, Mishkin offers insight into the human relationships that are at the heart of medicine.

“This kind of experience can be difficult for any patient, family member or even a physician to comprehend,” he says. “I am incredibly lucky to have known my brother, Barry, and cherish the many great memories we had together, prior to his passing. In his memory, and at his request, he wanted others to hear his story and hoped it would help others in the process.

“Barry tried to write the book himself, but ended up putting it on my bucket list. This was my third go-around and I think the entire experience really moulded me. As physicians, we need to focus on treating the patient, not necessarily the diagnosis.”

Mishkin will speak at TBDJ briefly after Shabbat services on Dec. 2 at around 11 a.m. and again that evening in more detail at 7 p.m.

For more information, visit theothersideofthebed.com. Copies will be on sale at his talk and can also be purchased on Amazon. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to Gift Of Life, a bone marrow and blood cell registry headquartered in Boca Raton, Fla.

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