Book Review, Oncology Massage

Surrounded by Books

As the sun sets earlier and we have more hours of darkness here in the northern hemisphere, I am stockpiling things that being with “B:”

Blankets

Beverages (hot)

and . . . .  Books!

 

blur book stack books bookshelves
Photo by Janko Ferlic on Pexels.com

Ah, books. (swoon) I have sloughed off large portions of my collection of books each time I moved. In compensation, I now live a ten-minute walk from a library. And a five-minute walk from the local independent bookstore. In the past few weeks, I discovered two books that I needed to own.  One is on my dresser for nighttime reading. One is on my desk for copious note-taking and cross-referencing.  They are both well worth the money I spent on them.

 

At this writing, I haven’t finished either one, but I am enjoying them both so much, that I thought I’d share this little pre-review.  I encourage you to pick one or both of these up for some winter evening nerd time. (And please do so at your local library or indie book store.)

 

The Gene, by Siddhartha Mukherjee

I think I squeaked out loud when I saw this on the bookstore.  Mukherjee’s other book, The Emperor of All Maladies, is one that made it through multiple moves. I have it near my desk for reference even as I write this. In his new book, he takes on the history of the gene, in all its scientific, social, and controversial glory.  This book is thick, with lots of pages and tiny print.  The stories are compelling and suspenseful.  I mean, I know about Gregor Mendel and the pea plants, but reading this story as told by Mukherjee was fascinating in a completely new way.  Plus, as a person who loves a good pun, I couldn’t be happier that he worked “give peas a chance” into this story.  And that the book’s editors let it lie.

 

The Breakthrough, by Charles Graeber

I heard about this one through the Kentucky Author Forum.  It just so happened that I had been talking with a colleague about immunotherapy and how to include it in oncology massage education. I saw that Charles Graeber was coming to talk about his new book, which is all about immunotherapy.  I bought the book at the event, and I have been devouring it ever since.  No doubt about it, this guy is a storyteller. He does take care to get enough of the science in the book, and to explain it correctly, but the power of this book is in the stories.  I’m reading about the years-long process of finding a particular cellular protein, and it reads like a thriller.  I’m pretty sure this is not just because I’d be interested anyway.

 

When the massages are done, and the dishes are washed and the evening stretches out before me, I’ll be reading wrapped in a blanket, drinking hot tea from a really big mug, and reading one of these books.

Somewhere in there, I might take a break to think about another “B” that I am gathering —

Boarding pass

 

But that’s a subject for another blog.

Book Review, Inner World, Thoughts on the profession

See Like a Whale

I am thinking of whales.  Of their gigantic eyes.  And how these eyes have nothing to do with how they see.

Well, not exactly nothing, but certainly not as much as our eyes.

I am reading a new book, The Left Brain Speaks, The Right Brain Laughs by Ransom Stephens.  Despite the inaccurate duality in the title, it is (so far) a very clear and correct description of how our brains gather and process information.  In a section abut vision, Stephens talks about how whales see.

photography of whale tail in body of water
Photo by Daniel Ross on Pexels.com

Whales use sonar to create a picture of their surroundings.  Their eyes, like our own, are unable to see clearly in the depths of the ocean, so they rely on sounding out their surroundings.  In many ways, their sonar is much more accurate than our own limited vision.  For example, a clever scenic artist can easily convince us that a piece of painted cardboard is a heavy oaken door.  A whale would never make that mistake.  Their sonar sends them information about the weight and composition of objects that we rely on our sense of touch to gather.  Whales are, in a sense, able to see through objects and other creatures, into their core.  Whales know immediately when another whale is pregnant, or if a creature has a tumor or some other internal growth.  Their sonar adjusts the internal picture for all of these changes.

I am a creature of metaphor, and this particular whale fact set my associative brain to work.  What if, I thought, what if we tried to see like whales?  Not to invade someone’s privacy by peering inside their bodies, but what if we tried to see beyond the pictures our eyes show us?  What if the shapes, sizes, colors and impressions we gather upon looking at someone were never enough for us and we felt compelled to look beyond?

I love this idea.  And not just because I am a sucker for science-based metaphors.  I love this idea as a way to relate to other humans.  To see like a whale, looking beyond the surface and into whatever truth sits peacefully beyond the pictures my eyes send me.  This seems like a skill worth developing.  Whale vision.  Sounding out the environment.  Looking beyond.

Book Review, Massage Tales

Final Exam and The Professor

I harbor a secret obsession with medical books for laypeople.  I absolutely love the feeling of insider knowledge about what doctors do all day.  And I especially love when all this is presented in clear, interesting, unlabored prose. 

Final Exam, by Pauline Chen, explores how doctors are (not) trained to deal with the death of their patients.  In it, Dr. Chen uses anecdotes from her own medical/surgical training and practice to highlight the gaping hole in medical education that is “How to Manage Patient Death.”  It is thoughtful, honest, sad, and a lovely read.  It is also a bubble-wrapped softball thrown at the center of that gaping hole.  Somehow, after reading this book, I didn’t feel so bad about doctors who can’t acknowledge death.  Maybe because the doctor who wrote the book had clearly learned so much. 

Back out here in the real world, though, I’m stuck looking at medical professionals who daily fight to beat back any shadow of patient death.  And I admire them for it — especially when our most recent losses are of patients who are so young.  It’s such a strange balance, which The Professor brought into crystal clear focus in a 30-second exchange today:

“Is there a reason why you can’t massage my abdomen?”

“Well, in this medical setting, I need to take extreme care with what I do so that I don’t tax your body, but rather support it through your treatment.  ‘Do no harm’ applies to me as well.”

“And yet the doctors who ‘Do no harm’ are the ones ordering noxious chemicals for me to take.” 

******

The Professor, restarting his treatment after a particularly nasty go-round with side effects, had a point.  But he wanted his doctors to do this calculated harm, for now. When he stops wanting it, though, how hard will it be for his doctors to accept?  And how hard will they fight to convince him not to die?

Book Review

Cutting for Stone

I like novels that make me cry. I enjoy that total absorption in a fictional world that opens up some fiercely protected emotional reserve and pulls it out — all with the gentle force of words. Only words — put together in a specific way by a human mind that has all the same organic parts as yours and mine. It feeds my fragile optimism to realize that a person, just a person, can produce a fictional world so real and powerful that it makes me cry.

I recall three contemporary novels that have this particular power: The God of Small Things by Arhundati Roy, Bel Canto by Ann Patchett, and now, Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese.

I believe I came to this book a little late. I put out a plea on Facebook for something good to read, and at least four people mentioned this book. I found it in the new books section of the library. Only one of the five or six copies was available for check out. Somehow, this “new” book already had the darkened pages and slanted spine of an often-read book. I had just seven days to get through 550-plus pages.

I finished it in three.

The story, if you don’t know, follows twin brothers, conjoined towns separated at birth, and their lives at a hospital in Africa. This is a gross over- simplification of a complex story, but I hesitate to summarize a story so perfectly compact. Yes, despite the heft of the book, the story was compact, contained. Every possible loose piece that could have rattled off into space found a way back into the puzzle of the story. Tragically deceased mother, troubled absent father, brothers drifting apart by distance and betrayals — it all comes back together. Despite the tragic tones of the resolution, the ending of the story was deeply satisfying. Overall, this book has the feel of a life well and fully lived — I grieved for the end but still felt grateful for the journey.

So now I will add my recommendation to that of my four or five (or more) friends. This is a well-crafted, lovely book. It is elegant in language and precise in construction. It reflects, I believe, the best of author’s other profession (Verghese is a doctor) as well.

Book Review

Book Review: The Emperor of All Maladies

I like novels that make me cry. I enjoy that total absorption in a fictional world that opens up some fiercely protected emotional reserve and pulls it out — all with the gentle force of words. Only words — put together in a specific way by a human mind that has all the same organic parts as yours and mine. It feeds my fragile optimism to realize that a person, just a person, can produce a fictional world so real and powerful that it makes me cry.

I recall three contemporary novels that have this particular power: The God of Small Things by Arhundati Roy, Bel Canto by Ann Patchett, and now, Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese.

I believe I came to this book a little late. I put out a plea on Facebook for something good to read, and at least four people mentioned this book. I found it in the new books section of the library. Only one of the five or six copies was available for check out. Somehow, this “new” book already had the darkened pages and slanted spine of an often-read book. I had just seven days to get through 550-plus pages.

I finished it in three.

The story, if you don’t know, follows twin brothers, conjoined towns separated at birth, and their lives at a hospital in Africa. This is a gross over- simplification of a complex story, but I hesitate to summarize a story so perfectly compact. Yes, despite the heft of the book, the story was compact, contained. Every possible loose piece that could have rattled off into space found a way back into the puzzle of the story. Tragically deceased mother, troubled absent father, brothers drifting apart by distance and betrayals — it all comes back together. Despite the tragic tones of the resolution, the ending of the story was deeply satisfying. Overall, this book has the feel of a life well and fully lived — I grieved for the end but still felt grateful for the journey.

So now I will add my recommendation to that of my four or five (or more) friends. This is a well-crafted, lovely book. It is elegant in language and precise in construction. It reflects, I believe, the best of author’s other profession (Verghese is a doctor) as well.