Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Witness to Resilience: Stories of Intimate Violence

Witness To Resilience is about everyday women who have endured domestic violence in silence and secrecy. They're your mother, sister, daughter, friend, neighbor, and colleague. Jane  Seskin's poems chronicle her more than twenty years working as a psychotherapist with survivors of intimate violence. These are brutal stories told with compassion and love.

I found this slim volume to be moving beyond what words can express.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Even Doctors Cry by Alvin Reiter, M.D.


1. Redemption: There is a belief in restorable health.
2. Quest: A person journeys through and faces suffering head on in the belief that something is to be gained from the illness experience
3. Chaos: When people are overwhelmed by the intensity of their illness, to speak coherently becomes impossible.   This is the most frequently unheard narrative because listening to chaos stories can be painful and frustrating

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Alvin Reiter's book, Even Doctors Cry, is, for the most part, a "chaos" narrative. It tells the story of an E.N.T. surgeon from his upbringing in the Bronx, through college, medical school and training as a head and neck specialist concentrating on cosmetic facial surgery, through personal illness (non-Hodgkin's lymphoma) legal problems stemming from billing irregularities, to his wife's complicated breast cancer trajectory.

In some ways, this book reminded me of Saul Bellow’s picaresque novel The Adventures Augie March. There were many unexpected twists and turns and Dr. Reiter was on a strange and tragic voyage from the Bronx to Beverly Hills. He paints himself as a naif swimming with the sharks of private medical practice and academia.  His, and his wife Karen's, encounters with the medical system are frustrating, maddening, and ultimately tragic. Are they the norm for Doctor-Patient relationships in our country?

Dr. Reiter learned a lot from his misadventures as a physician and a patient.  Along the way, he has become a patient advocate. I, for one, would like to hear more of his suggestions on improving communication and care.

Even Doctors Cry is a captivating book that kept my interest from one vignette to the next. Mostly is set in the strange and materialistic venue of Beverly Hills. The small towns that I have spent my professional life in are quite different, however, many of the physicians that I have encountered have doppelgängers in Southern California.

Reiter tells us, "In our society, we trust our tax returns to accountants, our wills to lawyers, our food to farmers, our cars to mechanics. To physicians, though, we entrust our very lives, without which the rest doesn't matter. As a doctor who loved his practice, his patients and prided himself on the care he provided, I was unprepared to find a medical profession so flawed, falling so short of any level of care, that it caused the death of my wife, Karen.

Earlier, he quotes Ellie Wiesel, "Whoever survives a test, whatever it may be, must tell the story." Reiter does this in a captivating way and all who read this book will learn important lessons.

(reviewed by David Elpern)

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

My Path Leads to Tibet (2003)

The Inspiring Story of How One Young Blind Woman Brought Hope to the Blind Children of Tibet, by Sabriye Tenberken
Defying everyone's advice, armed only with her rudimentary knowledge of Chinese and Tibetan, Sabriye Tenberken set out to do something about the appalling condition of the Tibetan blind, who she learned had been abandoned by society and left to die. Traveling on horseback throughout the country, she sought them out, devised a Braille alphabet in Tibetan, equipped her charges with canes for the first time, and set up a school for the blind. Her efforts were crowned with such success that hundreds of young blind Tibetans, instilled with a new-found pride and an education, have now become self-supporting. A tale that will leave no reader unmoved, it demonstrates anew the power of the positive spirit to overcome the most daunting odds.

Can be obtained from ABE Books for $0.01

For the Benefit of Those Who See (2014)

by Rosemary Mahoney

From Booklist: Mahoney takes readers along on her life-changing experience of immersion in the lives of blind students. Through her work with Braille Without Borders and its founder, Sabriye Tenberken, Mahoney sought to illuminate blind culture and its ongoing, complicated relationship with the sighted world. In day-to-day interactions, first in schools in Tibet and later Kerala, India, Mahoney found children and adults to be dedicated and determined as they navigated a sighted world with an ease she almost can not believe. Patiently, the students revealed how they hear, smell, and feel, and Mahoney shares this information while also conveying her own confusion and struggles when blindfolded. Her observations are punctuated by research into the social history of blindness and how it is still stigmatized in places like Tibet, where, prior to Tenberken’s arrival, there was no group or institution providing assistance to the blind. These historical passages are punctuated by a careful consideration of the famous, such as Helen Keller, and the relatively (and sadly) obscure, such as Laura Bridgman. Mahoney’s compassion for her subjects shines through in every word here, making this a fascinating and thoughtful look into the lives of people who experience the world differently than most. --Colleen Mondor

Also see Abigali Zuger's NY Times review Finding Lightness in the Dark.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Now I See You (2014)

June 24, 2014
At nineteen years old, Nicole C. Kear's biggest concern is choosing a major--until she walks into a doctor’s office in midtown Manhattan and gets a life-changing diagnosis. She is going blind, courtesy of an eye disease called retinitis pigmentosa, and has only a decade or so before Lights Out. Instead of making preparations as the doctor suggests, Kear decides to carpe diem and make the most of the vision she has left. She joins circus school, tears through boyfriends, travels the world, and through all these hi-jinks, she keeps her vision loss a secret.

When Kear becomes a mother, just a few years shy of her vision’s expiration date, she amends her carpe diem strategy, giving up recklessness in order to relish every moment with her kids. Her secret, though, is harder to surrender - and as her vision deteriorates, harder to keep hidden. As her world grows blurred, one thing becomes clear: no matter how hard she fights, she won’t win the battle against blindness. But if she comes clean with her secret, and comes to terms with the loss, she can still win her happy ending.        

Told with humor and irreverence, Now I See You is an uplifting story about refusing to cower at life’s curveballs, about the power of love to triumph over fear. But, at its core, it’s a story about acceptance: facing the truths that just won't go away, and facing yourself, broken parts and all. 
I have not read this book yet.(DJE)

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Last Best Cure

by Donna Jackson Nakazawa

Recently, a good friend recommended “The Last Best Cure” (LBC) to me. I was a bit skeptical of books that might prove to be “fluff.”  As I read it, however, I was impressed how relevant it is to the lives of so many of my patients who are chronically ill.

One of the book’s key themes is that Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) play an important role in determining our health as adults.  LBC is Donna Nakazawa’s personal story.  She is a talented science journalist who brings a technical background to the subject while, at the same time, infuses the story with memorable personal anecdotes.

The subject of ACEs is an important one.  An early investigator was Vincent Filetti whose work explored the impact of ACEs on the health of adults who were patients at Kaiser Permanente in San Diego.  A more accessible place to read about ACEs is Paul Tough’s New Yorker article, “The Poverty Clinic.”

Here is an interview with Ms. Jackson that appeared in PBS’s online magazine.  Her journey back to health began with meeting a remarkable Hopkin’s physician, Anastasia Rowland Seymour, director of Johns Hopkins University's Program in Integrative Medicine.

If you are a health care provider, a patient, or a family member of someone with a chronic illness, LBC will be a helpful, well-written and welcome guide.

Virginia Tanji, the head librarian at John A. Burns School of Medicine, recommended this book to me.  She writes: "I read this book and recommended it to both the book clubs I belong too.  It resonated with both groups. I think we were inspired by how the author achieved "health" via meditation, yoga, and acupuncture...and the insight provided by the ACE connection to her chronic conditions.  I could definitely relate and personally, I always say what keeps me sane and healthy is writing a journal and qigong and tai chi!, which for me is the equivalent of meditation and yoga. 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

God's Hotel by Victoria Sweet (2012)

GOD’S HOTEL: A Doctor, a Hospital and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of Medicine.

In her brilliant book review, Abigail Zuger writes, “It is probably pointless to suggest that all the individuals presently shaping our health care future spend a quiet weekend with “God’s Hotel,” Dr. Victoria Sweet’s transcendent testament to health care past. Who interrupts cowboys in the midst of a stampede?

But if you’re one of the millions of doctors and patients out there choking on their dust, this is the book for you. Its compulsively readable chapters go down like restorative sips of cool water, and its hard-core subversion cheers like a shot of gin.”