Doing Harm by Kelly Parsons
(St. Martin’s Press, 2014, 368 pages)
I’m impressed that this is the author’s first novel. Like other medical thriller authors, Parsons is a doctor himself. I learned a lot about the ins and outs of the hospital, the process of residency training and the mental and physical exhaustion of the overworked residents. The story is set in a prestigious university hospital in Boston. Steve Mitchell, an excellent surgeon and chief resident, is in charge of training medical students. Steve is passionate for his work and cares about his patients. He has been promised a dream job after he completes his surgical residency. Everything is going so well until his patients start dying mysteriously. It seems that someone within the hospital is sabotaging him by killing his patients.
The story has twisted plots which kept me turning the pages. The ending is unexpected but well thought out. If you enjoy medical thrillers, you’ll appreciate this one. You can also read Jean’s review here.
Inside the O’Briens by Lisa Genova
(Gallery Books, 2015, 343 pages)
You might recognize the name of this author – she wrote the book Still Alice which was made into a movie this past year starring Julianne Moore. Her novels all have a “medical” component which Genova is able to humanize and portray accessibly to her readers.
The O’Brien family lives in Charlestown, right outside Boston. Joe O’Brien, the patriarch, is a member of the Boston Police Department who suddenly finds his life turned on its head when he discovers he has Huntington’s Disease. As he tries to come to grips with his new reality he realizes how deeply Huntington’s will affect his life. Not only will it impact his job but his family is also at risk since it’s a genetic disease. Each of his four children have a 50/50 chance of inheriting Huntington’s and Joe has a hard time with the idea that it’s his “fault” if they do happen to get the disease.
Inside the O’Briens looks at how the O’Brien family copes with the reality of this disease. Genova does a great job explaining what life with Huntington’s can be like. It’s not a disease that people have a clear idea about so I felt like I learned a lot reading this book. I’d definitely be interested in checking out other titles by Genova. Good thing we have more of her books here in the library 😉
On Immunity: An Inoculation by Eula Biss
(Graywolf Press, 2014, 205 pages)
This was on my reading list since last year after listening to Science Friday. Biss is an English professor at Northwestern University in Chicago. She did a wonderful job of examining this scientific topic from different angles. Biss hopes to get informed and educated on a controversial issue: immunization.
She starts her research on immunization when she is pregnant with her son. She shares with readers interviews of doctors, immunologists, family and friends. She offers her analysis of works by famous philosophers and historians. She presents article summaries from medical and public health journals. The book is not a quick read, but it is a satisfying one. I especially enjoyed the medical history part. You can just never get tired of reading how Edward Jenner invented the world’s first vaccine: the smallpox vaccine. So where does Biss stand on this debate? I will not spoil that for you 🙂
Mortality by Christopher Hitchens
(Twelve, 2012, 104 pages)
In this book Christopher Hitchens’ writes about his fight to be one of the small percentage that would overcome his diagnosis. This famous orator is struck down with esophageal cancer when he begins his American book tour. Hitchens’ refers to his last months as “living dyingly”. I found this book jolting at times. It was hard to read about the amount of pain involved in his life the last 19 months. He is realistic about his diagnosis, however, he retains a hopeful enthusiasm for alternative treatments.
He points out how simple questions can be taken so literally when one is faced with a limited number of days left in their life. A question, such as, I’ll be in town next week will you be around to meet?, takes on a whole new depth in this context.
His wife, Carol Blue writes an afterword in the book recounting some of their “flawless” days. She misses the sound of his voice, the variety of tones that his voice made throughout the day – from the first waking low octaves to the night time whispers.
Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink
(Crown, 2013, 558 pages)
This nonfiction title won the National Book Critics Circle Award and was selected as one of the 10 Best Books of 2013 by the New York Times Book Review. Five Days at Memorial had been something I’d wanted to read for a long time. I’d had the book galley for years and finally found the time to pick it up. Five Days at Memorial takes a look back at 5 days at Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.
The circumstances faced by those who remained in the hospital during Katrina were intense and horrifying to say the least. Hospital workers and patients were put in situations it’s hard to wrap your mind around. Decisions had to be made about which patients to evacuate first and then it came down to how to treat those who remained and still needed care and medication. A number of the medical professionals who stayed behind later faced criminal charges for deciding to drug some patients to such an extent that it led to their deaths.
It’s still hard to believe how bad things were during Katrina; it’s hard to believe situations like those recounted could happen here in the United States. Even though it was difficult reading about the situations people at Memorial faced I was engrossed in the book. I’m glad I finally got around to reading it. And we have it in the library so you can come right in and pick it up!
Inheritance: How Our Genes Change Our Lives — and Our Lives Change Our Genes by Sharon Moalem, MD, PhD with Matthew D. LaPlante
(Grand Central Publishing, 2014, 272 pages)
I picked up this book from our new book shelf a while back. I’m glad I finally got around to it. Author Sharon Moalem is an accomplished scientist and physician. He does an excellent job in providing an overview of the field of genetics. He achieves with this book precisely what the subtitle describes: How our genes change our lives and our lives change our genes.
The book consists of 11 chapters, an extensive bibliography/notes and a well-prepared index. I find myself frequently using these tools. Moalem uses real people and stories to present genetic disorders and explains science. He describes how genetic research is helping him to diagnose and treat his patients. The coverage on epigenetics reminds me of another book I read: Epigenetics: the ultimate mystery of inheritance. Moalem’s book discusses epigenetics and its implications from a medical point of view which is beneficial to readers with medical interests. I had to laugh at his story of climbing Mount Fuji with the help of an elderly Japanese lady. That was the first time the author experienced hypobaric hypoxia, a lack of oxygen due to a decrease in atmospheric pressure. It turned out that the author’s genes are more susceptible than most people’s genes to altitude sickness. Ever wonder how food turns our genes on and off? How DNA is involved in making and breaking our bones? Detailed discussions can be found in chapters Feed Your Genes and Use It or Lose It. The book is not bogged down in a lot of scientific detail. It’s informative and entertaining. I highly recommend it.
Her Best-Kept Secret: Why Women Drink – and How They Can Regain Control by Gabrielle Glaser
(Simon & Schuster, 2013, 244 pages)
I appreciate my wine and the premise of Her Best-Kept Secret seemed interesting to me. Women respond to alcohol differently than men and it appears that now they’re drinking more than ever. Glaser breaks down the history of drinking among women and then talks about why it seems their alcohol consumption has grown more prevalent. She explains the efforts made by Napa wine growers to market to women – a successful venture since wine is overwhelmingly their drink of choice. Glaser then looks at how women deal with the problem of drinking too much. A lot of time is spent delving in to A. A. While it certainly works for many people, it isn’t necessarily the right choice for a lot of women. We see the history of the organization and see why it isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Other, more scientific, options are introduced and it just makes you think about alcoholism and the idea of drinking too much in a different light.
This didn’t really go in the direction I thought it would, but I appreciated getting the history of drinking in America and I was especially surprised at what I learned about A. A. and other treatment options. Glaser makes a number of good points and her book is well-researched (the notes section at the end was substantial). It was an easy read and I got through it quickly. If you’re interested in this topic and/or the history of A. A. you might enjoy this book.