Women in White Coats: How the First Women Doctors Changed the World of Medicine by Olivia Campbell

There are so many women in medicine today – myself included – that we take it for granted. In fact, by 2017, women outnumbered men in medical school classes in the US. However, just like the right to vote and the right to enter many other professions, women had to wage war to gain entry into what was, by men, considered their holy terrain. In fact, it was not until the late 1800’s, when a few brave, brilliant, and brawny young women on both the European and American continents battled over the course of many years to achieve full MD status.

Many authors credit Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, born in Britain and later moved to America, as a major pioneer in this area, and she is probably the most well-known. But she could not have moved the needle alone, as they say. While she was fighting the battle mostly in America (although doing a good deal of her clinical training and public speaking in the UK), her colleagues, such as Elizabeth (“Lizzie”) Garrett Anderson and Sophia Jex Blake were waging the war on the other side of the Atlantic. While they were each very different women, approaching their mission with different styles, personalities, and tactics, they also relied upon each other for support and guidance. These women suffered not only prejudice, hardship, and a brutally uphill battle, but also physical oppression. Sophia, and her 6 fellow female students in Edinburgh were harassed to the point of having mud and garbage thrown at them on their way into medical school class by their male colleagues – with the support and encouragement of their male professors. In spite of this, these women persevered, overcoming these unspeakable hardships to go on to establish medical schools and hospitals for women.

It is neither surprising nor novel to read about (white) men fearing others being included among their ranks and using their power, influence, and even violence to attempt to maintain their unilateral hold on a particular enterprise. But while they held on, the field of medicine, particularly healthcare for women, truly stagnated. It was only when women were given full medical practitioner status that women’s issues were brought to the fore and women’s health truly advanced. Women were finally able to come forward and speak about their very private complaints, expose how they’d been treated by some male practitioners in the past, and have advocates with any power to make significant scientific advancements in their care.

This is an incredibly well-researched documentation of a dramatic advancement in the care of women for and by women.. Not a light read, but an important one.

Shrill by Lindy West

In this memoir, Lindy West shares her alternatingly traumatic and triumphant experiences as a feminist writer venturing into online journalism. Because she is also fat (her self-description), she also becomes a target in our fat-phobic, one-size-fits-all-definition-of-beauty society and is branded by trolls with repulsive vitriol. When she tries to stand up, for example, against comedians who use rape as a topic for jokes (which is about as funny to most women as I imagine Putin is to most Ukrainians right now), she gets accosted online by the most offensive trolls imaginable, with comments liked by some of her friends. (It is pathetic how quick people are to take sides against those who are perceived as vulnerable.) Lucky for women, she is a strong, smart, and good-hearted person who rises above and sees the forest for the trees, speaking out for all of us. She proceeds to make history in her accomplishments, one troll at a time.

This book is replete with paradoxes. West is vulnerable yet powerful. She puts herself out there, stands up and stands out in a public forum, knowing she’ll open herself up to criticism – and omg, does she – but yet she stands up again and defends herself so strongly that she silences others to a screeching halt. She hears the noise, feels it, but does not allow the noise to infect the clarity of her argument. Despite feeling isolated, she thinks about women in general and not just herself as a woman. She also sees herself as others see her, yet she will not bend to their perception of who she is.

Some may find her story stirring, even jarring. We are not used to hearing women with loud voices. We are not used to hearing women be comfortable and secure in larger bodies. We are not used to hearing women stand up for themselves when they have strong opinions and strong minds, especially when they go against the (male) grain. But I know it’s about time we got used to hearing and appreciating them!

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

In this tender memoir, Trevor Noah shares his experience growing up during the final edge of apartheid in South Africa. Through vividly narrated vignettes, we learn about his complicated relationship with his mother, who is fiercely devoted to him and yet is independent, stubborn and vulnerable. We learn of his early struggles to find himself, and how he must battle against the vicious cycle of poverty that apartheid has inflicted upon his people.  

It was suggested to me to listen to the audio version of this book – and this was excellent advice.  Hearing Trevor Noah narrate his own story, in his own beautiful, South African accent and fluidly modulating to his family and friends’ voices and accents, is just a gift to yourself. 

Noah is a brilliant storyteller.  He shares his experiences with such warmth and humor, as if he is sitting with you in your living room, over a cup of your favorite hot tea – but as if he’s sharing his deepest, darkest memories, only with you.  He describes in colorful detail some of the most outrageous adventures and unbelievable experiences.  But even as he shares his joy and his pain, it is as if he is flickering a smile at you, as if to say, we can still laugh, even as we hurt.  This is how we cope.

You will be engrossed and amazed — you will gasp and you will laugh out loud.  Don’t just read this one – listen to it!  

It’s a “MUST READ” but more than that, it’s a “MUST LISTEN!”

 

An Invisible Thread by Laura Schroff and Alex Tresniowski

An Invisible Thread Sews Together An Unusual Friendship – CW50 Detroit

 

Laura was no stranger to the streets of Manhattan in the mid-1980’s, but something made her stop and turn around after passing a small, skinny, Black boy asking for money on one fateful Monday afternoon.  His name was Maurice, and he was half-starved, and when she invited him for lunch at McDonald’s, he accepted.  Laura was careful not to pry too far, but could see that Maurice was fending largely for himself, and she was unsure if she’d ever even see him again or how that would happen.  To her amazement, though, she did, every Monday from then on.  From this bloomed an unlikely friendship that became a blessing for both Laura and Maurice.  

This is a true story that is told from Laura’s perspective, but gives a great deal of background from Maurice’s family experience as well.  Both of them have experienced a great deal of family trauma, although Maurice’s is quite dire, with most of his family falling victim to the devastating crack epidemic of the 1980’s.  While Maurice is clearly loved by his family, particularly his mother and grandmother, they are both usually too ill to properly care for him and he is often left to his own,  skillful, but youthful devices.  When Laura meets him, he is living in a crowded single room with many drug-addicted relatives where there is no routine, no structure, and never any food in the fridge.  Laura is the first person to ask him what he might consider being when he grows up, giving him a first glimpse of the possibility of a real future for himself, besides what he sees in his family.  

On one hand, this story is inspiring.  Laura speaks freely about how she has gained as much from the relationship as she has given.  While she truly has given, whether in lunches made in brown paper bags – signifying to Maurice a show of love and care for him – or clothing, or just a periodic respite from his tumultuous family life, she has also received.  She has not had relationships where she was able to have children, and I believe Maurice was sort of like a son to her.  She was able to lavish attention, occasional gifts and intermittently share her wisdom with him, the way she might with a son, and she felt gratification in this.  And certainly, Maurice was given something of a lifeline, in that he was shown a different possibility for how his life might be – that he did not have to follow the path of his family and that he could choose a steadier, healthier, and safer path for himself.  And he did.

On the other hand, the story being written as it was also feels a bit self-congratulatory and almost cringe-worthy.  We’re here again, with another white woman “saving'” a Black boy – and it just feels a bit uncomfortable to read about this.  Laura is truly generous and giving – but why does she have to write about it?  While “a portion” of the proceeds from the book are destined for the No Kid Hungry non-profit group, it still feels a bit strange. 

I’d be very curious to hear what others feel about this book and this issue.  I invite your comments!  I am truly torn over this one! 

 

 

 

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi: 9781984899767 | PenguinRandomHouse.com:  Books

Gifty is striving to complete her final doctoral thesis in neuroscience on addictive behaviors. She knows she’s obsessing over her data, and that she needs to move on to the writing of the final paper, but her past has come back to haunt her and she is stuck.  It may be that the visit from her mother, drowning in her own pain, will nudge her forward.  Or will it be her sifting through her old journals from her youth?  Somehow, Gifty works through a resolution and confronts the deeply painful religious, emotional and philosophical issues that are holding her back. 

This memoir is a recounting of a second generation immigrant from Ghana who suffers multiple layers of trauma during her childhood,  while seeking and finding little community support in her small town, Southern evangelical church.  Needless to say, her struggle is complicated.

One recurrent theme is the conflict she feels between religion and science.  Having memorized large swaths of scripture for her mother’s approval and having limited experience outside her small, Bible belt town in Alabama until college, she has a deeply ingrained emotional connection to her religion and to a traditional belief in God.  On the other hand, her more cerebral side has rejected much of the dogma the church espouses; whether the narrow views on sexuality, the scorning of evolutionary theory, or the criticism of science in general.  So when a fellow student criticizes those who are religious, she is not quite sure what to feel, but she is simultaneously insulted and embarrassed.  She identifies with those being criticized but also sees why they are being so.   

The other inescapable message here is the devastation that occurs when a family member has an addiction. Not only does the addict suffer, but everyone around him suffers as well.  When Nana, Gifty’s brother disappears, she and her mother spend hours searching for him to try to bring him home to safety.  When he is not functioning, the whole family is not able to function.  And the cycling and unpredictability has devastating effects on everyone for years to come. 

This very real story hits hard and is a hard read.  We are very fortunate that the author has chosen to share her experience with us.  

Heavy by Kiese Laymon

Through this deeply moving memoir, Kiese Laymon shares his experience having grown up as a black male in a larger body in the deep South.  He shares his earlier traumas, his fonder memories, and how he has learned to cope with both the times his mother was absent and the times she was present.  

This is a such a gritty, revealing memoir that reading it feels almost voyeuristic.  Writing it as a letter to his mother, Laymon is so deeply introspective and revelatory that we peer into his private window, we peek inside his heart.  We experience his profound sense of pain and powerlessness as he watches the women in his life become victimized by other men.  His anger is, sadly, directed inward – as it so often is.  It manifests first as binge eating and later as restriction and overexercising.  This coping strategy works for him, however, until it doesn’t.  Meanwhile, he is able to be as resilient as possible, forging relationships,  excelling academically and achieving goals on his terms.  

As a side note, I so appreciate that Laymon has come forward with this memoir, because it defiles so many stereotypes of who struggles with eating disorders.  As he acknowledges himself, eating disorders are thought to exist only in upper class, white women – and this is just not true. Folks of all genders, races, and socioeconomic strata utilize these behaviors to cope with their lives and one can never assume anyone is free or “protected” because of who they are or appear to be.  These are secretive behaviors and cannot be diagnosed by someone’s appearance.  And they can be very painful, distracting, and most importantly, life-threatening – never to be taken lightly.

This is also an important memoir from the perspective of understanding racial issues and racism.   Laymon shares his encounters with racism and digests them with us, his readers.  Both he and his mother, in spite of their obvious intelligence and academic accomplishments, are underpaid and frequently disrespected.   But, again, he also places his experiences into context.  He understands that even when he’s been treated as less than, he is still not at the bottom of the totem pole, being a male as opposed to a female person of color.  His compassionate view of the women in his life enables him to see their utter vulnerability to the forces of bias and power imbalance. 

I deeply appreciate this memoir, for all its raw and painful honesty. This is a hard read but well worth the work of it.  

 

 

 

Caste by Isabel Wilkerson

Caste (Oprah's Book Club): The Origins of Our Discontents: Wilkerson,  Isabel: 9780593230251: Amazon.com: Books

Written by one of the most impactful writers of our time, this non-fiction masterpiece is a stark comparison of the caste system that we live with here in the U.S. and that which has existed in India for hundreds of years and that which enabled the rise of the Third Reich in Germany during World War II. In order to elevate the white, European (Aryan) male in both the U.S. and Germany, it was necessary to establish a scapegoat, or a group of humans deemed less-than, in order to maintain an identity of being higher than. Likewise, in India, it was necessary to invoke religious inspiration to insist that men are created with certain intrinsic value based on the class they are born into, rather than natural, proven talents/abilities. Those at the top convinced themselves (and are continuing to convince themselves) that those at the bottom were content with their lot – or at least, that this was a god-given right which they enshrined. The myriad historical details and the personal accounts only serve to enrich Wilkerson’s thesis and drive her very painful and compelling point home.

While this book is not an easy one to read, it is one of the most important books that help explain this moment we are living in. It is clear that the presidency of Donald Trump was not a cause but a result of a growing fear of white men of losing their power over all others (including women of all colors, by the way) in this country. The continued efforts of Republicans to gerrymander and inflict restrictive voting laws are clear evidence of their flailing attempts to grasp onto those strangleholds they view as their birthright. And, as Wilkerson so rightly points out, these restrictive and terrifying laws and movements, and the rising of the Alt Right, Neo-Nazi, and white supremacy groups, hurt everyone – including the perpetrators – physically and mentally. We all lose.

We owe Wilkerson a debt of gratitude for her years-long, painstaking research and her gorgeous writing that encapsulates it.

Again, everyone MUST READ this book – if you want to understand not only caste but the fundamental history of our country and what is happening in our country today.

Here All Along by Sarah Hurwitz

Here All Along - National Library Board Singapore - OverDrive

In this book, Sarah Hurwitz, better known for her speechwriting for the Obamas, takes us with her on her spiritual journey, her quest for a deeper understanding of Judaism than her elementary, religious school education had afforded her. After being re-introduced to Judaism through a course at a local JCC, she was inspired to delve deeply into various texts, study with various rabbis and other learned folks, and seek out various religious and spiritual experiences to try to identify what Judaism could mean for her. In doing so, she discovered that there was really no comprehensive book that did this for her, and thus, made it her business to try to create this one for others seeking to possibly do the same.

This is an impressive volume that I feel can help anyone who may be either contemplating becoming a Jew by choice, or really anyone just wishing to learn more about their own Judaism. Even having had the benefit of having studied various texts of the Talmud in my younger days, and have celebrated most of the holidays on a regular basis, there is always more to learn and I feel I did so from this book. She is contemplative and analytical about so many aspects of observance, about belief in God, about the beauty and significance of Shabbat, about the idea of what happens when we die – that there is truly something here for everyone.

I love that the language is accessible and non-judgemental as well. Having been educated in an Orthodox day school, I have experienced a heavy dose of Jewish guilt first-hand and it can be exhausting and alienating. Here, on the other hand, Hurwitz emphasizes the positive – the ethical values and actual responsibilities that Judaism expects of the individual toward those who are marginalized in any way, to animals and to the earth. And while observing the laws and rites and rituals remind us of who we are, the fundamental moral practices keep us grounded in our humanity and are likely what take us to a higher place spiritually.

I suspect this will be a gift I will consider giving to others. You may consider giving it as a gift to yourself!

Untamed by Glennon Doyle

Untamed: Glennon Doyle, Glennon Doyle Melton: 9781984801258: Amazon.com:  Books

Just as a cheetah in a zoo is caged and trained to repeatedly chase after what she perceives as prey, so too are women caged in by society’s expectations and rules. We live and breathe in the norms around us — the standard of the thin, beautiful, smart, soft, modest, quiet, unassuming, and all-giving idea of the perfect woman — and cannot avoid striving for this, even when we are not even aware that we are doing so. This is what Glennon Doyle becomes aware of as she watches this caged cheetah pace back and forth and sees that she is not much different from this animal. It’s just a bit more complicated for her to work her way out of her cage, as it involves more than just her own life – it involves the lives of her husband and children as well.

In this memoir, Doyle reflects, through tiny moments and vignettes, about her metamorphosis as she moves from inside the cage to outside. She reflects back through her journey through recovery from bulimia and substance use, disentangling from a dishonest marriage, and tiptoeing through tightrope-like moments of parenting. Unlike many of us who struggle with similar issues, she also had to do this while living as a public figure, so had to also contend with answering to the public about this deeply personal process. What she learns, however, is to use her anger and her pain for good. She learns that rather than trying to escape these feelings, sinking into them actually can make her stronger.and push her into constructive action.

This is a powerful book that has many lines of wisdom contained within. Here are 2 of my favorite lines:

“If you are uncomfortable – in deep pain, angry, yearning, confused — you don’t have a problem, you have a life… You will never change the fact that being human is hard, so you must change your idea that it was ever supposed to be easy.”

and

“Maybe Eve [from the bible] was never meant to be our warning. Maybe she was meant to be our model. Own your wanting. Eat the apple. Let it burn.”

This is an enriching read for both women and men. It will open your mind and your heart and force you to look both inward and outward.

Another MUST READ! (This list is growing so long!)

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

Image result for image of quiet by susn cain

Do you ever crave an escape from the noisy world we live in? Do you thrive in quieter settings, when you’re either alone with a good book or just engrossed in deep conversation with one friend? Have you worried there was something wrong with you when you panicked at the thought of having to speak up in a group of co-workers or a study group? If you have, you may actually be an introvert – and that is not a bad thing! While our society seems to prize the extrovert, the one who is the outspoken, confident leader — think Homecoming Queen, for example — it may be the introvert who really is behind so many of our major advancements (think Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple). It is the introvert who may allow for the quiet time during which thoughts can generate and percolate, and who may seek deeper conversation that brings people close. To be clear, it is not that introverts do not seek to be with others, but their connections are generally in smaller groups, on their terms, and more intimate. Nor is there a judgement that being introverted vs extroverted is better or worse – this is just a variation in personality style and a way of relating that can be every bit as effective. This book helps to identify and elevate those who are introverts to allow for all of us to prize introverts for their unique value just as we do extroverts for theirs.

An important impact of how society values extroversion is on our educational system. More and more, classrooms are being set up to promote group activity, with desks moved into circles rather than in the classic rows. This is great for those who function well in groups, the extroverts, but those who learn better with time to themselves, this may be more challenging. It is up to the teachers to appreciate and value both personality types and learning styles and to accommodate both.

I wish I had had the opportunity to read this book years ago. I learned so much about both myself and members of my own family through the pages of this book. I now understand why after caring for patients and interacting with my colleagues all day at work, all I am usually able to do by the end of the day is to get into bed and read. I realize that while I feel privileged to have the interactions I have both with my patients and my colleagues and I do feel passionate about what I do and enjoy it, it does take all of my energy to maintain the level of human interaction that it requires. At the end of the day, I need to refuel. Apparently, I am a true introvert.

This is an important book for so many of us to read. It gives us a much deeper understanding of our family, our colleagues, and our friends and enables us to value each of them for their unique styles of interaction. It may also give us a deeper understanding of ourselves. It certainly did this for me.

I recommend this as a MUST READ!