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Recovery: The Lost Art of Convalescence

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An uplifting account of hope and healing by the author of Adventures in Human Being When it comes to illness, sometimes the end is just the beginning. Recovery and convalescence are words that exist at the periphery of our lives - until we are forced to contend with what they really mean. Here, GP and writer Gavin Francis explores how - and why - we get better, revealing the An uplifting account of hope and healing by the author of Adventures in Human Being When it comes to illness, sometimes the end is just the beginning. Recovery and convalescence are words that exist at the periphery of our lives - until we are forced to contend with what they really mean. Here, GP and writer Gavin Francis explores how - and why - we get better, revealing the many shapes recovery takes, its shifting history and the frequent failure of our modern lives to make adequate space for it. Characterised by Francis's beautiful prose and his view of medicine as 'the alliance of science and kindness', Recovery is a book about a journey that most of us never intend to make. Along the way, he unfolds a story of hope, transformation, and the everyday miracle of healing.


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An uplifting account of hope and healing by the author of Adventures in Human Being When it comes to illness, sometimes the end is just the beginning. Recovery and convalescence are words that exist at the periphery of our lives - until we are forced to contend with what they really mean. Here, GP and writer Gavin Francis explores how - and why - we get better, revealing the An uplifting account of hope and healing by the author of Adventures in Human Being When it comes to illness, sometimes the end is just the beginning. Recovery and convalescence are words that exist at the periphery of our lives - until we are forced to contend with what they really mean. Here, GP and writer Gavin Francis explores how - and why - we get better, revealing the many shapes recovery takes, its shifting history and the frequent failure of our modern lives to make adequate space for it. Characterised by Francis's beautiful prose and his view of medicine as 'the alliance of science and kindness', Recovery is a book about a journey that most of us never intend to make. Along the way, he unfolds a story of hope, transformation, and the everyday miracle of healing.

30 review for Recovery: The Lost Art of Convalescence

  1. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    (3.5) Just over a year ago, I reviewed Dr Gavin Francis’s Intensive Care, his record of the first 10 months of Covid-19, especially as it affected his work as a GP in Scotland. It ended up on my Best of 2021 list and is still the book I point people to for reflections on the pandemic. Recovery serves as a natural sequel: for those contracting Covid, as well as those who have had it before and may be suffering the effects of the long form, the focus will now be on healing as much as it is on prev (3.5) Just over a year ago, I reviewed Dr Gavin Francis’s Intensive Care, his record of the first 10 months of Covid-19, especially as it affected his work as a GP in Scotland. It ended up on my Best of 2021 list and is still the book I point people to for reflections on the pandemic. Recovery serves as a natural sequel: for those contracting Covid, as well as those who have had it before and may be suffering the effects of the long form, the focus will now be on healing as much as it is on preventing the spread of the virus. This lovely little book spins personal and general histories of convalescence, and expresses the hope that our collective brush with death will make us all more determined to treasure our life and wellbeing. Francis remembers times of recovery in his own life: after meningitis at age 10, falling off his bike at 12, and a sinus surgery during his first year of medical practice. Refuting received wisdom about scammers taking advantage of sickness benefits (government data show only 1.7% of claims are fraudulent), he affirms the importance of a social safety net that allows necessary recovery time. Convalescence is subjective, he notes; it takes as long as it takes, and patients should listen to their bodies and not push too hard out of frustration or boredom. Traditionally, travel, rest and time in nature have been non-medical recommendations for convalescents, and Francis believes they still hold great value – not least for the positive mental state they promote. He might also employ “social prescribing,” directing his patients to join a club, see a counsellor, get good nutrition or adopt a pet. A recovery period can be as difficult for carers as for patients, he acknowledges, and most of us will spend time as both. I read this in December while staying with my convalescent mother, and could see how much of its practical advice applied to her – “Plan rests regularly throughout the day,” “Use aids to avoid bending and reaching,” “Set achievable goals.” If only everyone being discharged from hospital could be issued with a copy – pocket-sized and only just over 100 pages, it would be a perfect companion through any recovery period. I’d especially recommend this to readers of Maggie O’Farrell’s I Am, I Am, I Am and Christie Watson’s The Language of Kindness. Favourite lines: At one level, convalescence has something in common with dying in that it forces us to engage with our limitations, the fragile nature of our existence. Why not, then, live fully while we can? If we can take any gifts or wisdom from the experience of illness, surely it’s this: to deepen our appreciation of health … in the knowledge that it can so easily be taken away. Originally published on my blog, Bookish Beck.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Helena

    An enjoyable, short mediation on convalescence; its history and how it is viewed today. I’m very interested in books that counter “productivity culture” and this definitely falls into that category, coming at the subject from a health/illness perspective.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Story

    Compassionate and illuminating.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Ellen

    As someone who has had health issues my entire life, and been disabled for the past 13 years with chronic fatigue, this book was like a calming hug. This is a doctor that just gets it. And this book taught me interesting things from history as well as letting me know that I am doing the best that I can. There can be joy and meaning even in illness, and I would highly recommend this little book to anyone struggling with their health.

  5. 5 out of 5

    🌶 peppersocks 🧦

    Reflections and lessons learned: “With a limb it seemed possible to objectify the part that needed recovery, to look down on the leg and say that's the problem, right there. Working to build up the leg was effort-ful but also visual, my progress inscribed in the bulk of my thigh, the colour of my skin, the comparison with the healthy leg at its side” A wonderfully short summary (even the sentences on the page are narrow for ease) of recovery, ideal for anyone that feels bogged down, struggling for Reflections and lessons learned: “With a limb it seemed possible to objectify the part that needed recovery, to look down on the leg and say that's the problem, right there. Working to build up the leg was effort-ful but also visual, my progress inscribed in the bulk of my thigh, the colour of my skin, the comparison with the healthy leg at its side” A wonderfully short summary (even the sentences on the page are narrow for ease) of recovery, ideal for anyone that feels bogged down, struggling for support and searching for a simple word based aid to help a situation. No one can feel 100% everyday and then simply keel over at the end, but why does illness make us feel so guilty, unusual and vulnerable. This example based selection is not only comforting to allow us to take a break from the norm, but also from a scientific basis of what our bodies can achieve without us knowing. An author that I’m definitely interested to read more from for both a work and biological life entity perspective

  6. 5 out of 5

    J.Norcliffe

    Much needed exploration of a sadly neglected concept Best discussion of the plight of anyone who has the misfortune to become Ill, since Dr Richard Asher in the talking sense books of 60 years ago. Balanced insights into the partnership between health care professionals and the individual. The healing process and focus on a person's potential. As a nurse for 50 years this feels like back to the fundamentals of what we should be trying to achieve in this partnership. Cogent well written I would re Much needed exploration of a sadly neglected concept Best discussion of the plight of anyone who has the misfortune to become Ill, since Dr Richard Asher in the talking sense books of 60 years ago. Balanced insights into the partnership between health care professionals and the individual. The healing process and focus on a person's potential. As a nurse for 50 years this feels like back to the fundamentals of what we should be trying to achieve in this partnership. Cogent well written I would recommend this book to ALL health care professionals to re engage them with the fundamentals of our craft

  7. 5 out of 5

    Ashton Trimble

    So good that I recommended it to a patient before I'd even finished! Everyone should read this book. So good that I recommended it to a patient before I'd even finished! Everyone should read this book.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Christina Sweeney-Baird

    A God send of a book. Thoughtful, meditative, wise but never didactic. As someone who has been seriously ill recently, I found myself welling up at the idea of illness as a part of life that, for all its agonies, can be accepted. I hope to find, as the author describes, a negotiated peace.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Danielle

    This book is a very quick read, I finished this in just over an hour - and it's an hour of my life I used wisely. Dr Gavin Francis is a GP, offering in this book a view on how we have lost the idea of recovery in modern, Western medicine. We focus more on how to get people in and out of hospital, while placing no emphasis on their rest period when they leave. I am recovering from a chronic brain condition. I never thought to use the word recovering - always saying "I have a brain condition which This book is a very quick read, I finished this in just over an hour - and it's an hour of my life I used wisely. Dr Gavin Francis is a GP, offering in this book a view on how we have lost the idea of recovery in modern, Western medicine. We focus more on how to get people in and out of hospital, while placing no emphasis on their rest period when they leave. I am recovering from a chronic brain condition. I never thought to use the word recovering - always saying "I have a brain condition which is in remission". Both statements are true, but one leads people to think I am free from the effects that suffering for years from this condition has done to my mind, brain and my body. This book helped to enlighten me on the use of the powerful word recovery. This book is the first place I've heard of mind and brain being separate entities and it resonates with me so much. The book offers many ways to enable recovery and ideas for how to recover - including time in nature, travel and rest. A fantastic read, I would recommend to all who are interested in the "art" of recovery and particularly to those who are in recovery themselves.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Connie

    This is a short book written by a Scottish doctor and is packed with common sense and wisdom on recovering from illness or surgery. He covers a lot of ground in his compact book. He lists the physical conditions that assist recovery: finding the right balance between rest and gentle activity, good nutrition, quiet, nature, fresh air, sunlight. He also illustrates the importance of mental attitude and gives an example of two patients recovering from serious heart surgery, one full of optimism and This is a short book written by a Scottish doctor and is packed with common sense and wisdom on recovering from illness or surgery. He covers a lot of ground in his compact book. He lists the physical conditions that assist recovery: finding the right balance between rest and gentle activity, good nutrition, quiet, nature, fresh air, sunlight. He also illustrates the importance of mental attitude and gives an example of two patients recovering from serious heart surgery, one full of optimism and appreciation for his life-saving operation, the other full of anxiety and fear. He advocates for patience and respect as the body has its own timetable for healing; it’s usually much slower than we, or our friends who wish us a “speedy recovery” with the best of intentions, realize. Healing takes time.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Lucy Olivia

    What a beautiful little book. Full of interesting anecdotes and stories of healing, convalescence and recovery. It made me feel full of hope and calm. 5*

  12. 4 out of 5

    viv

    I feel quite meh about this book. I basically wish it was longer because the bits that were good were good - there just weren’t enough of them. Agree re previous comments that the tips page was the most helpful part… meatier and this would be an excellent resource for patients and healthcare workers alike.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Marianne

    ‘Human beings understand the world through stories: not all of us will have a happy ending, but each of us has a hand in writing part of our own.’ As an impatient patient, I should read the conclusion of this book every time I’m ill.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Bat

    This book is about being human, and helping ourselves be human around the inevitable ill health that everyone faces at some stage. Humane as well as human. Easy and comforting read, short and friendly. 

  15. 4 out of 5

    Gwen

    You're not imagining things. We are getting harder on each other. The more we're convinced that our lives should revolve around work with Life on the side, mixed with that protestant work ethic that seems to have overtaken the West in general, the harder it is to accept when we're ill. Or worse, when someone else is ill. There is no time to rest, lazy bones! You're not actually dripping with cold, so back to work! Francis gives examples of grind culture gone mad and taken out of its normalised c You're not imagining things. We are getting harder on each other. The more we're convinced that our lives should revolve around work with Life on the side, mixed with that protestant work ethic that seems to have overtaken the West in general, the harder it is to accept when we're ill. Or worse, when someone else is ill. There is no time to rest, lazy bones! You're not actually dripping with cold, so back to work! Francis gives examples of grind culture gone mad and taken out of its normalised context, you can really see how inhumane we have become. There's a lot more to this modest book, but this is what resonated with me the most because the pandemic has made this mindset so very obvious. A brilliant, thoughtful read. Definitely recommend.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Amy Watson

    A nice little book: not too profound and pretty reliant on anecdotes but essentially one doctor’s attitude to healing. He leans a little too much on far flung historical and literary references to make his points, and not enough on science. Better researched this book could have been far more illuminating and useful but as it is it puts forth commen sense arguments encouraging rest, attitude, finding healthcare that’s right for you, getting away and optimising your environment.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Katy Wheatley

    A short but fascinating read about how much we need to return our focus on recovery and convalescence. Inspired by people battling long COVID but having a much further reach, Francis, who is a practicing GP, delves into the past to hold a mirror up to the present and plot a more hopeful path into the future.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Lou

    I read this in a day and was awed by the tenderness and care throughout. Francis speaks to the reader as if to a friend — clearly, gently, and casually. This is a necessary read for everyone on planet earth, but especially for people like myself who struggle to let themselves rest without guilt. So glad I picked this up on a whim from the small books section of Daunt Books 📚

  19. 4 out of 5

    Joanne

    Recovery: The Lost Art of Convalescence is a lovely little book full of insight and wise words about why and how our bodies need to recover following illness. The book considers what we understand by recovery both now and in the past. Florence Nightingale said that to recover people need “fresh air, light, warmth, cleanliness, quiet”. Between 1800 and 1914, number of hospitals in UK quadrupled but by contrast, since 1988 hospital bed numbers have halved. Yet a safe place to recover is still essen Recovery: The Lost Art of Convalescence is a lovely little book full of insight and wise words about why and how our bodies need to recover following illness. The book considers what we understand by recovery both now and in the past. Florence Nightingale said that to recover people need “fresh air, light, warmth, cleanliness, quiet”. Between 1800 and 1914, number of hospitals in UK quadrupled but by contrast, since 1988 hospital bed numbers have halved. Yet a safe place to recover is still essential. Gavin Francis mentions convalescent hospitals including a few which are (or were) in Edinburgh. I remember my Gran being in one such convalescent hospital following a hip operation in the 1980s. Like many grand Victorian buildings, it’s now expensive luxury apartments. There were a few parts which really stood out to me and this point in particular. In years gone by, those who could afford it travelled to warmer climes to improve their health or went to the seaside to take in the air. That’s not something which is possible for most people these days. Gavin Francis quotes Tolkien who said that reading “acts as a holiday and refreshment. It is splendid for convalescence… It works wonders in some cases.”. I very much approve of that sentiment of course. I think that over the past couple of years many more people have appreciated the power of books to give us a rest from everyday life. The book is fascinating and perceptive and acknowledges that healing and recovery isn’t just about the physical body but also the mind. “To flourish we have to build in moments of rest and reflection.”. As well as lots of practical advice for recovery, it carries an important message about recognising when you need recovery, bring kind to yourself and allowing yourself time to convalesce.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Roger Saunders

    A gentle, wise, compassionate little book. I found it after hearing Gavin Francis talk on the radio. He is writing as an experienced doctor who is concerned that so much of western medical practice today is concerned with just getting people through physical crises, with little or no attention to what comes after - or what should come after if the person is to recover a healthy 'balance'. It hadn't really occurred to me, until I read this, how previous generations' understanding of convalescence A gentle, wise, compassionate little book. I found it after hearing Gavin Francis talk on the radio. He is writing as an experienced doctor who is concerned that so much of western medical practice today is concerned with just getting people through physical crises, with little or no attention to what comes after - or what should come after if the person is to recover a healthy 'balance'. It hadn't really occurred to me, until I read this, how previous generations' understanding of convalescence has been lost; for example, the closure of so many thoughtfully designed TB hospitals once antibiotics arrived. The book is partly targeted at other health practitioners and policy-makers. But reading it just as a fellow human, I was grateful for the many insights and reflections - particularly the implied permission to look after myself, to respect convalescence, to listen to my body. I particularly like the non-prescriptive tone of the book - he is at pains throughout to acknowledge that each person gets ill and gets well (or not) in our own ways.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

    "A greater respect for the importance of rest can coexist with an understanding of how vital it is that we remain active and engaged in the world." While small, this book is one of the best I've ever read on illness, mostly because it emphasizes that in order to recover, we need to give ourselves grace, compassion, and most importantly, time. Living in an era where illness is seen as something inconvenient at best, but more often devastating, we are desperately trying to avoid or ignore it. We li "A greater respect for the importance of rest can coexist with an understanding of how vital it is that we remain active and engaged in the world." While small, this book is one of the best I've ever read on illness, mostly because it emphasizes that in order to recover, we need to give ourselves grace, compassion, and most importantly, time. Living in an era where illness is seen as something inconvenient at best, but more often devastating, we are desperately trying to avoid or ignore it. We live in fear of missing work and being labeled as lazy, we live in fear of losing our jobs by taking time to recover and so we continue on, still suffering and pretending that we're better, but then we don't ever get better. "We need strength and energy to live with illness" is a telling thing- whether you're recovering from a car accident, broken bones, a virus, or mental illness, time and rest are essential. I don't think I've ever read anything so touching, so full of honest compassion and matter-of-factness, from a physician. Every doctor should have this as required reading.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Hannah Powell

    A short informative read, which gives a brief introduction to recovery and convalescence. As someone who has convalesced, it was interesting to hear the perspective of a GP and there were some interesting points in there. He told us that many of his patients need to be granted permission to take the time to recover that they need. I certainly relate to that and know from experience that if you rush your body or mind will find a way to slow you down again. I certainly agreed with his sentiment th A short informative read, which gives a brief introduction to recovery and convalescence. As someone who has convalesced, it was interesting to hear the perspective of a GP and there were some interesting points in there. He told us that many of his patients need to be granted permission to take the time to recover that they need. I certainly relate to that and know from experience that if you rush your body or mind will find a way to slow you down again. I certainly agreed with his sentiment that a patient's attitude to their illness can have a strong bearing on the nature of their recovery. My rating would have been higher had I not been previously spoilt by reading the likes of Wintering by Katherine May, and many books around the power of nature to heal - by authors including Sue Stuart-Smith, Lucy Jones, Josie George and Isabel Hardman. Those looking to recover could perhaps learn more from the stories of other patients. As a quick read though, this book packed a lot in.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Athene Knüfer

    Drawing on his experience both as patient and experienced GP, Dr Gavin Francis has put together a thoughtful and interesting reflection on recovery from illness. As someone who has been recovering from chronic illnesses since 2020, I thought this book did a (mostly) wonderful job of capturing all the many facets of recovery as an intrinsically human experience. It takes a compassionate, back-to-basics approach, which resonated with many of my own reflections on living life with illness, and is q Drawing on his experience both as patient and experienced GP, Dr Gavin Francis has put together a thoughtful and interesting reflection on recovery from illness. As someone who has been recovering from chronic illnesses since 2020, I thought this book did a (mostly) wonderful job of capturing all the many facets of recovery as an intrinsically human experience. It takes a compassionate, back-to-basics approach, which resonated with many of my own reflections on living life with illness, and is quietly radical in its overt criticism of society’s apparent lack of regard for rest as an integral and productive part of life. Moreover, it is a gentle and short read, and I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone who is interested in a narrative and philosophical perspective on illness and convalescence.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Katya

    Brilliant, important, and so accessible (only 100 pages or so, as well!). I found this really interesting and readable, and it's completely changed my outlook on illness – both the mental and physical kind. It's made me realise how rest is becoming less valued or at least less observed in society. Possibilities for convalescence are rarer, or only available in extreme circumstances, whereas it should be readily accessible to everyone who needs it. I'd recommend this to anyone who wants to underst Brilliant, important, and so accessible (only 100 pages or so, as well!). I found this really interesting and readable, and it's completely changed my outlook on illness – both the mental and physical kind. It's made me realise how rest is becoming less valued or at least less observed in society. Possibilities for convalescence are rarer, or only available in extreme circumstances, whereas it should be readily accessible to everyone who needs it. I'd recommend this to anyone who wants to understand the importance of rest and taking care of yourself and others. Our bodies and minds are fragile things, and we should all recognise that recovery varies from person to person, and isn't always a straight line going up.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Hnieno

    I very much enjoyed this book. A GP's own meditation on the importance of convalescence. Definitely many things I will take into my own practice as a clinician. The emphasis on environment, diet, social contexts etc... all provided a more wholesome picture of medicine. I also enjoyed many of the historical reflections on how medicine / recovery were seen in the past. For individuals looking for a "guide" to recovery, I am not sure this book would deliver on that, as it is a more general reflecti I very much enjoyed this book. A GP's own meditation on the importance of convalescence. Definitely many things I will take into my own practice as a clinician. The emphasis on environment, diet, social contexts etc... all provided a more wholesome picture of medicine. I also enjoyed many of the historical reflections on how medicine / recovery were seen in the past. For individuals looking for a "guide" to recovery, I am not sure this book would deliver on that, as it is a more general reflective piece and has little in the way of explicit practical tips. I think, nonetheless, it is a very useful read, especially for healthcare professionals.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Talia Nicol

    'recovery' was a really comforting read. as someone that struggles with chronic illness and mental health, i felt really understood by dr francis. it was an easy read with some particularly fascinating case examples and insights from medical professionals and philosophers. i think there were definitely some important takeaways in our culture of mass productivity in terms of reseting, resting and living in the present. dr francis also touches on tangible ways of going about convalescence beyond j 'recovery' was a really comforting read. as someone that struggles with chronic illness and mental health, i felt really understood by dr francis. it was an easy read with some particularly fascinating case examples and insights from medical professionals and philosophers. i think there were definitely some important takeaways in our culture of mass productivity in terms of reseting, resting and living in the present. dr francis also touches on tangible ways of going about convalescence beyond just western medicine ; i will definitely be looking to try to implement some of these in my own space. a worthwhile book that can be easily finished in a day or two.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Spiranthes100

    It is a most pleasing book to look at and to handle (a perfect gift for someone facing recovery, I thought when I first saw the cover) but I’m not quite sure what it set out to be. It is part historical examination of convalescence, part how-best-to-do-convalescence, and part personal experience of convalescence - both as patient and GP. It stresses caring, empathy, and listening, with practical recommandations for sabbatical breaks and travel, (even if they have to be undertaken vicariously in It is a most pleasing book to look at and to handle (a perfect gift for someone facing recovery, I thought when I first saw the cover) but I’m not quite sure what it set out to be. It is part historical examination of convalescence, part how-best-to-do-convalescence, and part personal experience of convalescence - both as patient and GP. It stresses caring, empathy, and listening, with practical recommandations for sabbatical breaks and travel, (even if they have to be undertaken vicariously in books), importance of diet, rest, attention to surroundings, being kind to yourself. But it also quite lengthily discusses illness and reconciliation to Illness and I wondered whether, in fact, that was the primary message.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Laura Spira

    This short book arrived as I was struggling to recover from Covid and it has helped me immensely. Dr Francis reminds us that successful recovery from illness requires us to allow our bodies the time and space to heal themselves. Medication may help us to manage symptoms but there is no magic pill that will instantly restore us to health. Recovery is also frequently non-linear and demands patience and optimism. Highly recommended for anyone in the process of recovering or supporting recovering pe This short book arrived as I was struggling to recover from Covid and it has helped me immensely. Dr Francis reminds us that successful recovery from illness requires us to allow our bodies the time and space to heal themselves. Medication may help us to manage symptoms but there is no magic pill that will instantly restore us to health. Recovery is also frequently non-linear and demands patience and optimism. Highly recommended for anyone in the process of recovering or supporting recovering people.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Aatqa Arham

    Form doesn’t meet function- at least the function I think it ought to serve. Popular publishing on doctors’ experiences and medical egotism so often go hand in hand, couched in a language of ‘compassion’. Cynic I may be, but it plays out time and time again in print and life. Plus many points were left severely unillustrated. Please start publishing health or allied professionals other than doctors. There are loads of them, better placed to comment.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jenny Pullini

    Compassion as key to recovery In this book, Dr Gavin Francis has addressed the keys concepts of time and compassion in healing and recovery. This book shines a light on the role of cultural, professional and individual beliefs in healing and what it is to recover. Very accessible and thought provoking.

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