Thursday, February 18, 2010

Surviving the Fall

The Personal Journey of an AIDS Doctor
by Peter Selwyn
From Publisher's Weekly:  "Selwyn entered his residency at an inner-city Bronx hospital in 1981, just in time for the arrival of AIDS. Medical school had prepared him to be a healer, but in the face of a devastating, incurable disease, he found his most important role was as a "witness and companion." There were certain characteristics of the disease that made it more personal, and in the devastating effects of AIDS on families, Selwyn began to sense parallels with the suicide of his father: "Like AIDS, suicide is something that stigmatizes both those who die and those who survive, something that is shrouded with shame, guilt, and secrecy." Selwyn successfully intertwines his own story with portraits of his most memorable patients, resisting the temptation to turn them into martyrs. He admires drug addicts' "yearning to live intensely in every moment" and eventually, as he becomes more and more obsessed with his work, recognizes that he shares some of their patterns of addictive behavior. As befits a memoir, this book's best moments are the intensely personal ones: Selwyn's secret fear that any weight loss meant the onset of AIDS; his attempt to trace his father's last steps in the building where he died. Selwyn credits his journey through the AIDS epidemic with making him a better doctor, but the healing went both ways as he found a new understanding that would allow him to treat the untended wounds left by his father's death."

DJE:  This is a memorable and important work for anyone interested in the effects suicide on family members.

Monday, February 15, 2010

From the Heart (2007)

by Kathy Kastan, LCSW, M.A.Ed.

"The first book written for women dealing with the emotional repercussions of heart disease, From the Heart will is a guide to women with heart disease move forward with optimism and courage. It addresses such questions as: How do you regain a strong self-image? Grapple with your fears? Talk to the people you love about your illness? Learn to trust your body?

This book combines Kastan's personal experience and expertise as a therapist with stories from scores of other women with heart disease. It is an invaluable resource which will help women reduce stress, give up hard-to-break habits, adapt to new lifestyles ? and thrive again."

The book can be bought at Amazon or obtained more cheaply at

This is a fine, useful book. It is recommended to any woman with a history of heart disease, at risk, or with friends and/or relatives with risk factors.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

On Our Own (1976)

Patient-Controlled Alternatives to the Mental Health System
by Judi Chamberlin

Ms. Chamberlin, who died in January 2010 at age 65, was a civil rights hero from a civil rights movement you may have never heard of. She took her inspiration from the heroes of other civil rights movements to start something she liked to call Mad Pride — a movement for the rights and dignity of people with mental illness. "On Our Own" is the Manifesto for people with mental health disorders.

Here is an NPR piece about Judi Chamberlin which aired on Jan 19. 2010.

This is an important book. The "Mental Health System" still functions in ways that Chamberlin describes. Every day in my office I see patients who get little help except ineffective pharmacotherapy. They see psychiatrists for a few minutes a month for adjustments of their meds. Of course, it's the poor and the disenfranchised who are the cash cows for these treatment centers.

Look Up For Yes (1997)

by Julia Tavalaro and Richard Tyson

from Google Books:
One woman's passionate and articulate testament to the world that she is, indisputably, alive!

More than thirty years ago, Julia Tavalaro woke up from a coma to find herself almost completely paralyzed by two strokes that had also left her unable to speak. Suddenly, just thirty-two years old, she was a prisoner in her own body and a victim of the ignorant and cruel treatment of hospital workers who neither noticed nor cared that the "vegetable" they changed and fed every day was actually a bright and emotional woman. In this powerful memoir, painstakingly written with the help of poet Richard Tayson, Tavalaro details the hellish life she endured as a defenseless patient, angry and desperate to die, and the liberating actions of two therapists who took the time to realize that she was not incognitive but rather brimming with intelligence and life.

At last, Tavalaro managed to break through the isolation that imprisoned her. Slowly, methodically, she regained her ability to communicate -- aided by technological and therapeutic developments -- and began to compose poems that drew on the memories of her life before her stroke. Beautifully written and achingly heartrending, Look Up for Yes is a testament to a passionate and articulate woman who is ready and able to let the world know she is, indisputably, alive.

DJE: Similar to "The Butterfly and the Diving Bell" but darker and more powerful. This is the story of an ordinary woman who by luck was SAVED (after a fashion). Worth reading for neurologists, people who work in rehab, and anyone interested in the triumph of the individual over amazing odds.