what I’m reading

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 #40

Someone asked me where I find all my books. There are a lot of places to find book recommendations! Twitter, facebook, anytime I see someone talk about a book, or recommend a book, I add it to my growing Goodreads list. I find a lot of books on Goodreads. They have reading lists and new releases/upcoming releases lists. They also have “if you liked ____, you might like this book” recommendations on there, too.

I follow some different people on Instagram that do book reviews and I follow some book review blogs that help me find things to add to my list. I also look for stuff on my local library website and Amazon/Kindle.

 

1 )  Mind of Winter by Laura Kasischke

The author paints a picture of desolation well, which is crucial for a creepy thriller book.

It’s Christmas Day. Holly and Eric oversleep. Eric rushes out the door to get to the airport to pick up his elderly parents. Holly and their adopted daughter, Tatiana, are alone at the house, getting everything ready for a big family Christmas dinner. Then a freak blizzard hits and they are snowed in. Everyone cancels because they are stranded elsewhere. Eric is stranded with his parents.

The story is told in disturbing, erratic bits and pieces and flashbacks to when Holly and Eric adopted a 22 month old Tatiana from a Siberian orphanage. Holly is a little obsessed with the idea that Something followed them home from Russia.

The story is a slow boil. There are parts of the writing that feel a bit repetitive, but once you get to the end of the book, you understand why.

Mild spoiler–I realized early on that Holly was having some kind of psychotic/mental break. I won’t go into any more detail because the ending was so shocking I don’t want to ruin it.

 

2 )  How to Change a Life by Stacey Ballis

Eloise is a personal chef for a few select people. She lives in Chicago with her corgi. She spends time alone, or with a few friends, but overall her life is quiet and kind of lonely. Then she hears that her mentor passes away. She goes to the memorial and is reunited with her high-school best friends, Lynne and Teresa. The three friends pick up where they left off and decide that they all need to revamp their lives in some way. They are all going to be turning 40 in a year and they all realize that they had goals they wanted to achieve before 40 that they abandoned.

This is a well-written chick-lit book about food, friendship, love and finding yourself. The characters were all well-developed and felt very real. The friendships in the book were good. The love story was great. The writing was a little on the wordy side and could use a little bit of editing, but overall I enjoyed the book a lot and it was a good palate cleanser after a lot of really dark, heavy books!

#3 Past Tense (Jack Reacher #23) by Lee Child

The newest Jack Reacher book in the series. Started out a little slow but then it picked up pace and got really, really good! There were two stories going on and they were both compelling and really exciting.

Jack is on the move again, as always, and is hitchhiking on the East Coast. He makes his way through New Hampshire where he sees a sign for a town that sounds familiar. It was where his dad grew up. He decides to stop and see if he can find the house his dad grew up in before he joined the Marines and basically became a nomad, kinda like Jack. Except Jack can’t find any records that his dad even existed. He can’t find anything. And a mystery needs to be solved.

In a nearby town, a couple also traveling through New Hampshire, who had given Jack a ride, stop at a remote motel where they are suddenly being held captive by the motel owners. I won’t give anymore away but the stories intersect and the ending was really good!

#4 The Adults by Caroline Hulse

This was an interesting book. Claire and Matt have been divorced for a few years now. They have a 7 year old daughter, Scarlett, and are co-parenting. Claire has a live-in boyfriend, Patrick, who is a lawyer and wanna-be Ironman. Matt lives with his girlfriend, Alex, who is a scientist.

For Christmas, they all decide to go away together for a holiday for Scarlett. They rent a lodge at the Happy Forest Holiday Park to give Scarlett a “normal” family Christmas. Scarlett brings her imaginary friend Posey, who is a giant rabbit, who happens to hate Alex.

Claire and Patrick plan an itinerary for everyone, “Forced Fun Activities”, and everyone tries to get along. But of course, things don’t go as planned. There is an undercurrent of tension and secrets come out. Things get snarky, biting, dramatic.

The book is a fun read. I enjoyed it. Even though I felt like both Patrick and Matt were misogynistic assholes.

#5 Perfectly Undone by Jamie Raintree

Dr. Michels is an OB/GYN doctor who keeps everyone in her life at arms length. When she was a teenager, her older sister died from a secret pregnancy that was ectopic. This drove her through her career, but also kept her from really enjoying her life in a genuine way. Now her boyfriend is ready to go to the next step in their life, her career is taking off, her family life is in a bit of turmoil and she’s still stuck in the past. She can’t move forward.

I enjoyed this book. I liked that it took place in Portland and the author included local stuff. I liked the story. At first I was annoyed by Dylan, the main character, but she grew on me and redeemed herself in the end. I look forward to reading more by this author. The writing was good.

#6 The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister’s Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine by Lindsey Fitzharris

I heard a podcast with this author and immediately put the book on hold at the library. The Victorian era is super fascinating. I did not know about Joseph Lister, so this was a great book to introduce you to the history and the science behind medicine and how modern medicine evolved.

The book was a combination of a historical recount of the history of science and medicine and Victorian practices, but also kind of a biography of Joseph Lister and how he basically discovered that germs were behind creating infections and killing people who have surgeries or give birth.

At a time when surgeons believed pus was a natural part of the healing process rather than a sinister sign of sepsis, most deaths were due to postoperative infections. “

He invented an “antiseptic”–and of course was faced with a lot of backlash from the medical community all over the world. Doctors everywhere disagreed in his claim about germs and infection and how infection spread. They thought his antiseptic was unnecessary

“Surgeons still lacking an understanding of the causes of infection would operate on multiple patients in succession using the same unwashed instruments on each occasion. Instruments like the amputation knife of Lister’s student days were havens for bacteria. Fashion often trumped function. Many had decorative etchings and were stored in velvet cases, which bore bloodstains from past operations.”

Reading the book now, knowing what we know, it’s absolutely horrifying what people went through back then! This time period was also the time of the invention of anesthesia, which drastically changed medicine. Instead of holding down awake patients to amputate or do surgery, they could put them to sleep. Joseph Lister was also friends with Luis Pasteur and they collaborated.

The book is really interesting, creepy, fascinating! There were parts of the book that were over-detailed and a little wordy/too slow but overall it was a good book and I liked it a lot. I wanted to know more about all of the people in that world.

Happy reading!

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