Thursday, May 29, 2014

Review: Shouting Won't Help: Why I and 50 Million Other Americans Can't Hear You by Katherine Bouton

Dear Lit Loves,

As promised I read Shouting Won't Help by Katherine Bouton as my next narrative nonfiction choice.  I chose this book because Ms. Bouton relates her experiences as a person who has, like me, suffered sensorineural hearing loss.  Please understand that when I read a book like this I am reading it from the standpoint of a patient that was diagnosed with Meniere's disease at age eighteen.  Ms. Bouton worked at The New Yorker as a journalist when she first realized she had hearing loss that was putting her job in jeopardy.  She goes on to relate to the reader, in an oftentimes highly technical manner, how she came to recognize and accept she was profoundly deaf in her left ear and headed that way in her right ear as well.  I mean, when you have problems hearing people over the phone and have to ask them to write you a memo or send a summary email about that which you discussed on the phone, you have some serious issues.  Like the vast majority of people, Ms. Bouton lived in denial for a long time about how badly she needed to get help for her hearing loss.  There are several chapters where she discusses the stigma associated with hearing loss being age-related as well as hearing loss being an invisible disability.  This proved interesting to me because I never really lived in denial about my own hearing issues; when you have vertigo in which you spend eight or nine hours on the floor regurgitating and it's due to fluid buildup in your inner ear, you tend to seek help immediately.  I viewed my vertigo and hearing loss as an emergency.  Maybe it was because I was so young in comparison to when Ms. Bouton began to lose her hearing in her thirties and forties.

Ms. Bouton never truly gets an answer for what caused her sensorineural hearing loss.  Sensorineural hearing loss is when the hearing loss results from aging or noise exposure and it's particularly when the hair cells in the inner ear are damaged.  Worse, you can also suffer hearing loss due to damage to the auditory nerve which is responsible for carrying sound to the brain.  The other type of hearing loss is conductive and it mostly occurs in children.  Conductive hearing loss is when ear wax impedes sound and causes hearing loss or you have a structural anomaly within the ear causing hearing loss.  In Ms. Bouton's case, she eventually believes her hearing loss was due to a trip she took to Turkey to help in an excavation process.  She became profoundly sick during this trip and believes a parasite or virus is what eventually caused her loss of hearing.  She was tested for Meniere's disease by doctors, but I could tell by the way she glossed over the ENG test used to diagnose Meniere's that there was no way she could have this disease.  An ENG for me, an actual Meniere's patient, is more like getting a root canal and then being hit by a semi.  It ain't fun and no, I do not indulge my doctors in the results for an ENG except every ten years.  Ms. Bouton's vertigo experiences were extremely mild as well and held no comparison to those I suffer.  She did opt for hearing aids and a cochlear implant to  help improve her hearing.  The hearing aid proved difficult for her because getting the correct fit seems near impossible.  The cochlear implant proved somewhat beneficial for Ms. Bouton.  When you get a cochlear implant your neurosurgeon goes into the inner ear via the skull.  He drills a tunnel from the mastoid bone toward the cochlea in the inner ear.  The neurosurgeon then places the electrode into the cochlea and reseals the area with body tissue.  Because inevitably some of the inner ear fluid inside the cochlea can leak out, a  person will experience balance problems after surgery until the site heals and the fluid equalizes.  (This was a very technical part of the book so I'm doing my best to keep it as simple as possible; however, even I got confused while reading about this).  Now, here's the real kicker of cochlear implant surgery:  the device can't be activated until a month after surgery.  Once the implant is activated a patient can expect to spend many an appointment with an audiologist trying to adjust the software within so the person actually can recognize incoming sound as words.  Honestly, the difficulties this caused Ms. Bouton and the highly frequent visits she had to make with her audiologist made me think it would have been better to lip-read or pick up sign language because that's how frustrating I found her experience coping with a cochlear implant to be. 

Now, the author does discuss all sorts of other technology that can be used along with cochlear implants and hearing aids to assist people in hearing from cell phones, in theaters, etc., but honestly I have to say, it all sounded like Greek to me without any sort of diagrams or pictures of the actual technology to help illustrate this kind of advanced technology.  Ms. Bouton does a good job describing what it feels like to have Tinnitus or ringing/buzzing/ humming in the ear.  It can be annoying and I've learned to ignore my own bouts with tinnitus or at least not have a panic attack when it sounds like an ambulance siren going off inside my left ear.  I was given Antivert for bouts with tinnitus which basically soothes the nerve endings inside the inner ear which alleviates my tinnitus.  On a daily basis I use a variety of drugs for my Meniere's disease including a diuretic, anti-anxiety medication,  and an anti-depressant.  For bouts with extreme vertigo, I utilize Valium which has greatly shorten the length and severity of my attacks. 

Ms. Bouton touches on some advancements in the pipeline for persons with senorineural hearing loss especially the regeneration of inner ear hair cells.  This is still in the pipeline though.  The military is actually working on a pill to assist with improving hearing loss as well as helping to prevent hearing loss in the first place.  I found this part of the book most interesting as this is cutting edge to me.  I'm not sure how realistic it is to regenerate inner ear hair cells.  Maybe it can be accomplished with stem cells, but I still think it will be a long while before we see that capability.  I think it's more feasible to find a pharmaceutical agent that eventually helps those of us with severe hearing loss.  Do we need to use earplugs and turn down the volume on the ipod?  Definitely.  Will teenagers do this?  I seriously doubt it.  I listen to Aerosmith sometimes at loud volumes and I have Meniere's disease.  Sometimes I just want to rock out while driving my Mustang.  Admittedly, I do this a lot less these days, but teenagers feel and think they're invincible so let's all be realistic. 

All in all, I was satisfied with this memoir about hearing loss, but I wasn't jumping up and down about it and recommending it to all the members of my Meniere's disease support group.  I think this book frequently was way too technical.  And I kept wondering why Ms. Bouton, after spending so much money on hearing aids, implants, and other tech devices, didn't go ahead and begin auditory and speech therapy long before she did.  Yes, it's frustrating having hearing loss that cannot be reversed and for which there is no cure.  I will say that Histamine injections once a week have certainly helped me which was a treatment Ms. Bouton did not discuss in the book.  I think there definitely needs to be a book about sensorineural hearing loss due to other causes, and I think another book needs to tackle the issue in a simpler, more personable fashion. 

Till next time,

Monday, May 19, 2014

Review: Heaven Is For Real by Todd Burpo with Lynn Vincent

Dear Lit Loves,
I had seen this book entitled Heaven Is For Real everywhere recently.  I would look at the cover with the little blonde, blue-eyed boy and think, "Well, Duh!  Of course it is!"  Now you have to understand that I've had my own experiences with unusual medical conditions, family deaths,  and my dad surviving lymphoma twice along with a stem cell transplant and heart bypass surgery.  Not to mention my mom has survived breast cancer.  And recently, I had a friend and former teaching colleague who was undergoing more treatment for a relapse of small cell neuroendocrine cancer with a terminal diagnosis.  I've encountered people who have confronted death as well as folks who have had near death experiences so I have to say by nature, I'm suspicious of supernatural experiences.  I think they do and can happen particularly when people who are near death suddenly describe visits from relatives that have passed before them.  This particular book had my warning antennae up from the get-go because a four year old child had an experience visiting heaven.  I don't know about you, but I've been around four year olds and they like to embellish and they really like to keep an adult's attention so I started reading with a skeptical frame of mind.

In this book the four year old boy is the son of a small town Wesleyan minister in Nebraska.  He has a sister than is about two years older than him.  His mother teaches part-time and his dad supplements his pastoral salary by being an assistant coach, a volunteer firefighter, and the parents have a garage door business.  The family is visiting another church with a bigger membership when the four year old, who had been diagnosed with the stomach flu days before, starts having abdominal pain and throwing up every half hour.  The first think I found strange in this book is why the parents insisted on going back to Imperial, Nebraska for their son's treatment.  It was obvious to me that the folks with whom they were staying thought the boy's condition was serious enough to warrant going to a nearby emergency room.  The family has a health history of appendix problems.  Why journey three hours back home when the kid is in obvious pain and needs medical attention?  Then, they decided to take the boy back to the same doctor who had diagnosed him with the stomach flu!  The doctor was still clueless about the boy's appendix being ruptured even after xrays.  The parents even allowed the doctor to admit the boy to a hospital and start fluid and antibiotic therapy when it was apparent to me they had serious doubts that this was a simple case of the stomach flu.  Unfortunately, not until the little guy was near death did they decide to take him to another hospital and get a second opinion. 

The next doctor certainly figured out the problem was a ruptured appendix and immediately went to surgery letting the parents know this was gonna be a close call.  At this point the child probably had sepsis and was severely dehydrated.  The surgery was sucessful and there was later a second surgery to clean all the debris from the child's abdominal area.  Eventually, Colton is released and all returns to some semblance of normal with the exception of the mounting medical bills the family faces and Colton beginning to tell his dad and mom that he has visited heaven and seen both God and Jesus.   We later learn the gates of heaven are like the colors of a rainbow, God has a throne, Jesus sits to the right of God, there are animals in heaven, the angel Gabriel sits to the left of God, and everyone the boy encounters in heaven is in their prime with no ailments.  Additionally, Colton begins critiquing various artist portraits of Jesus as being either authentic or not even in the ballpark.  Supposedly, there is another four year old girl of Lithuianian-American descent, living in Idaho, who also visited heaven and Colton approved her drawings of Jesus.  The father goes on to recount that Colton was able to observe his surgery and observe what his mother and father were doing while he was in the midst of surgery.  Interesting, right?

It gets even more detailed.  Colton is able to recount a visit with his great-grandfather, encountering a sister who was miscarried by his mom, and that there is going to be a great war when Jesus returns; a war in which he sees his father fight Satan and his cronies.  Colton also ventures forth that God shoots down power in the form of the Holy Spirit when his dad is preaching to assist him with his message to a congregation. 

I have to say that I did not sit down and read this book in one extended time period.  I started thinking that the dad who is telling the story was quite frankly embellishing his son's actual experience in order to bring more people to Christ.  It wouldn't be the first time someone's done this.  And then there was the financial difficulties the family was having.  If you wrote a book and claimed something like a four year old visiting heaven, you're going to raise some eyebrows, get some attention, and make money.  And I'm an educator, I've been around kids in the elementary, middle, and high school levels.  I have never witnessed a four year old be this verbally expressive or have this kind of memory capacity.  And it sounded to me like we're all going back to the days before women's liberation because in terms of what Colton says, in heaven there will come a fight with Satan and the men are going to fight and the women and children are going to stand back and watch.  Say WHAT?!
Is God going to endorse only the maxims of the extreme Christian right in heaven?  Is God gonna get  political in heaven?  I mean, I remember from my sunday school lessons about everybody being equal in heaven.  So, some of this book definitely does not add up in my opinion.  Can people have near death experiences?  Yes, I've talked to several of these folks and they've never given the details this young boy has and two of them were declared clinically dead before coming back to life!

Don't get me wrong, I think people can and do have near death experiences.  This kid was never declared clinically dead during his surgery; there are no reports that he stopped breathing during surgery or that his heart stopped.  That's what bothers me.  The technical aspect that the boy never actually "died".   Now, maybe this story is all true just like his dad reports it, but I just helped a close friend walk through the shadows of death.  When she called me and said she was visited by her deceased father, grandmother, and a former cat, I didn't doubt it.  I didn't doubt it when my father-in-law had these same visits before his death.  I assured my terminal friend who was scared as hell of dying that no, as far as I know, dying does not hurt and going to Hospice actually makes the dying process a lot easier.  My friend died last month after suffering from a deadly, rare form of cancer that had spread throughout her entire body.  Do I think she's in heaven enjoying her dad's company and hopefully watching over me as a guardian angel:  You Bet Your Life I Do.

Next up on the review docket:  Shouting Won't Help:  Why I and 50 Million Other Americans Can't Hear you by Katherine Bouton published by Picador Books in 2014.

Till next time,

Friday, May 9, 2014

Review: Sum It Up by Pat Summitt with Sally Jenkins

Dear Literary Loves,

Oh my beejeeesus!  You have to read this memoir about Pat Summitt, the former head coach of Tennessee's women's basketball.  Frankly, it should be required reading for every education major in the country because it's really a meditation on how to teach effectively. 

First, I liked this woman from the get-go because she's southern.  That means that she doesn't put up with a lot of nonsense and she says what she thinks with a no holds barred attitude.  She grew up with several brothers and played basketball with them which undoubtedly is why she was such a good defensive player.  She didn't grow up with riches either.  The family lived and worked on a farm.  This is a woman who regularly raked hay into bales, drove a tractor, planted the garden, and milked the cows.  I know some semblance of what this is like in that I spent almost six summers on a tobacco farm during my teen years.    Her father moved the family across the county line in order for Pat to be able to attend a high school where she could play women's basketball.  Interestingly, at one time, girls only played half court basketball; people didn't think we were strong enough to play a full court game.  Well, it was Pat's mission to put an end to that and she did.  She additionally played women's basketball at The University Of Tennessee at Martin and went on to play for the USA women's Olympic basketball team.  At the age of twenty-two, she was recruited to coach women's basketball at The University of Tennessee. 

The job of being a basketball coach really came somewhat naturally to her:  she held all her players to the same high standards she set for herself both on and off the court.  Did she learn skills from more veteran coaches?  Of course, but sometimes, what you do in life is in your blood and that was the case for Pat Summitt.  When she first started coaching the women's team was still playing in the university gym while the men's team played in the arena.  I mean, she drove the players to other schools for their games!.  And it was never a jolly ride home if the team lost because Pat really hated losing.  She did learn from her losses though which is always the sign of a first class teacher.  There were so many players that she discusses with so many different idiosyncrasies.  Some players made it under her and if you couldn't take the heat or buy into the first class program she wanted to build at the university, you left.  And she held her players to high standards off the court as well.  She didn't like it when one group of players really liked to go out drinking the night before a practice.  It didn't set the image she wanted to build of a first class women's program.  So when the players showed up the next morning for practice, Pat had put trash cans in all four corners of the basketball court and she ran those players until all the liquor and beer came right out of them.  I'm serious.  What a way to remind kids of the bad health effects of drinking.

Pat also brought former players back to the university as assistant coaches.  Lord, if they had met her standards as a player then you know they would make it as an assistant coach.  Sometimes, the assistant coaches could provide the motherly touch that Pat couldn't provide and still maintain control and respect of her team.  Eventually though, after the birth of her son Tyler, she learned to develop personal relationships with her players such that they didn't want to disappoint her.  She held her players to a higher standard when it came to academics and basketball which is the highest compliment a coach can receive.  There were times when Pat came across other coaches getting in her face or coaches that attempted to sway potential basketball recruits by putting the Tennessee basketball program down, but she didn't return the favor.  She didn't stoop to low levels.

Eventually, Pat Summitt developed rheumatoid arthritis along with an Alzheimer's diagnosis.  She hung in there, kept her job, got the best medical minds working on her case, and took care of herself as well as her basketball program.  She would later turn some duties over to her assistant coaches and she eventually turned coaching duties over to a former player and longtime assistant coach.  She didn't leave the Tennessee basketball program though because she continues to contribute in any motivating way she can.  What a woman.  What a coach.  And what a seriously grand teacher.  I highly recommend this book.  It would be required reading in my classes and really should be for anyone wanting to eventually become an educator.

Till my next post,