Monday, December 5, 2016

Cure (2016)

by Jo Marchant
“Cure is a cautious, scrupulous investigation of how the brain can help heal our bodies. It is also an important look at the flip side of this coin, which is how brains damaged by stress may make bodies succumb to physical illness or accelerated aging…Cure points a way toward a future in which the two camps [mainstream medicine and alternative therapies] might work together. After all, any medicine that makes a patient better, whether conventional, alternative, or placebo, is simply medicine.”  Wall Street Jouurnal

This a a fascinating, thought-provoking book written by a woman with a Ph.D. in medical microbiology and genetics.

Friday, November 4, 2016

A Lucky Life: Interrupted (2016)

by Tom Brokaw

Tom Brokaw has led a fortunate life, with a strong marriage and family, many friends, and a brilliant journalism career culminating in his twenty-two years as anchor of the NBC Nightly News and as bestselling author. But in the summer of 2013, when back pain led him to the doctors at the Mayo Clinic, his run of good luck was interrupted. He received shocking news: He had multiple myeloma, a treatable but incurable blood cancer. Friends had always referred to Brokaw’s “lucky star,” but as he writes in this inspiring memoir, “Turns out that star has a dimmer switch.”

Brokaw takes us through all the seasons and stages of this surprising year, the emotions, discoveries, setbacks, and struggles—times of denial, acceptance, turning points, and courage. After his diagnosis, Brokaw began to keep a journal, approaching this new stage of his life in a familiar role: as a journalist, determined to learn as much as he could about his condition, to report the story, and help others facing similar battles. That journal became the basis of this wonderfully written memoir, the story of a man coming to terms with his own mortality, contemplating what means the most to him now, and reflecting on what has meant the most to him throughout his life.

I listened to this in the Audible edition.  It's a fine book about multiple myeloma,about our health care system and facing serious illness.  It has much to teach.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Living Proof: A Medical Mutiny (2002)

by Michael Gearin-Tosh

"What happens when a smart university professor, his life at stake, studies his options and decides his cancer should be treated, not with chemotherapy but with the "crazy" approach of good nutrition, acupuncture, visualization, and vitamins? Well, for one thing, he writes a thrilling, important, informative book. For another, he's still living productively eight years later rather than dying within months like he was supposed to. "Living Proof" is a must-read for every person -- and their loved ones -- who has been diagnosed with cancer.

Sir David Weatheral, F.R.S. University of Oxford Living Proof does underline the extraordinary chasm between the world of complementary medicine and conventional western practice. The message of the book is far-reaching and teaches us an enormous amount about the stresses and strains of living under the cloud of serious disease. It does a great service to us all."

Coda:  Michael Gearin-Tosh died in 2005 (13 years after being diagnosed with myeloma).

I read this book when it came out 14 years ago.  It was deeper than one would expect. Mr. Gearin-Tosh's approach is not for everyone, but, by living 13 years after the diagnosis of myeloma, without standard therapy, he certainly beat the odds. Today, the treatment has improved, but...

Also see: "Tom Brokaw: Leaning to Live with Cancer"

Sunday, October 2, 2016

In the Sanctuary of Outcasts

by Neil White

from Booklist: White was a successful magazine publisher in 1993 when he was convicted of fraud and check kiting and sentenced to prison in Carville, Louisiana. He knew he was facing 18 months without his wife and two young children; he knew his enormous ego and ambition had landed him in prison; he knew he had to figure out a way to save his marriage and somehow rebound financially. What he didn’t know was that the isolated 100-year-old facility at Carville was home to a leper colony of 130 patients. He learned that the patients (some severely disfigured and disabled) and the 250 inmates eyed each other suspiciously across the corridors and breezeway, each thinking the other was the scourge of the earth. Because his work detail brought him into frequent contact with the patients, White developed strong relationships with them. His favorite was Ella, a dignified and beatific elderly black woman, who had lived at Carville for more than 50 years. Among the inmates, White encountered counterfeiters and tax evaders along with drug traffickers and carjackers. When the Bureau of Prisons decided to evict the leprosy patients, tensions built on both sides. White, near the end of his sentence and struggling to come to grips with the consequences of his crime, is caught in the middle. He offers a memoir of personal transformation and a thoroughly engaging look at the social, economic, racial, and other barriers that separate individuals that harden, dissolve, and reconfigure themselves when people are involuntarily thrust together over long periods. --Vanessa Bush --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

I read this recently and found it moving on many levels.  Anyone interested in leprosy, social outcasts, the effects of imprisonment on people with infectious disease as well as incarceration will benefit from reading Neil White's memoir.  If you want more, get a copy of Gavin Daw's superb "Holy man: Father Damien if Molokai."

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Gut (2015)

by Giulia Enders

--> "This primer is everything you ever wanted to know about the gut (and then some), chattily and accessibly written in a uniquely Millennial and matter of fact way. An unexpected page turner. ...Her excitement about the subject matter is infectious. The fun yet informative black and white drawings throughout are her sister’s handiwork. Refreshingly devoid of recipes, or any self help-y language." —Self Magazine
DJE:  This is an important book.  It covers much of what you may be interested in with refreence to the G.I. track, and is a good introduction to the human microbiome. 

Thursday, August 4, 2016

When Breath Becomes Air (2016)

by Paul Kalanithi 
From Henry Marsh's review in The Guardian

“Dr. Kalanithi describes, clearly and simply, and entirely without self-pity, his journey from innocent medical student to professionally detached and all-powerful neurosurgeon to helpless patient, dying from cancer. Every doctor should read this book—written by a member of our own tribe, it helps us understand and overcome the barriers we all erect between ourselves and our patients as soon as we are out of medical school.”—Henry Marsh, author of Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery

This book has enjoyed an amazing success.  It was heavily promoted by the publishers.

Random Musings on WBBA (DJE)
WBBA  an illness narrative, and the essential part deals with a 36 year-old neurosurgical resident with Stage IV lung cancer.  It's a short book, cobbled together from his computer files posthumously by his wife, Lucy, herself the physician. It's 225 pages long.  The first 114 pages comprise background material of Paul’s early years in Arizona, his education from high school, to Stanford, to Cambridge for a Masters in Philosophy, to Yale Medical school and then back to Stanford for a neurosurgical residency.  In the seventh year of his surgical training he was diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer. This part of the book starts on page 120 and ends on page 199. The last 25 pages of the book is in afterward by the author's wife. The meat of the book is therefore 75 pages that trace the terminal illness's of young doctor facing death. As such. it is valuable. In the late 1940s, John Gunter wrote Death Be Not Proud, about his son Johnny who died of a similar brain tumor.  It is a classic.

When Breath Becomes Air is the author’s bequeath to his audience. In that respect, it's similar to Francis W  Peabody’s essay "The Care of the Patient” which was published in 1926 and was the last words of a 46-year-old internist to the Harvard medical students he mentored.

What's new here is the marketing. The agents for WBBA have worked successfully to get reviews in major newspapers and periodicals published. These review have driven sales to create a bestseller. And why not? That’s how things are done.  But it seems kind of aggressive to me.

WBBA has an introduction but Abraham Verghese, an eminent physician/ writer at Stanford.  In my opinion, this forward is over-the-top and does not add value to the book.  The brilliance of WBBA is the second section of 79 pages.   That is worth parsing.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

My Stroke of Insight (2009)

In My Stroke of Insight: a brain scientist's personal journey, Jane Bolte Taylor shares her unique perspective on the brain and its capacity for recovery, and the sense of omniscient understanding she gained from this unusual and inspiring voyage out of the abyss of a wounded brain. It would take eight years for Taylor to heal completely. Because of her knowledge of how the brain works, her respect for the cells composing her human form, and most of all an amazing mother, Taylor completely repaired her mind and recalibrated her understanding of the world according to the insights gained from her right brain that morning of December 10th.

Today Taylor is convinced that the stroke was the best thing that could have happened to her. It has taught her that the feeling of nirvana is never more than a mere thought away. By stepping to the right of our left brains, we can all uncover the feelings of well-being and peace that are so often sidelined by our own brain chatter. A fascinating journey into the mechanics of the human mind, My Stroke of Insight is both a valuable recovery guide for anyone touched by a brain injury, and an emotionally stirring testimony that deep internal peace truly is accessible to anyone, at any time.

Also see Dr. Taylor's TED talk (viewed almost 19,000,000 times).

Until Further Notice, I am Alive (2012)

by Tom Lubbock

In 2008, Tom Lubbock was diagnosed with a rare brain tumour and told he had only two years to live. Physically fit and healthy, and suffering from few symptoms, he faced his death with the same directness and courage that had marked the rest of his life. As the Independent's chief art critic, Lubbock was renowned for the clarity and unconventionality of his writing, and his characteristic fierce intelligence permeates this extraordinary chronicle. With unflinching honesty and curiosity, he repeatedly turns over the fact of his mortality, as he wrestles with the paradoxical question of how to live, knowing we're going to die.

Defying the initial diagnosis, Tom survived for three years. He savoured his remaining days; engaging with books, art, friends, his wife and their young son, while trying to stay focused on the fact of his impending death. There are medical details in the book - he vividly describes the slow process of losing control over speech as the tumour gradually pressed down on the area of his brain responsible for language - but this is much more than a book about illness; rather, it's a book about a man who remains in thrall to life, as he inches closer to death.

Old Age, A Beginner's Guide (2016)

-->by Michael Kinsley

Reviewed by Shay Bintliff, M.D.

The author has tackled two not very pleasant topics according to the title. In the beginning he is blatantly honest about both topics and even adds humor to parts that are not very funny at all. He continues to weave humor even in the chapters about his brain surgery. His mentioning remembrance after death is a painful truth, however a bit off-center when stretching it to 'long term'. There surely are logical connections to almost everything discussed, even remembering Jane Austin.  

The difficult part of his book, for me, was when he ventured into grandiose political topics like Baby Boomers being the 'grandest generation'. He jumped too quickly from an individual personally speaking, to the group as a whole. This is a little too abrupt and much beyond the scope of the rest of the book.

In summary, he tries to solve the world's problems when he could have expanded on individual ways of coping better with old age and Parkinson's disease.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Black Man in a White Coat (2015)

by Damon Tweedy

"On one level the book is a straightforward memoir; on another it’s a thoughtful, painfully honest, multi-angled, constant self-interrogation about himself and about the health implications of being black in a country where blacks are more likely than other groups to suffer from, for instance, heart disease, diabetes, stroke, kidney failure and cancer. “Being black can be bad for your health,” he says."

DJE: This is a delightful book that has memorable anecdotes and teaching points.  If you are not convinced, see Sarah Lyell's review in the NY Times.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

The Heart

Just before dawn on a Sunday morning, three teenage boys go surfing. Returning home, exhausted, the driver lets the car drift off the road into a tree. Two of the boys are wearing seat belts; one is sent through the windshield. He is declared brain-dead shortly after arriving at the hospital. His heart is still beating.

The Heart takes place over the twenty-four hours surrounding a fatal accident and a resulting heart transplant as life is taken from a young man and given to a woman close to death. In gorgeous, ruminative prose it examines the deepest feelings of everyone involved--grieving parents, hardworking doctors and nurses--as they navigate decisions of life and death. As stylistically audacious as it is emotionally explosive, Maylis de Kerangal's The Heart has mesmerized readers in France, where it has been hailed as the breakthrough work of a new literary star.