Tag Archives: Non-Fiction

Book Review: The Hospital by Barbara O’Hare

A few weeks ago, I heard about The Hospital by Barbara O’Hare in a foster care and inspirational memoir group on Facebook. I decided to check it out and it sounded great. Having been in a psychiatric hospital myself and having endured some controversial treatment there, somehow I was drawn to this book. Maybe it’s because I want to be reassured that it could’ve been worse. I don’t know.

Synopsis

“Nobody knew what was going on behind those doors. We were human toys. Just a piece of meat for someone to play with.”

Barbara O’Hare was just 12 when she was admitted to the psychiatric hospital, Aston Hall, in 1971. From a troubled home, she’d hoped she would find sanctuary there. But within hours, Barbara was tied down, drugged with sodium amytal – a truth-telling drug – and then abused by its head physician, Dr Kenneth Milner.

The terrifying drug experimentation and relentless abuse that lasted throughout her stay damaged her for life. But somehow, Barbara clung on to her inner strength and eventually found herself leading a campaign to demand answers for potentially hundreds of victims.

A shocking account of how vulnerable children were preyed upon by the doctor entrusted with their care, and why it must never happen again.

My Review

The story begins with Barbara’s early childhood memories of being abused by her Dad and step-Mom because of being a “dirty tinker”. The abuse unfortunately only continues oce Barbara is cared for by Edna, a woman renting her father’s house while he’s working off-shore. Barbara from there ends in a children’s home, where she tries to run away, so she’s placed in The Cedars, a locked children’s facility.

There, Dr. Milner meets her and tricks her into going into Aston Hall. Once there, she’s tied down, drugged and abused regularly throughout her eight-months-long stay. Barbara discovers that the other girls on her ward share two things with her: most come from The Cedars and all don’t know their biological mothers. What struck me as interesting was the dynamic between the girls while not in “treatment”. They were pretty typical girls, forming cliques and friendships and bullying one another.

When Barbara is on leave with her father and yet another of his girlfriends, she confides in them and they decide to get her out. They get Barbara into an approved boarding school, which is a lot better than the hospital but still very strict. Barbara yearns to meet her biological mother and tries to escape the school to find her. Her father than moves her to a girls’ hostel, where she is free to go as she pleases. She eventually goes on a search for her mother, which ends in disappointment.

I must say that it’s not too clear throughout the book how the hospital affects Barbara long-term. She does explain in a chapter about her ongoing PTSD symptoms and risk-taking behavior (possible dysregulation from complex PTSD).

Most people in the Facebook group said that they didn’t like the ending of the book. I had no problem with it though. I mean, I didn’t feel Barbara’s appreciation of her father was all that warranted given his early abuse of her, but then again he did get her to escape Aston Hall.

Overall, I really loved the book. It was a pretty fast-paced read and I finished it within a few days.

Rating: five out of five stars.

Book Details

Title: The Hospital: How I Survived the Secret Child Experiments at Aston Hall
Author: Barbara O’Hare
Publisher: Blink Publishing
Publication Date: Feburary 9, 2017

Book Review: Doctor’s Notes by Rosemary Leonard

I’ve been reading a lot lately. About two months ago, I gave up on buying new Kobo eBooks when yet another book crashed my Adobe Digital Editions upon download. I now buy my books on Amazon Kindle, after my husband gave me permission to use his credit card for it. This is very lovely. However, I still have a ton of Kobo eBooks I haven’t finished. One of them, which I just finished tonight, is Doctor’s Notes by Rosemary Leonard.

Synopsis

“I’m in the wrong job,” I said to our practice nurse, “I should definitely have been a detective.”

For BBC Breakfast’s Dr Rosemary Leonard, a day in her GP’s surgery is full of unexplained ailments and mysteries to be solved.

From questions of paternity to apparently drug-resistant symptoms, these mysteries can sometimes take a while to get to the bottom of, especially when they are of a more intimate nature.

In her second book about life in her London surgery, Dr Rosemary recalls some of her most puzzling cases… and their rather surprising explanations.

My Review

I loved reading about Dr. Leonard’s interesting patients, their unusual symptoms and the creative ways in which Leonard found out what’s really going on. Dr. Leonard has a special interest in women’s health, so women wirh varying kinds of female issues often come to her practice and make it into her book. This was really interesting.

However, I still managed to take many months to finish the book. The reason is, I suppose, that the chapters are pretty long and the stories can get a bit long-winded. I however did like how Leonard wove together several stories into each chapter. It is also interesting to learn about each patient as they move on after consulting the doctor. Of course, some stories remain somewhat open-ended, such as the one in which a woman doesn’t know whose child she’s pregnant with. This is only to be expected, as Leonard doesn’t follow each patient for decades.

Most stories indeed have some type of interesting plot twist, as Leonard figures out what is the real problem causing apparently-mysterious ailments. I loved that, but here the long chapters got a bit in the way.

Rating: four out of five stars.

Book Details

Title: Doctor’s Notes
Author: Rosemary Leonard
Publisher: Headline
Publication Date: February 2014

PoCoLo

Book Review: Girl in Glass by Deanna Fei

A few months ago, I read on a preemie parent blog about the book Girl in Glass by Deanna Fei. I bought the book, but bought a few others after that one that I thought would be more interesting. As a result, I only finished this book today.

Synopsis

Deanna Fei was just five-and-a-half months pregnant when she inexplicably went into labor. Minutes later, she met her tiny baby who clung to life support inside a glass box. Fei was forced to confront terrifying questions: How to be the mother of a child she could lose at any moment. Whether her daughter
would survive another day–and whether she should. But as she watched her daughter fight for her life, Fei discovered the power of the mother-child bond at its most elemental.

A year after she brought her daughter home from the hospital, the CEO of AOL – her husband’s employer – blamed the beautiful, miraculously healthy little
girl for a cut in employee benefits and attached a price tag to her life, using a phrase, “distressed babies,” that set off a national firestorm.

Girl in Glass is the riveting story of one child’s harrowing journey and a powerful distillation of parenthood. With incandescent prose and an unflinching eye, Fei explores the value of a human life: from the spreadsheets wielded by cost-cutting executives to the insidious notions of risk surrounding modern
pregnancy; from the wondrous history of medical innovation in the care of premature infants to contemporary analyses of what their lives are worth; and finally, to the depths of her own struggle to make sense of her daughter’s arrival in the world. Above all, Girl in Glass is a luminous testament to how love takes hold when a birth defies our fundamental beliefs about how life is supposed to begin.

Review

As regular readers of my blog know, I was a preemie. My parents were concerned with my quality of life, asking some of the same questions Fei asks the doctors and herself. I cringed sometimes as I read Fei’s repetitive worrying about her daughter Mila’s health issues and their possible consequences, which sometimes led her to question whether she should be alive. At one point, Fei tells the doctors that she and her husband are not religious and do not have ethical issues with letting their child go if she faces severe disability. At times, I had a hard time reading on, because I was reminded of some of my interpretations of my parents’ reasoning on quality of life. For example, when Mila has a brain bleed, Fei repeats this over and over again: “What about her brain?”

Once Tim Armstrong, the CEO of AOL, uses Fei’s daughter as an excuse to cut employee benefits, Fei seems still not entirely accustomed to the idea that Mila is not just “generally okay” (Armstrong’s words) but is a blessing. Now I personally don’t like such terms to describe human beings either, but it seems that Fei is still a bit uncertain whether Mila should have been kept alive. This could be her post-traumatic guilt though.

However, Fei stands up for her daughter’s right to medical care. She investigates the issues surrounding health insurance and the right to medical care in the United States. Fei claims that, in every other developed country, the question would not be raised whether Mila is worth the alleged $1 million. Of course, I was reminded of the guidelines restricting treatment of premature babies to those born past 25 weeks gestation in the Netherlands. No employer may decide that certain babies aren’t worth the cost of treatment, but that doesn’t mean no such decisions are made. Similarly, while in the Netherlands employers don’t have access to health information (although they might if you buy your mandatory health insurance through an employer collective), governments do.

Fei cites a few court cases in which quality of life and the right to medical care were at stake. Unfortunately, she concludes that “obviously”, Sidney Miller, who was a preemie and now has multiple severe disabilities and is unable to walk, talk or feed herself, crosses the line of good enough quality of life. I disagree, but that’s a topic for another post. Fei uses her and other cases to discuss the idea that Mila or any other preemie should have to prove their worth. This idea, which is central to Armstrong’s reasoning and to Mila’s care, evoked a lot of emotion in me.

In general, I found Girl in Glass evoked the full spectrum of emotions in me. Mostly though, it evoked sadness and anger. Reading this book was in a way therapeutic, because Fei articulates the sentiments so well that I’ve been feeling for a long time. She also does a great job of investigating all the issues surrounding the health care system when it comes to premature babies.

Bok Details

Title: Girl in Glass: How My “Distressed Baby” Defied the Odds, Shamed a CEO, and Taught Me the Essence of Love, Heartbreak, and Miracles
Author: Deanna Fei
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
Publication Date: July 2015

Book Review: Cook County ICU by Cory Franklin

I am a big lover of medical memoirs and stories from doctors and other health care workers. A few weeks ago, I was browsing an eBook store I don’t normally go to, because Kobo has become harder to search and browse. I discovered Cook County ICU by Cory Franklin in the medical biographies and memoirs section. Because that eBook store doesn’t accept PayPal, I bought the book at Kobo anyway. I knew I wouldn’t be able to review it till today, because of the #Write31Days series, and I really had to keep myself from speeding through it. Of course, if I’d finished the book earlier, I could’ve scheduled my review, but in a way I was trying to keep myself from finishing the book too soon and getting bored afterwards. I just finished the book tonight.

Synopsis

An inside look at one of the nation’s most famous public hospitals, Cook County, as seen through the eyes of its longtime Director of Intensive Care, Dr. Cory Franklin.

 

Filled with stories of strange medical cases and unforgettable patients culled from a thirty-year career in medicine, Cook County ICU offers readers a peek into the inner workings of a hospital. Author Dr. Cory Franklin, who headed the hospital’s intensive care unit from the 1970s through the 1990s, shares his most unique and bizarre experiences, including the deadly Chicago heat wave of 1995, treating some of the first AIDS patients in the country before
the disease was diagnosed, the nurse with rare Munchausen syndrome, the first surviving ricin victim, and the famous professor whose Parkinson’s disease hid the effects of the wrong medication. Surprising, darkly humorous, heartwarming, and sometimes tragic, these stories provide a big-picture look at how the practice of medicine has changed over the years, making it an enjoyable read for patients, doctors, and anyone with an interest in medicine.

Review

Like the synopsis says, the stories in the book are mostly fascinating. I loved learning about the first surviving ricin poisoning victim and the suicidal biochemist. These obviously have got to be the first stories I mention, because I’m fascinated with (and deathly afraid of) poison. I grinned at the duke of Spain being mistaken for an alcoholic and the resident calling for a stat (as soon as possible) dermatology consult because “the rash might be gone tomorrow”. I almost cried with pity for the medical student asking a “stupid” question in a conference with some of the area’s top doctors (which turned out to be a really smart question later on). Most times, I felt eager to find out how each story unfolded. Even if the title explained some things already, as in the chapter on the disease that turned out to be AIDS, I found there were fascinating turns in the stories.

Dr. Franklin seems to intend his book to be a testament to the old-fashioned doctor-patient relationship. He ends the book by recounting some recent changes in the practice of medicine, like the change from covenant to contract in the doctor-patient relatiosnhip and the increased part money plays. He sounds a bit bitter at this point, because he considers the changes mostly negative but says we cannot go back. I have to mostly agree with him here, even though I am mostly a 21st-century patient so don’t know the era in which Dr. Franklin practised. Some things have improved. Like, when AIDS wasn’t known yet, doctors and nurses didn’t wear gloves when drawing blood, and Dr. Franklin is terribly lucky that none of his team treating the early patients were infected. In this sense, protocols help. That being said, things can go too far, and they probably have.

Despite HIPAA and similar laws, I know even today there are practitioners of “romantic medicine”, as 20th-century neurologist A.R. Lurija originally called it and as continued in the English language by Oliver Sacks. What I mean is, there are still doctors who will listen to their patients’ stories rather than just their immediate health concerns. That doesn’t mean all will publish books on their patients, but I’m sure some will. In this sense, medicine as a human-centered profession is not doomed. Cook County ICU is a great example of a fascinating book of interesting medical cases brought to life.

Book Details

Title: Cook County ICU: 30 Years of Unforgettable Patients and Odd Cases
Author: Cory Franklin
Publisher: Chicago Review Press
Publication Date: September 2015

Mami 2 Five

Book Review: Suffering the Silence by Allie Cashel

Last week, I read in a Dutch women’s magazine about the website Suffering the Silence, created by Allie Cashel and her friend Erica. Allie also wrote a book by the same title, which was published just weeks before. I immediately felt an urge to buy the book and did so on Friday. I just finished it and wanted to share a review.

Suffering the Silence describes Cashel’s own and other people’s struggles with what they see as chronic Lyme disease, but what is deemed a “medically unexplained” syndrome by most mainstream physicians. Allie Cashel was first diagnosed with Lyme disease in 1998 and has been suffering on and off ever since. While she originally found Dr. Bernard Raxlen, a Lyme-literate doctor as they’re called within the chronic Lyme community, other world-renowned doctors denied her infectious disease.

The book consists of four parts. In the first part, Cashel describes her own struggles with Lyme disease, her symptoms and her fight for recogntiion, as well as her self-doubt after famous doctors in Boston deny she is physically ill. She also provides an overview of the Lyme controversy.

In the second part, Cashel broadens the reader’s perspective by allowing other chronic Lyme sufferers to speak out. Many had a hard time getting properly diagnosed and treated for Lyme and its almost inevitable co-infections. Some found relief from long-term antibiotic treatments, while others found they were helped with other, even more non-conventional treatmets, and some found they could not be helped at all.

In part three, Cashel interviews doctors and scientists on all sides of the chronic Lyme controversy. She interviews one of the contributors to the Infectious Disease Society of America (IDSA) guidelines on Lyme dsease, which deny that chronc Lyme disease exists. She also interviews two scientists working on the prvention of Lyme, as well as Dr. Richard Horowitz, a physician who uses an alternative, multi-systemic model of infectious disease. It was at this point that, for the first time, I cringed, because Dr. Horowitz linked Lyme to the autism “epidemic”. While I am not completely opposed to alternative views of autism, it seemd Dr. Horowitz’s reasoning was a bit off.

Part four describes the ways in which people strive to reduce the stigma of Lyme disease and chronic illness in general, as well as the effect these conditions have on a person’s identity. I recognized a lot here, as a person who firmly embraces her identity as a multiply-disabled person. For once, this was seen as understandable, necessary for advocacy even. I liked the affirmation Cashel designed for herself, embracing her status as a Lyme disease sufferer and affirming that other people believed her about this. As a person whose family does not believe in her autism and anything that cannot be seen, and opposes the identification with disabilities, I liked this.

The book is both a captivating memoir and collection of patient stories, and an intriguing work of research into the chronic Lyme disease controversy. I loved it.

Book Details

Title: Suffering the Silence: Chronic Lyme Disease in an Age of Denial
Author: Allie Cashel
Publisher: North Atlantic Books
Date Published: September 2015

Everyday Gyaan

Brilliant blog posts on HonestMum.com

Book Review: Beyond Magenta by Susan Kuklin

As I said when I wrote my summer reading list, I have been wanting to read Beyond Magenta by Susan Kuklin (2014) ever since I discovered it. I finally got down to finishing it this week.

Beyond Magenta is a series of interviews with transgender or genderqueer teens. There are interviews with two trans girls, two trans guys and two people who identify as something inbetween male and female (genderqueer, genderfluid or as one of them calls it, genderfuck). One of the genderqueer teens is also intersex. They have polycystic ovary syndrome, which I until reading their story didn’t know is an intersex condition, since most people with PCOS are thought of as female.

I think I know quite a bit about gender diversity for someone who is thought of as and identifies as female (cisgender). Even so, I learned some new things about trans and genderqueer issues, some of which I now see as quite basic. For example, as is apparent in many of the stories, gender identity has little to do with sexual orientation. It only has to do with it in that many trans people start out identifying as gay or lesbian before they realize they’re truly straight but trans. It is interesting in this sense that many of the people interviewd found that their parents or friends were okay with them being gay or lesbian, but not with them being trans.

The teens interviewed in this book faced a variety of reactions to their gender identity. Some were also totally cool with themselves from the start while others faced significant depression. Of course, in order to want to be interviewed for a book on trans issues, even anonymously, you need to have come to terms with your gender identity to an extent. For example, Mariah, who insisted on being pseudonymized, calls herself not a success story, but she still appears quite confident. This could of course be a façade.

Overall, I liked learning about teens’ trans and genderqueer experiences through Beyond Magenta. The book wasn’t written in some kind of inspirational, oh-look-at-that kind of way, or at least I didn’t perceive it as such. Kuklin did a nice job allowing each teen to express themselves as they wanted.