Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Bad Science by Ben Goldacre

Rating 3/5

The message in this book is really important, but I didn't always care for the presentation. I understand the author was trying to appeal to a certain audience - namely the general masses who don't think critically or understand the basics of science - by trying to be amusing. Personally, as someone who does think critically and understands science, I think this is a serious issue that deserves a serious perspective, and reading this book gave me a feeling of dissonance. Is it right to joke about a pervasive issue that does so much harm? Goldacre seems to think this is his only way of delivering his message to the people who need to hear it most, and that end justifies the means. But in the process he dilutes his own credibility and the gravity of the problem. I don't have a solution to this dilemma.

Monday, March 28, 2011

My Imaginary Illness: A Journey Into Uncertainty and Prejudice in Medical Diagnosis by Chloe G.K. Atkins

Rating: 5/5

A real life horror story that was difficult to read but worth the effort. At times, the descriptions of Atkins' suffering along with the outrageous mistreatment she received from health care professionals affected me physically. I felt queasy, squeamish, agitated and pained. I was often incredulous that so many doctors and nurses could watch a person suffer like Atkins did with such callousness and indifference. Sometimes it was so unbelievable I questioned whether her depictions were somehow skewed, exaggerated or otherwise unobjective, but I feel I have to give her the benefit of the doubt, because she does also recognize those times she got proper care. I thought her observations and ideas about medical ethics were well-argued and would have liked to hear even more about that issue from her perspective. The author's courage and will to live despite everything she's suffered are inspirational.

I also enjoyed Hodges' critical commentary/afterword and think it's a very important component of this book. He presents solutions to the problems Atkins faced that would really help if they were implemented by all healthcare professionals. Unfortunately, I don't have much hope that many doctors and medical institutions will actually make the time and effort to put them into practice. Doctors are humans - busy, stressed, and flawed - and in my experience most of them will always find reasons not to do the extra work required to be of better service to their patients. They have so much on their plates already, the challenge is to convince them that making an effort to improve their communication, mindset and empathy is in everybody's best interest and, ideally, not optional.

As a person who also suffers from a complex, chronic illness with no physical markers and inconclusive diagnosis (though less life-threatening), I could relate to some of Atkins' experience. Parts of this book touched close to home, particularly the descriptions of invalidation, the struggle with self-doubt and feelings of powerlessness. The fact that she accomplished so much personally and professionally even while being so ill and immobile makes it even more incredible and enraging to me that so few people believed she had a physical, biological illness. I can only dream of having that muchr determination and discipline.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

What's Up Down There?: Questions You'd Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend by Lissa Rankin

Rating: 3/5

Okay, this is going to be a difficult book to rate and review, because I loved most of it, but the last chapter and a half made me want to scream. So I'm going to review it in sections.

The first half of the book was fantastic, I couldn't put it down. It was entertaining, informative, easy and fun to read. Starting with the chapter on fertility, I found it less enthralling, but still very interesting. This was to be expected, since I have no personal interest in fertility or pregnancy, and haven't yet reached perimenopause. I particularly enjoyed the author's stories about her gynecological patients and personal experiences. There were some questions I felt she didn't fully answer, but for the most part this was a great read and I'd recommend it to every woman and any man who is interested in women.

When I first picked up this book, I was afraid the Pink Power stuff would turn me off, but it wasn't over the top at all - until you get to the last two chapters. The second to last chapter was about developing a relationship with your "Yoni", which I thought was corny but I could see how it might be useful to women who are very uncomfortable with their nether regions. I value my vagina, but I don't need to have conversations with it, and I don't see my reproductive system as "sacred" any more than I do the rest of my body parts. But whatever. If you need to see it that way in order to be more comfortable with yourself, fine. But then, as I was reading, my throat started seizing up - a very clear somatic sign that I wanted to scream and have my say against what the author was trying to shove down my throat. Primarily, throughout the entire book, she comfortingly reassured me over and over that I was a normal woman, but then she took it all back. Because a "normal woman", apparently, is someone who "gets to wear sparkly, frilly pink things, carry new life inside us, resonate on a deeply emotional level, hold the family together, enjoy long lunches and phone calls with our girlfriends, and be cheerleaders for the world." This does not describe me one bit. I don't do frills, I don't enjoy gossip or talking about every detail of mine or my friends' lives, and I will probably never have a family or even a baby. According to this definition, I may as well be a man inside a woman's body. I know I'm probably not the only one, but the author sure doesn't make it sound that way. She makes it sound like unless you are a 'girly girl', you are not a real woman. Which I think is bullshit.

Then, to make things worse, she does go all Pink Power in the last chapter, talking about "owning" your femininity and loving your body and giving birth to your "authentic self". I'm not convinced that your "authentic self" (if there is such a thing), has anything to do with your genitalia. Further, Rankin makes it sound like the only barrier to loving your body is in your mind. Which, for someone whose body fails her daily (I have chronic pain and fatigue), is rather dismissive. I'm sure the author didn't have me in mind when she wrote this chapter, but there are a hell of a lot of us chronically ill women out there for whom loving our bodies is next to impossible, regardless of whether we have lumpy butts or a big fat belly.

In addition, I consider myself to be a feminist, but this Girl Power Sisterhood makes me cringe. It just seems like another ego trip, another label to wrap around your identity. Why can't we just accept ourselves without having to wave a (pink) flag and call ourselves especially divine? I'm all for empowering women to demand equality, to respect themselves and each other. But I think there's something defensive and childish about the Pink movement. I prefer to see people as individuals regardless of their gender. Being a woman isn't "special" any more than being a man is. We are what we are, and what we are is human.

I very much enjoyed the vast majority of this book, which makes the final chapters an even more bitter pill to swallow. If it ever gets re-released, I'd recommend leaving out or at least vastly rewriting the ending.