Review

Books #43

It’s been a busy month! But I did find some time to read. And of course, a bunch of books I had on hold at the library all came at the same time. It always happens that way. Anyways, here are some good ones:

#1 Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink

Wow. What a story, what a book. It took awhile to get through it, but I definitely recommend it. It got on my radar after hearing a podcast (maybe This American Life?) about what happened at Memorial Hospital during Katrina and so when I saw this book I had to get it.

The book reconstructs what happened during the 5 days at Memorial Hospital in New Orleans during and after Hurricane Katrina: when the floodwaters surrounded the hospital and flooded the lower floors, they lost power, the heat was intolerable…

“The hurricane cut off city power. The hospital’s backup generators did not support air-conditioning, and the temperature climbed…Early Wednesday morning, Memorial’s generators failed, throwing the hospital into darkness and cutting off power to the machines that supported patients’ lives.”

It was chaos. They were hearing reports that it was Marshall Law outside the hospital walls. “Thiele thought the hospital would be overtaken, that those inside it had no good way to defend themselves.”

“While the mayor commanded everyone to leave, many didn’t have cars or other means to do so, and officials knew that the city’s plans to help transport them had significant holes, including a lack of sufficient drivers. Residents who could go on their own were already stuck in traffic on the interstate leading out of town. The Superdome, the giant stadium that hosted the New Orleans Saints football team, was designated as a “shelter of last resort.” “

Helicopters would land on the helipad of the hospital roof but then refuse to take patients. “The pilots would not allow pets on board the aircraft and watercraft, creating stressful choices for the staff members who had brought them to the hospital for the storm.”

Pets were being euthanized. The nurses and doctors that stayed behind had to choose which patients could be rescued.

“The ICU filled with screams. Plywood grew wet and buckled. Water pooled on the floors. The metal window frames strained and creaked like the Titanic… The command team announced a shift in hospital operations from “assault mode” to “survival mode.” This unofficial designation reflected news they had received minutes before the meeting. An Acadian ambulance worker on-site had confirmed with his dispatchers that one of the canals in New Orleans had been breached…the sight of the water advancing toward the hospital, pushing the hurricane debris ahead of it, was like something out of a movie.”

And eventually, the rescue boats and helicopters stopped coming.

“…electronic medical records system would be useless. Paper was high technology in a disaster. The electronic medication dispensing cart, new to Pitre-Ryals’s unit, would also shut down, its stock of medicines locked securely inside it… The hospital was stifling, its walls sweating. Water had stopped flowing from taps, toilets were backed up, and the stench of sewage mixed with the odor of hundreds of unwashed bodies.”

Then, at the end, when there was hope of rescue, a few doctors and nurses chose to “speed up” the death of certain patients. Patients that had DNR’s. A patient that was morbidly obese and couldn’t be moved up through the stairwell to the helicopters.

” “When I made my mother a DNR, I did not know it meant ‘do not rescue.’ “ (one of the victim’s daughter’s said that)

“It was a desperate situation and Cook saw only two choices: quicken their deaths or abandon them. It had gotten to that point. You couldn’t just leave them. The humane thing seemed to be to put ’em out.”

The first 40% of the book was the reconstruction of those 5 days. The rest of the book was the investigation and trial and aftermath.

Reading about the truly horrific experiences these people went through (doctors and patients) during those 5 days, I can understand both sides of this argument. It was described as a war zone. I can understand being faced with a scenario where you have no idea if you will be rescued, not sure if you can save everyone, and make a decision about the sickest ones…but at the same time…those patients weren’t given the choice. So I can see how it can be seen has murder (hence the criminal charges and trial).

#2 Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity and Love by Dani Shapiro

I heard an interview with this author on a podcast and the book sounded really fascinating. There was a long wait at the library for this book but it was worth the wait. It was a good book and I definitely recommend it. It’s an interesting memoir and it’s also an interesting discussion in medical ethics.

Dani is an accomplished writer, mother, wife. She’s in her 50’s and her on a whim, decides to do one of those DNA kits with her husband. They send it off, forget about it, and then the results come back and she discovers that she’s not genetically related to her half-sister, Susie. This opens up a can of worms she was not prepared for.

“If it was true that Susie and I were not half sisters, my father was not my father. That he was Susie’s father was without question. She looked like him. She had his eyes, and the shape of his face. She even sounded a bit like him…”

“My mind and body seemed to be disconnected. My body wasn’t the body I had believed it to be for fifty-four years.”

It turns out, her parents had difficulties conceiving and they went to a not so reputable fertility clinic in Philadelphia. Back during those days, it was common practice to mix the sperm with donor sperm. Dani, who always felt closer to her father than her mother, has now discovered she was not genetically related to the father she grew up with.

It’s a true crisis of identity and history for Dani. “Why am I? Why am I here? And how shall I live?”

” ‘It’s rare that you get an opportunity in life to stand outside yourself. It’s as if Hakadosh baruch hu is saying, Child, come sit next to me and now, look. Finding all this out is a door to discovering what a father really is. It isn’t closure—you may not get to have that—but it’s an opening to a whole new vista.’ I had been so afraid that blood would be all that mattered. Oh, how I had underestimated my remarkable aunt.”

Thus begins the search for her biological father. And the questions about her whole life (she’s Orthodox Jewish but never looked Jewish) and her heritage. It’s a very confusing, emotional time for her. But the real emotional roller coaster starts when she finds her biological father and they start corresponding through email.

The book is very interesting and a good read!

#3 Dr. Mutter’s Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine by Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz

A lot of people might have heard of the Mutter museum in Philadelphia,a museum of “medical oddities”, but there was actually a pretty important doctor by the name of Thomas Mutter who played an important part in medical history.

He was orphaned at a young age and then sent to a distant relative who was basically a caregiver. Eventually he went to boarding school and then medical school. He became a gifted doctor and a surgeon and created the “Mutter Flap” to treat burn victims. It was an early method of skin grafting/plastic surgery.

“The broken. The diseased. The cursed. People who were considered monsters, even by medical definition. Mütter welcomed them all. An expert and efficient surgeon, he systematically rehearsed every procedure in his mind before beginning it.”

“Monsters. This is how the patients would have been categorized in America. Mutter was used to seeing them replicated in wax for classroom display, or hidden in back rooms away from the public eye. It was not uncommon for these patients to enter the surgical room fully prepared to die. Death was a risk they happily took for the chance to bring some level of peace and normality to their mangled faces or agonized bodies.”

He was renowned for his patient care, his surgical skill, his engaging teaching techniques in the classroom and he became the Chair of Surgery at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia.

“Mütter had fought hard to make sure Jefferson Medical College provided recovery rooms to all patients who offered themselves up to the knife at the school’s surgical clinic.”

He performed hundreds of surgeries on patients who were “deformed” and gave many their lives back. He was also the first surgeon to use ether anesthesia during surgery (in 1846).

“Mütter’s fight for anesthesia to be widely accepted—to be adopted by doctors and surgeons as swiftly as possible in order to end what he saw as unnecessary human suffering—proved to be a turning point in his career…It was often a guessing game to determine how much was needed to sedate the patient . . . and how little could be used to kill them.”

He was so ground breaking and fascinating and he tragically lived a short life. His collection of medical “oddities” was bequeathed to a museum which became the Mutter Museum after he died. The book also talked a lot about the time period and the beginning of modern medicine and discoveries. It was so fascinating!

#4 Moloka’i by Alan Brennert

This was a very good book. It started out slow and I almost gave up but don’t give up because the story picks up and it gets very good and by the end you will be crying.

The story is a fictional telling of what it was like for native Hawaiians in the late 1800’s, early 1900’s when there was an outbreak of leprosy and they were rounded up and taken to the island of Moloka’i to live a segregated life. (I read a nonfiction book about this and it was VERY fascinating and I highly recommend it.)

Rachel is just a young girl when she contracts leprosy. She’s taken from her family and sent to Moloka’i to live. She lives in a home for girls and basically spends her life on the island. She grows up, she makes friends, she watches her friends die of the horrible disease. She come of age, she falls in love, she gets married…she has a baby and must give it up the second it’s born. The baby is then given up for adoption to a family off Moloka’i that doesn’t have leprosy.

It’s a touching, heart breaking book and I liked how it ended. It was a long book and there were definitely parts that felt like it dragged a bit and could have been edited down but the story was about a lifetime on this island, so it was kind of hard to avoid.

Would definitely recommend!

#5 My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing

I loved this disturbing little book! What a creepy couple! Happily married couple, the husband and his wife Millicent, are living the picture-perfect life. They live in an expensive gated community. She’s a realtor. He’s a tennis instructor. They have two teenagers. They just happen to have a secret hobby: murder.

The husband, goes out to bars and hunts for women. Millicent kidnaps and murders them. But then all of a sudden, things are starting to unravel in their lives and their little hobby has consequences.

It is a gripping, creepy and enthralling book. I could not put it down! I could totally see it as a movie.

Happy Reading!

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Books #39

I’ve read some pretty good books lately. Here is the latest installment:

1 ) The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

The whole time I was reading this book, I wondered if it was made into a movie. It felt like it and after I finished I looked it up and apparently it was!. It reads so quick and beautifully and you are immediately transported to 1964 South Carolina. The racism, the segregation, the heat of the south, the taste of fresh honey, the bonds of friendship. The book is beautiful and emotional.

Lily is 14 years old, raised by her sort of abusive (verbally) and definitely distant and neglectful father and Rosaleen, her black sort of nanny/stand-in mother on a peach farm. When blacks get the right to vote, Lily goes with Rosaleen to the nearby town to register when they are harassed by racist assholes and both of the ladies end up in jail. Lily’s dad bails her out but leaves Rosaleen in jail (where she ends up getting beaten almost to death by the racist assholes). So Lily decides to run away from her father and the peach farm and the secrets surrounding her mother’s death, breaks Rosaleen out of the hospital and the two of them run away.

They find themselves finding refuge on a honey farm where they make friends with the African American ladies who live there and their lives are forever changed. The book is fantastic and I loved the story and all the characters!

2 )  The Hunger by Alma Katsu

What a CREEPY and good book! It was absolutely riveting. Maybe because I grew up in the 80s playing the Oregon Trail video game. Maybe because I grew up in the northwest, fascinated by the Oregon Trail? I don’t know, but this book was absolutely fascinating.

It was a “re-imagining” of the Donner Party story. Think the Donner Party/Oregon trail wagon story with a horror/supernatural twist. Something dark and evil is following the wagon trail. The pioneers don’t see it but they can sense it and as time is running out before they can cross over the pass before they run out of food, water and summer weather people on the wagon trail are dying. Or going insane. It was super creepy and well written and I read it one day!

 

3 ) Talk to Me by John Kenney

Ted Grayson is a 59 year old TV news anchor. He’s been popular for 20 years. Think Brokaw, Dan Rather, Brian Williams. But one night before his broadcast, he has a very public meltdown that someone records with their phone. It goes viral and that starts the downfall of Ted’s career. Suddenly the masses are out to get him. His fall from grace is fast, furious and painful.

The book is about a man’s fall from grace. But it’s also a commentary on the cancel culture of our current times. The blood-thirsty social media that is apparently more powerful than corporations. It doesn’t seem to matter that someone had a shining 20+ year career with high ratings and Emmy’s — the TV execs just care about the comments on social media. So Ted gets the ax. It really is a sad commentary on how gross our culture is now. No one has a path to redemption–one mistake and you are OUT.

 

4 ) Ginny Moon by Benjamin Ludwig

Ginny Moon is 14 years old and autistic. When she was 9 years old she was taken away from her drug addicted, abusive and neglectful mother and put in foster care. She is now with her fourth family, her “Forever Family”. She’s in therapy and learning how to be attached. She’s in the Special Olympics and has friends at school. She has to eat exactly 9 grapes with breakfast. She’s obsessed with approximate time, takes everything literally and loves Michael Jackson.

But she’s obsessed with how she left her Baby Doll behind with her mother when she was taken away. No one can get her to let it go. She has a one-track mind about her Baby Doll. The story unfolds, told from Ginny’s child-like point of view. She is determined to escape from her Forever Family and return to her mother to rescue her Baby Doll.

Ginny has a lot of set backs in her journey of both learning how to manage her autism and her emotions and how to be reunited with her Baby Doll. But she definitely shows some growth by the end of the book. It’s a heartwarming, heartbreaking look at autism and the challenges the kids and parents face.

 

5 ) The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray

This was an excellent, poignant, emotional book! I highly recommend it!

It’s a story about the Butler Family. Althea, the eldest of the Butler family, and her husband Proctor were pillars of the community. They raised money to help victims of a flood. They ran a local restaurant. But then it comes out that they were stealing the money they raised and stealing food stamps to help keep their restaurant afloat in the dying town. There’s a trial and they get sentenced to federal prison, leaving behind their teenage twin daughters.

Althea’s sister Lillian takes the twins. But the twins are struggling because they are pariahs in the town and subject to abuse by the townspeople. Lillian doesn’t know how to help them so she calls her other sister, Viola, to come help.

There are a lot of big issues in this book: what happens when family goes to prison, anorexia and bulimia, abuse, grief, how to break old cycles and healing. The author does an amazing job slowly revealing the story in layers and showing the humanity of this family.

6 ) The Best Land Under Heaven: The Donner Party in the Age of Manifest Destiny by Michael Wallis

After reading “The Hunger” (fictional story about the Donner Party), I was curious and had questions so I looked around at what non-fiction was out there and this new-ish book was highly rated.

“The entwining of religion with the ideology of Manifest Destiny served as a creation myth for the country. It soon became so ingrained in the national consciousness that many Americans still accept it to this day. The belief that God intended for the continent to be under the control of Christian European-Americans became official U.S. government policy.

“It helped to fuel incentive to take the land from those who were considered inferior to white Americans—indigenous tribal people characterized as savages and Mexicans…”

Why I liked the book: because I am forever fascinated by the history of the pioneers and Lewis & Clark and people making that journey out west. My ancestors made that journey from Minnesota to Oregon (my grandma’s family settled in Bend, Oregon and built a ranch in the late 1800’s/early 1900’s) and I love reading about the hardships, the pilgrimage, what they overcame to make a new life.

“The America they were leaving behind was a nation of some 20 million people, including Indians and others held in bondage as slaves.”

Did you know that Abraham Lincoln was almost part of the Donner Party? He changed his mind at the last minute. But his wife’s nephew was part of a pilgrimage that went west right before the Donner Party.

The first 20% of the book was dry, slightly boring, and a lot of background–the details and history of all the people in the Donner-Reed Party. There were actually a lot of different families and hired hands on the trip in 1846 that made that journey to pursue the “American Dream.” So if you can get past the first part of the book that is a bit slow, it gets pretty good.

The story really gets enthralling once they leave Fort Bridger, Wyoming. This is where shit gets real and things start falling apart. There are illnesses, deaths, injuries, in-fighting, bad advice, running out of supplies, starvation, a war with Mexico, curious Native Americans…the list is endless.

“The Donner Party’s collective dream, however, tragically morphed into a collective nightmare. Poor timing, terrible advice, and even worse weather meant that only about half of those who started the journey reached their final destination.”

The guide they were supposed to meet up with (Hastings) turned out to be a con-artist. Trail tradition held that wagon trains had to reach Independence Rock by the Fourth of July if they wanted to arrive safely in California and Oregon before winter. This did not happen. They were behind schedule.

The Donner-Reed party eventually splintered. Some decided to go to Oregon, some decided to go to California. The short cut that they decided to take turned out to be a bad idea.

“It did take almost a week for all the members of the wagon train to reach Pilot Peak and partake of the refreshing water from a spring that would one day be renamed for the Donners. All the emigrants survived the hellish days and nights in the desert, including the newborn Keseberg baby, but many oxen, cattle, and horses were dead or missing. Reed lost eighteen animals, and other members of the company could not account for twenty more.”

The splintered groups both ended up getting stranded in the snow, maybe 6-10 miles apart from each other. Some found some shanty cabins that they hunkered down in. The Donner Party was forced to camp out in their wagons and tents in the horrific snow storms. After weeks of this weather, starving, some of the more able-bodied people decided to build snowshoes and try to hike out of the canyon to get help.

This is where I will end the descriptions. If you know even the littlest bit of the history, you know what happens next and it’s not easy to read about. It’s absolutely heartbreaking. And very real.

“The children of the Donner Party never forgot what it was like trying to survive in their prisons made of snow. They had no interest ever again in snowball fights, building snowmen, or riding in a horse-drawn sleigh beneath a winter moon. For them, freshly fallen snow was no longer beautiful.”

After you get through the first part of the book, the rest of the story is so enthralling, heart-breaking and shocking, you cannot put it down. The author does a very good job painting the picture of what it was like for those people that were stranded in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, freezing and starving. He described in detail what happened to the body and the mind. It was truly sad.

I’m glad I read this historical book about what happened. I think reading the fictional story first was good and then reading the actual account (with letters, diaries and other things from the people in the parties) helped fill in the gaps.

Happy Reading!

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