This winter, yours truly disappeared from the Reference Desk for several months after contracting a rare condition called Guillain Barre Syndrome. On the day that I headed to the emergency department of the local hospital, I threw the book I was reading into my purse:The Road to Little Dribbling, adventures of an American in Britain by Bill Bryson. Mr. Bryson is one of my favorite authors, a very funny travel writer and humorist, so I was not going anywhere without his book. But it turned out to be too big and too heavy to pick up and hold as my hands were growing weaker quickly. As strength gradually returned to my hands, I finally did finish the book. It was great. It took my tired mind a month to get through it, but finish it, I did. Then I re-read Mr. Bryson's travel books in reverse chronological order after I got home by raiding my daughter's bookcases. I was looking forward to the bit about how hard it is to understand Glasgow cabdrivers and it did not disappoint. My daughter and I used to read aloud this bit and other Bryson gems to each other, but could never get through them without breaking up. He is that kind of funny. I guess the greater lesson might be: don't take heavy books to the ED, you might be too sick to read/hold them. On the other hand, humor is the best medicine. So take the book anyway.
What else did I read while sick? Well, first of all, when a librarian gets sick, the library staff naturally starts thinking about what that sick librarian might like to read and dispatches a staff member to the hospital with a book bag full of books. Using their best readers' advisory skills, my colleagues felt that light, humorous books would seem to be the order of the day. The books had to be lightweight in both senses of the word - easy to hold and easy to read. So all this got me to thinking about how do we accommodate our reading habits to an illness? I started in the usual way by browsing through magazines that were mostly pictures and celebrity gossip that my daughter bought in the hospital gift shop. Then I graduated to my favorite mystery author M.C. Beaton whose books my coworker had brought in the BHPL bookbag. Perfect: escaping to the Highlands of Scotland to solve murders was just the ticket. I reread Death of a Nurse and Death of a Valentine
After returning home, I reread some of my favorite children's books:
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett was even better than I remembered and was about the curative powers of hanging out in nature, breathing in fresh air and, of course, gardening. How apropos! I could not garden without falling over, but I could read about it.
Beyond the Paw Paw Trees and The Silver Nutmeg by Palmer Brown were so enchanting and inventive and slyly humorous - good for early elementary age or a sick person wanting to escape.
The first two Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets were better the second time around.
Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder was not one of her best, but I think the idea of rereading the Little House series was good. I still like The Long Winter and Little House in the Big Woods best.
I also read from a pile of 'emergency' books that I buy from the library sale racks, mostly mysteries. Owning books has the advantage of no due dates to worry about. Admit it- you have a pile of emergency books, right? I read the second and third Smiley books by John Le Carre: A Murder of Quality and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (and then watched the movie which I borrowed from the library.) Those were the first Smiley books I ever read and obviously I now have to track down the first one, Call for the Dead, and read that because these old spy thrillers were great.
As noted in the post from earlier this month, hoping to get some perspective on my situation, I read two books about how people cope with severe illnesses: Left Neglected and A Lucky Life Interrupted. On my 'To Read' list is The Anatomy of Hope: how people prevail in the face of illness by Jerome Groopman which Tom Brokaw, author of A Lucky Life Interrupted recommended.
I did not read or listen to books on my iPad, but for some patients, listening to audiobooks is a good
option, especially if there are vision issues or trouble holding books or possibly while undergoing infusions which can take quite a while. Another option is to use Hoopla on a tablet. The library offers movies, music, audio- and e-books and TV shows through Hoopla. Patrons can put the app on their tablet and watch/listen/read up to 8 titles per month for free. Flipster and Zinio offer free browseable magazines to library card holders which look beautiful using the app on a tablet. Take a look at our All Things E page for these and other downloadables.
What to read while sick? Whatever you want is the answer. This was one time in my life when I did not feel I really should read some difficult, 'improving' tome. Thanks to all the authors who helped me get through this and thanks to the BHPL staff for those book bags full of light mysteries and quirky novels. Thanks to so many patrons, family and friends for visiting, texting, emailing, calling, sending cards and flowers. I am back at the Reference Desk, see my cartoon below, awaiting your questions.
Joseph Heller, author of Catch 22, may be the most famous author to get Guillain Barre Syndrome and he wrote a book about the experience, No Laughing Matter. I just started it and it is fantastically written. I may put Catch 22 on my reread list now.
Guillain Barre Syndrome Fact Sheet from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
The library's All Things E page has links to our downloadable resources for Berkeley Heights Public Library card holders.
Before falling ill, my only knowledge of certain medical specialties was from reading funny medical blogs:
My favorite neurologist, besides my own, writes the very funny Dr. Grumpy is in the House
My favorite physiatrist, doctors who treat patients needing physical therapy is the blogger Dr. Fizzy who writes The Cartoon Guide to Becoming a Doctor
No, really, what is a physiatrist? Read this AAPM&R