Alcoholics have always been with us, but the author of Drunks: An American History reminds us that early America saw alcoholism as a moral failure, while we tend to classify it as a disease, one that’s similar to diabetes or hypertension both in its origin and its resistance to treatment. Along the way, we meet Native Americans early abstainers, physicians with doubtful and lucrative cures, prohibitionists, and of course AA. I found the history fascinating.
Tag Archives: medicine
Following Do No Harm, Admissions: Life as a Brain Surgeon revisits some of the same materials, but, written from the perspective of recent retirement, explores more sweeping themes, some reprising the familiar rants against poor hospital administration and others new, such as his view on training new surgeons. The author continues to display deep emotion for this work and his patient, which is very heartwarming — and at the same time he is not afraid to share episodes of his wicked temper.
The narrative meanders occasionally, too much to my taste but it’s much better than any gripping hospital drama.
My Lovely Wife in the Psych in the Psych Yard is the memoir of a man whose wife had several episodes of severe breakdowns, each involving lengthy hospitalizations, uncertain prognoses, and tremendous burdens on him as he tried to care for her and their son. It’s a weighty subject matter, and the author does not avoid the horrors of mental illness, the weaknesses of the psychiatric medical system, or the hardships on caregivers. He gives us an honest recounting of a very hard time, and we can only admire his pluck, and his wife’s.
The Spanish flu epidemic has always been important in my family because one of my great-grandmothers died of it leaving her son, my grandfather, bereft. It killed over 50 million people, much more than WWI, so my great-grandmother was not alone, sadly,
Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How It Changed the World presents the epidemic in its historical context, showing how it changed social mores, medicine, business — and geopolitics. The author also sprinkles stories of famous victims of the flu, and there are many to choose from. I loved the fact that she includes not just European and North American countries in her story, but also China, Brazil, and South Africa.
Well worth reading, whether or not you have an ancestor who was a victim of the epidemic.
An American Sickness: How Healthcare Became Big Business and How You Can Take It Back is a horror show, heavy of the description and analysis of the horror and very light on the solutions. The horror is the US health care system, so incredibly expensive compared to other developed countries and yet yielding such poor results at the population level. The author, a physician turned journalist, cogently describes an industry that is treated as any others but does not obey the normal laws of markets as insurance companies, hospitals, physicians, and the pharmaceutical industry all conspire to increase their profits. I was underwhelmed by the list of “solutions”, which are heavy on patients asking for cost estimates ahead of time and shopping more wisely. Presumably she, with her physician’s background, can both determine which hospitals and physicians to choose and also get an answer to the cost question. Ordinary patients, most probably, cannot.
Let’s start with the admission that I was bored by the slow pace of The Vaccine Race: Science, Politics, and the Human Costs of Defeating Disease, which recounts the way the rubella vaccine was created, and in particular how the human cells that it uses were grown. A more patient reader may more fully appreciate the intrigue: fetus lungs shipped across the Atlantic, babies vaccinated without a hint of proper consent, the illegal transfer of thousands of cells across the country, in a refrigerator strapped to the back seat of a family car, and a lawsuit to boot (about the transfer, not those unimportant consent forms).
Mercies in Disguise: A Story of Hope, a Family’s Genetic Destiny, and the Science That Rescued Them tells the story of a family with an awful genetic disease and its members’ struggle to decide whether to submit to a genetic test that will tell them whether they will die after a slow agony in middle age. It’s not a simple question, and the author does a good job of laying out the layered dilemmas facing the family, but I found the breathless suspense overdone and ultimately a turnoff.