Saturday, May 23, 2015

Chasing the Scream

by Johann Hari

Mount Hope May 23, 2015
I am sitting at Mount Hope on a cool clear day. The vista is beautiful. Not a cloud in the sky and the air is filled with birdsong. Here are some excerpts taken from the introduction to Johann Hari's remarkable book.

Lady Day
"How do we react to addicts and the war on drugs? We all know the script. Treat addicts and drug users as criminals. Coerce them into stopping. This is the prevailing view in almost every country.

Hari used to think that way but has changed his mind. He now argues instead for a second strategy – legalize drugs stage by stage, and use the money we currently spend on punishing addicts to fund compassionate care instead."

The journey that he took to research and write this book took him across nine countries and 30,000 miles and it would last for three years. The story is a compelling read.

Drugs are not what we think they are. Drug addiction is not what we have been told it is. There is a very different story waiting for us when we are ready to hear it. Pick up this book and read.


Cast of Characters (in order of appearance)
Harry Anslinger: Bureau on Narcotics "godfather."
Billie Holiday: Jazz singer hounded to death by Anslinger
Arnold Rothstein: NY drug/alcohol lord
Chino Hardin:  FTM drug dealer turned activist/reformer
Leigh Maddox:  Policewoman/lawyer who once stalked addicts and now he works
       with LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition)
Sherif Joe Arpaio: Arizona reincarnation of Harry Anslinger.
Prisoner number 109416 (Marsha Powell): small time drug user and victim of Arizona
       "justice" system.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Amy Tan on Lyme Disease

This is a sobering and compelling pathography by a world-renown author.

I used to brag that I never got sick. I rarely came down with colds or the flu. I had health insurance for catastrophic illness and only used it once, for surgical repair of a broken leg, the result of heli-skiing, the sport of a vigorous and fearless person.

But in 1999, all that changed. I learned what it is like to have a disease with no diagnosis, to be baffled by what insurance covers and what it does not, and to have a mind that can’t think fast enough to know whether a red traffic light means to press on the gas or hit the brakes. I have late-stage neuroborreliosis, otherwise known as Lyme Disease. The neurological part reflects the fact that the bacteria, a spirochete called borrelia burgdorferi, has gone into my brain.

Read full article: SLyme Disease: How A Speck Changed My Life Forever

Image from the article
 


Missoula (2015)

Krakauer's book, Missoula, is focused on the most common type of rape:  non-stranger sexual assault.  While it reports from a Montana college town, Missoula's rape statistics are about average for the U.S.

The book has been criticized which is not surprising, however, I have read it twice and find it convincing and sobering.  Alcohol seems to be an almost-constant factor.  Alcohol, jocks and naive students -- female and male.

This is a hugely important topic and Missoula is an important introduction.  Probably, everyone in high school, college, or with children at these stages should read it.  Educators are another important audience.


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

Add caption
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.