When Elisabeth Tova Bailey returns from a vacation with a debilitating disease, she is confined to bedrest. A friend found a woodland snail and a buncWhen Elisabeth Tova Bailey returns from a vacation with a debilitating disease, she is confined to bedrest. A friend found a woodland snail and a bunch of field violets in the Maine woods to cheer her up. The snail was soon transferred from a flowerpot to a terrarium full of woodland plants, with a shell holding water and mushrooms for food. Bailey found watching the snail to be fascinating and relaxing:
"Watching it glide along was a welcome distraction and provided a sort of meditation; my often frantic and frustrated thoughts would gradually settle down to match its calm, smooth pace. With its mysterious, fluid movement, the snail was the quintessential tai chi master."
Bailey has written a little gem of a book packed full of information gleamed from her research about snails. The book also contains delightful little quotes from poets and naturalists at the start of each chapter. My favorite was from Kobayashi Issa:
"Climb Mount Fuji O snail But slowly, slowly"
The snail and its offspring were released into the woods after a year. Bailey's illness had several possible diagnoses: autoimmune dysautonomia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and mitochondrial disease. Twenty years later, she is still not well, but has had some improvement. A little snail helped her get through a year when it was impossible to maintain blood pressure in an upright position. She wrote:
"Watching another creature go about its life....somehow gave me, the watcher, purpose too. If life mattered to the snail and the snail mattered to me, it meant something in my life mattered, so I kept on."
Bailey also has a website where you can see a video of her snail, and actually listen to the sound of a wild snail eating. Each snail actually has around 2500 tiny teeth! Her website is: www.elisabethtovabailey.net ...more
Neuroscientist and author Lisa Genova has written another compelling book about a family challenged by a devastating disease. The O'Briens are a blue-Neuroscientist and author Lisa Genova has written another compelling book about a family challenged by a devastating disease. The O'Briens are a blue-collar Irish-Catholic family with the father working as a Boston cop. His family and coworkers notice changes in his manner--uncontrollable movements, falls, disorganization, and violently losing his temper. When he sees a doctor, he learns he has Huntington's Disease, an inherited neurodegenerative disease with no cure. Joe's four children each have a 50% chance of inheriting the faulty gene which brings on symptoms around age 35-45.
The book is told alternately from the points of view of Joe, and his 21-year-old daughter Katie. Katie, a yoga instructor, has dreams of opening her own yoga studio and planning a future with the man she loves. She and her siblings can be tested for Huntington's Disease if they wish. Is it better to know whether you have the disease so you don't pass it on to your children? Or is it worse knowing that you definitely will be facing an incurable disease with an early death? Will you panic every time you drop something or wobble a bit while exercising?
Huntington's Disease is a condition that affects a whole family, not just the person with the first diagnosis. Although there were tragic moments in this story, the family also exhibited humor, love, and loyalty. There was also quite a bit of Boston local color, especially involving the Red Sox, and amusing conversations between Joe and the other cops.
Lisa Genova's first book, Still Alice, translated well to the movie screen. Inside the O'Briens would also make a marvelous movie since the story has interesting, well-developed characters who are emotionally torn and have many difficult decisions to make. I found myself caring about the members of the O'Brien family--and reaching for the box of tissues several times....more
I would never have guessed that a memoir about going blind from a degenerative retinal disease could be so full of humor. At the age of 19, Nicole KeaI would never have guessed that a memoir about going blind from a degenerative retinal disease could be so full of humor. At the age of 19, Nicole Kear found out she had retinitis pigmentosa, an eye disease where she would first lose her peripheral vision, and eventually be blind in 10-15 years. With a "seize the day" attitude, she decided to travel, have a series of one-night stands, finish a degree in drama at Yale, and search for acting jobs in California and New York. She only told her family and a few close friends about her diagnosis. She pretended to be ditzy or drunk when she walked into glass doors or tripped over things she did not see. It was especially challenging to see at night, and she had some hilarious stories about attending parties to network in California which were often held around the host's swimming pool, a dangerous spot for Kear. I would not have wanted to be on the road when she was driving.
Eventually she fell in love and had children. Keeping track of toddlers is challenging enough for people with good sight. She had a terrible scare when she couldn't find her daughter, but the little girl was just sitting on a nearby bench, out of Kear's range of vision. She realized she could no longer be in a state of denial, and needed to ask for help from her family, her friends, and a state training program. Her children would be safer if people knew her secret.
I enjoyed the author's exuberance, and her irreverent, self-deprecating sense of humor. Kear also included times of fear, as well as tender moments, in her book. This was a well-written memoir that kept my interest....more
This remarkable memoir chronicles the life of Josh Hanagarne, a Mormon librarian in Salt Lake City and a weightlifter, who battles Tourette Syndrome.This remarkable memoir chronicles the life of Josh Hanagarne, a Mormon librarian in Salt Lake City and a weightlifter, who battles Tourette Syndrome. Hanagarne has a severe form of Tourette's with tics that include blinking, jerking, involuntary shouting, and hitting himself, which made him a target for bullies. He created an identity for this affliction called Misty (for Miss Tourett's) that almost became another character in the book. When medications did not alleviate his symptoms, he tried weightlifting which helped for a while.
Hanagarne tells about his experiences with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, his loving family, his supportive wife, and his joy in becoming a father. He has always loved books, and writes of the importance of libraries in our communities. The book is filled with humorous incidents about his life and about the patrons at the library where he works. He realizes how ironic it is for a large man who can't sit still and can't keep quiet to have a vocation as a librarian.
The memoir is both humorous and heartbreaking, but always engaging. It has taken an enormous amount of courage for Hanagarne to deal with such a painful, exhausting case of Tourette's and be a productive part of society.
Conor's mother has terminal cancer, his father is overseas with his new family, and he doesn't relate well with his grandmother. Conor is having nightConor's mother has terminal cancer, his father is overseas with his new family, and he doesn't relate well with his grandmother. Conor is having nightmares, and a monster shows up to tell the thirteen-year-old boy three stories, and then expects Conor to tell him a fourth story....the truth.
Siobhan Dowd, the author of young adult books, had the ideas for this story but died of cancer before she could write the book. Patrick Ness expanded on her ideas, and A Monster Calls is the result. This well-written book has a powerful emotional impact. The wonderful black and white illustrations by Jim Kay perfectly complement the mood of the book. This heartbreaking story deals with love, hope, helplessness, grief, and letting go....more
Elle is in the ICU, brain-dead after a terrible fall, and her neurosurgeon husband Matt must make a decision about removing her from life support. TheElle is in the ICU, brain-dead after a terrible fall, and her neurosurgeon husband Matt must make a decision about removing her from life support. Then the medical staff gets the lab report that Elle is pregnant. The couple had been through the disappointment of many miscarriages, and Matt feels that Elle would want to be kept alive for the baby's sake. But Matt's mother has an old advanced directive from Elle stating that she would not want to be on life support, since Elle saw her own mother's life being prolonged into a long and painful death. As Matt fights a legal battle in the hope of saving the baby while also dealing with the overwhelming grief of Elle's situation, the story of their love is told in flashbacks.
This is a story with many moral and legal issues, and lots of gray areas. It shows family and friends divided on the right course to take. There is also the medical question of whether the baby will be born healthy. The book explores the issue of right to death in a state (Maine) that does not have a law on the books regarding the situation of a pregant mother. At the same time, we learn the history of Matt and Elle, best friends and lovers, who had grown up as next door neighbors and had recently been struggling to have a child.
I found the medical and legal issues very interesting, and the love story heartbreaking. There were a few unlikely situations--Matt's mother is an OB nurse, Matt is a neurosurgeon, Matt's college buddy is a lawyer--that seemed to fit the story too perfectly. It might be emotionally difficult for someone who has faced fertility issues to read this story. People who enjoy love stories, and books with medical and legal issues (such as Jodi Picoult fans) would probably like this book....more
Gal Garner is a crusty biology teacher who is coping with kidney disease. She is spending much of her time at the hospital hooked up to a dialysis macGal Garner is a crusty biology teacher who is coping with kidney disease. She is spending much of her time at the hospital hooked up to a dialysis machine while she waits for a transplant. The joy in her life, and the distraction from her problems, comes from breeding roses.
Then her teenage niece, Riley, shows up at Gal's workplace. Riley's irresponsible mother had to fly to Hong Kong to work for several months, and sent her off to Gal's without any notice. Riley gets more structure in her life, and Gal softens her prickly edges as she bonds with Riley.
The story is told with Gal narrating it. She has a sense of humor, and is deeply caring, under her curmudgeon exterior. I enjoyed the family story, the other characters, and the fascinating glimpse into the world of growing prize roses. This would be a good book group selection....more
The author is a geriatrician who spends part of his working day at Steere Home in Rhode Island where many of the residents have Alzheimer's Disease. TThe author is a geriatrician who spends part of his working day at Steere Home in Rhode Island where many of the residents have Alzheimer's Disease. There are cats also living at the home since animals are able to offer companionship to the residents. The staff was noticing that Oscar, a cute black and white cat, was keeping vigil in the rooms of patients on the day they died. He offered comfort to the resident and family through his presence. It was thought that Oscar might recognize the sweet smell of ketones (due to cellular breakdown), and that prompted him to watch over the patient.
Dr Dosa interviewed the families that Oscar had befriended. The book is about lots more than just Oscar. Dr Dosa lets the reader see the progression of Alzheimer's Disease, and how it affects the patient, their family, and their professional caregivers. Some of the stories are heartwarming; others are amusing, informative, or sad. Throughout them all, Oscar seemed to know when people needed him to calm and comfort them....more