Tuesday, June 28, 2016

What to Read While Sick

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.
Further Reading:
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 

Monday, June 20, 2016

Non-Beach Reads

Summer is upon us and what better way to enjoy summer than to lie in a hammock with a cool
breeze, a nice cold lemonade and a great book. But which book?

There are definitely books that you are more apt to read in the summer. They are usually
lighter, happier and carefree. Last year I decided to veer in a different path and I read those
books that people said were must reads.
What to Read? Click on  our Label Cloud tags in the sidebar
for more Summer Reading or Beach Reads
 While on vacation I packed my kindle and a few of our 50 cent sale books that just so happened
to be on my must read list. The flight was a long one so I was able to read How The Garcia
Girls Lost their Accent by Julia Alvarez in its entirety. The girls and their parents flee the
Dominican Republic in 1960 and arrive in NYC where the girls embrace the culture including
the English language and bell bottom pants earning their parents disapproval. I left the book on
the plane for the next passenger to enjoy. First day on the beach, I began the Guernsey Literary
Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows. This was an absolutely charming
book but not exactly the carefree reading you associate with summer. A writer uncovers a letter
and begins a correspondence with the people of Guernsey. Her life and her writing become
entwined with people she has never met. When I finished that I embarked on Cutting For
Stone by Abraham Verghese. This is the story of two twin brothers orphaned when their mom
dies and their father disappears. The author leads you on the brothers journeys from birth to
adulthood from the poor villages of India to NYC. Yes, It is a fabulous book but it is not a
beach read not to mention how much space it took up in my bag!! Oh I forgot to mention, my
kindle is full of those cozy mysteries about quintessential towns, cheese and flower shops and
culinary delights. Easy reads but is murder really a fun summer read?

I realized I was doing my summer reading homework while on vacation. My children hadnt
packed their required summer reading for school but it appeared I had. During one of our
sightseeing excursions, we came across a quaint town with a great little coffee shop, and an
even better new and used bookstore. Blissfully I selected books native to the area as well as
true beach reads. Soon I was immersed in a world of beach barbeques, drinks with quaint
umbrellas sticking out of them and true summer fun.

Ive learned my lesson. This year when we head out for vacation I will pack the newest book by
Taylor Jenkins Reid ~ One True Loves, and perhaps a Dorothea Benton Frank. I will save
those must reads for the fall when the children go back to school and we can all do our
homework together. Of course, I sure hope our vacation includes at least one new bookstore to

~ Ann-Marie Sieczka
      June 17, 2016

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Left Neglected and A Lucky Life Interrupted

The library book group recently read Left Neglected by Lisa Genova (author of Still Alice),  a fictional account of a woman with traumatic brain injury who suffers from left neglect. After a car accident, Sarah Nickerson is completely unaware of the left side of her own body because of damage to the right side of her brain. After her hospitalization, she is sent to a rehabilitation clinic so she can eventually return to her life as a wife and mother of young children. The book tells of her struggles to regain her strength and to accommodate her left neglect. She learns to be patient, to appreciate her family and friends who help her in her recovery. Ultimately, her journey from whole and healthy to injured to recovery leads her to re-evaluate what is truly important in life. This hard-driving Harvard MBA must decide whether to pursue her time-consuming career at the expense of her health and family or to try to achieve some kind of balance in her life that will allow her to heal and to nurture her family. The book group did enjoy the book and had a lively discussion of the mysteries of  this brain disorder.

TV journalist Tom Brokaw wrote A Lucky Life Interrupted,  a Memoir of Hope after a diagnosis of cancer. Mr. Brokaw describes his personal and professional life as very lucky until he began to have back pain that was eventually diagnosed as multiple myeloma, a serious blood cancer. This memoir is based on the journal he kept of the first year of his illness. Like the fictional Sarah Nickerson in Left Neglected, Mr. Brokaw went from being a successful, high-achieving professional in perfect health to a very sick patient literally overnight from diagnosis to treatment.

What both these books share is a glimpse into the lives of the very sick and how they cope with their new normal. Mr. Brokaw recommends that all patients should have an advocate, preferably a doctor in the family, to help navigate this new world. One of his daughters is a doctor, and realizing that is not an option for everyone, he does suggest that patients find someone who can be their spokesperson. Lisa Genova, a neuroscientist, seems to be saying that family and friends are ultimately what get us through the tough times in life. She also list resources for traumatic brain injury in her book.

These books might interest anyone who has ever been diagnosed with a serious illness or anyone  who knows someone who has. Which is really almost everyone, isn't it? It turned out that my lucky life was interrupted this winter by a rare illness. I fell down the rabbit hole, like Alice, into the world of hospitals and the health care universe where even the language is different. I did not come across anyone playing croquet with flamingos, but I did find the world of hospitals is just as weird as Wonderland and just as frustrating to the layman/patient.  But that is a post for another day. The struggles of Mr. Brokaw and the fictional Sarah helped me feel that the journey of illness is not easy, but if you are lucky, you can come out stronger and smarter than you started out.

Related websites:
From MedlinePlus.gov results for a search for Multiple Myeloma

LA Times review of A Lucky Life Interrupted 

Hemispatial Neglect from Wikipedia

Reading Discussion Guide for Left Neglected