Patrick's Reviews > The Rules of the Tunnel: A Brief Period of Madness

The Rules of the Tunnel by Ned Zeman
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's review
Oct 06, 11

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bookshelves: 2011, autism-spectrum, biography, biology, borrowed, psychology
Read in October, 2011

I suppose the oddest thing about this book is the way Zeman seems to have a collection of friends who would have done anything short of killing themselves to help him. For the life of me I couldn't figure out why, and to his credit it seems he often felt the same way.

To my mind the narrative didn't really hang together particularly well, but that was more than offset by the stories he had to tell, and how he told them. I suppose the jump from the magazine world to authoring a book meant interesting blocs of 20 to 50 pages is something he is more than capable of, but that often the connection between the next bloc and what had preceded it was tenuous at best. Or so it seemed to me. But, again, yes, it is a flaw in the work, but hardly a fatal one.

To get up on a soap box for a moment, I think Zeman downplayed how the use of drugs, as in illegal, or legal (alcohol) and certain forms of prescription drugs can be a very ugly thing. In any event, Zeman is rather lucky he didn't go through his "brief period of madness" at any point from 1970 through 1990 or so. During that time he'd likely have been prescribed some form of Tricyclic drug (Elavil, etc.) and Tricyclics and alcohol most emphatically do NOT play well together. Or perhaps they play too well together? In the sense that there's a "synergistic" effect that you can google about if you really give a hoot. Fortunately for him, as a class tricyclics are almost never seen in the USA today, though I believe they're still used overseas and in Canada. And the SSRIs, SNRIs, etc., are far more benign across the board, even when mixed with things the label say they shouldn't be. Still a risk there, but a much lower one. (Personal opinion. Also personal opinion that the warning labels on prescription drugs are overdone. Same label, same warning, even if the risk is remote for one and a distinct possibility with another. Lawsuits, doubtless, but I think what is ultimately bred is a sense that the risk is remote or at least overstated in ALL cases.)

Oops. Sorry about that. The soapbox bit was obviously more than a "moment," and meandered wildly away from the book. My bad.

I suppose what surprised me the most about the entire work is how little of it was spent on the ECT itself, and that no clear sense of whether it was a net positive or net negative is explicitly stated. I think Zeman does grudgingly admit that it helped, does note that his amnesia is atypical, but that it also turned him into something of a monster, cyberstalking an old girlfriend, cheating on the one he was living with, telling a lie to cover some forgotten memory or reprehensible bit of behavior almost each time he opened his mouth, and so on. But this was all in roughly the last 50 pages or so. Before that it was mostly about his career, his family, maybe with some stormclouds on the horizon. He also rather curiously understated or perhaps ignored the time commitment ECT requires. If you get your eggs scrambled 20 to 30 times, you're no use the day of the treatment and not much better the day after. It worked for him, since he was relatively wealthy, had a job where he did not have to be at a desk each day by 8 AM, and had a support network of people who would chauffer him there and back once he switched to out-patient status.

Full disclosure: I was actually evaluated at McLean's for ECT, and was rejected. I should write about that whole thing sometime, since it still pisses me off. But where Zeman went to the Pavilion (which I never knew existed until I read this book), I assure you what I saw was definitely Peonville. Or a cross between Dante's Inferno and Monty Python. And it wasn't getting rejected that pissed me off, it was the way I was treated and the way the place was run. But that's another story for another time.


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