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Book Review: The First Step To Improve Health Care Is A Close Examination Of How It’s Delivered

My friend and former Chair of the CFAH Board of Trustees, Doug Kamerow, has written a book that I think you will like.

Besides being a mensch and witty as heck, Doug is a family doctor and a preventive medicine specialist.  In his new book, Dissecting American Health Care: Commentaries on Health Policy and Politics, these four characteristics constitute the lens through which he comments on scores of events, controversies and changes in public health and health policy that have taken place over the past four years. For example, Doug writes about last year’s debate over the H1N1 vaccine, the papal position on condoms and HIV, how prevention fared in the health care reform act (ACA) and his attempt to Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Prepared Patient Forum: What It Takes Blog*

“Your Medical Mind” Explores Factors That Influence A Patient’s Medical Decisions

Recently, I had a conversation with Shannon Brownlee (the widely respected science journalist and acting director of the Health Policy Program at the New America Foundation) about whether men should continue to have access to the PSA test for prostate cancer screening, despite the overwhelming evidence that it extends few, if any, lives and harms many more men than it benefits. She felt that if patients could be provided with truly unbiased information and appropriate decision aids, they should still be able to choose to have the test (and have it covered by medical insurance). Believing that one of the most important roles of doctors is to prevent patients from making bad decisions, I disagreed.

After reading Your Medical Mind, the new book by Harvard oncologist and New Yorker columnist Jerome Groopman, I think he would probably side with Brownlee’s point of view. Groopman, whose authoring credits include the 2007 bestseller How Doctors Think, and wife Pamela Hartzband, MD have written a kind of sequel to that book that could have easily been titled How Patients Think. Drawing on interviews with dozens of patients about a wide variety of medical decisions – from starting a cholesterol-lowering drug, to having knee surgery, to accepting or refusing heroic end-of-life interventions – the authors Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Common Sense Family Doctor*

Book Review: The Water Giver

EverythingHealth strongly recommends a wonderful new book called “The Water Giver” and I predict you will not be able to put it down. Author Joan Ryan is a remarkable writer who takes the reader on a journey she lived when her son, Ryan, sustained a near -fatal severe head and brain injury on a skateboard. It is both a medical drama and a meditation on motherhood.

The book begins with Joan’s description of her son’s learning difficulties and years of psychological and developmental testing. Her style as a mother was to intellectualize, do research and try to fix what was “wrong” with her son. The years went by with family stress and teachers conferences and medical consultations but it wasn’t until the day he fell, that Joan realized some things are too big to be studied and fixed.

The nightmare began when he was 16 and went skateboarding without a helmet. The fall on a hill near their home caused a huge brain bleed that obliterated much of his brain tissue. He remained in a coma for weeks and underwent multiple surgeries to relieve pressure. The book chronicles months of near death events in the Intensive Care Unit that nearly drove his parents insane with worry. I will let you read it to find out how it turns out. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at EverythingHealth*

Is Chris Matthews Mean?

val-chris-matthewsLast year I attended a benefit to support Alzheimer’s research. Many important political figures were in attendance, and I was able to interview Senator Mark Warner, and hobnob with Newt Gingrich and Nancy Pelosi. I was most moved by my interview with Patty Smith – a young victim of early onset Alzheimer’s who vowed to speak out about her disease for as long as she was able to do so.

I had hoped to also get an interview with Hardball host, Chris Matthews – since his mom passed away from Alzheimer’s and he was keynoting the gala. Unfortunately, he didn’t have time for me – instead giving me his business card for follow up, noting that the email on the card had been changed and the phone number was to MSNBC’s general line (no he didn’t offer me any alternative means to contact him).

Today I decided to attend his book signing event at the National Press Club. My husband looked sideways at me, saying “Why are you going to cover Chris Matthews again? Wasn’t he mean to you before?”

“Oh, honey. I don’t think he was mean exactly. He’s a very busy celebrity and didn’t have time for an interview, that’s all.”

“Well, I thought he blew you off pretty quickly. It wasn’t polite. Mark Warner was very kind.”

I shrugged and picked up my laptop to live blog the event on Twitter (you can see it by searching #npcmatthews).

Chris said some humorous things during his talk, which I jubilantly Tweeted. Of course, I didn’t agree with some of what he said – but Tweeted it accurately. At the end of the presentation he invited all those who had purchased his book to come forward for a signing.

I waited about 20 minutes in line and finally got to the table. I introduced myself as Dr. Val – a full time blogger and volunteer at Walter Reed.

Chris said, “Oh, so you might be one of the ‘good ones.'”

I chuckled nervously.

“Make sure you say nice things about me on your blog! Tell everyone I’m nice, not mean.” He shouted loudly in front of the crowd.

As he handed me the book back I opened it to the page where he had signed, just to see what he’d written.

Amusingly it said simply:

“To Dr. Bell. Best Regards, Chris Matthews.”

So what’s your verdict? Is Chris Matthews mean?

Anyone want a book?


Book Review: Life Disrupted

Laurie Edwards has an extremely rare disorder called primary ciliary dyskinesia (PCD). The condition causes similar signs and symptoms to cystic fibrosis (CF), including chronic lung infections and difficulty breathing. In her recent book, Life Disrupted: Getting Real About Chronic Illness In Your Twenties And Thirties, Laurie invites readers to experience her life as a chronically ill young woman. She spares no gory details:

I had to wear the probe for forty-eight hours to see if irregularities in my GI tract were contributing to my breathing problems. It was an awkward contraption, and just as I finished speaking, I sneezed. Because of the tubes, I couldn’t control it well and a bloody mess spewed out of my nose and onto my shirt. I looked down at the mess and up at John.

‘Sexy, huh?’ I asked, completely mortified.

But beyond the raw realities of her illness (including the regular disruption in her education, her unfulfilled longings to “fit in,” and her lack of control of her circumstances), is the amazing story of the people who love her. Life Disrupted‘s ironic subtext is the unshakable support of her family and friends.

From her earliest first moments at home, Laurie’s brother “spent hours standing guard at her bassinet, as if to reassure her mother nothing would happen to her.” As she grew older, her brother continued his protective commitment, promising to always be ready to help her in any time of need. Laurie’s parents had a strong and loving marriage, and their patience and kindness were a constant source of security and comfort.

Laurie’s husband shows incredible stoicism and endurance – undeterred by her diagnosis (which she revealed to him unwittingly on their first date), he learns how to give her chest physical therapy by week three of their relationship, and remains calm during a dangerous near-suffocation episode.

He was perfect. He did not get flustered, did not panic, just got me home as quickly as possible, unlocked my door, and ran to set up the nebulizer. He clapped me while I positioned myself with the nebulizer mask and tubing, trying to manually break up the thick mucus that cut off my air supply.

My favorite part of Life Disrupted is its humor. Laurie does an admirable job of capturing the amusing banter that she and her friends used to lighten the mood:

My friends and I refer to my nebulizer and oxygen face mask in the hospital as the “Super Bong.”

And my favorite sentence of the book is this one:

It was a container of honey mustard salad dressing that turned out to be my Waterloo, the moment of my crushing, flabbergasting defeat.

Laurie’s life – disrupted by chronic illness – is charming, vibrant, and rich in affection. The disruption itself is perhaps diminished by the connectedness of her family and friends – a healthy emotional backdrop to the  physical illness at center stage. In the end, Life Disrupted offers compelling evidence that love really can conquer all.

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Latest Book Reviews

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The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

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Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

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