Saturday, September 27, 2014

Review: Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner by Dr. Judy Melinek and T.J. Mitchell

Dear Lit Lovers,

How's your fall going?  Mine's going well even though the leaves and cooler weather really haven't occurred down here in Georgia yet.  That's the part I miss about living in North Carolina.  I did order some recent memoirs to read and the review title of this blog probably grabbed your attention.  I ordered Working Stiff by Dr. Judy Melinek and T. J. Mitchell (her husband).  This author chronicles her experience working as a medical examiner in the Office of Chief Medical Examiner in New York.   Some people asked me upon hearing or seeing that I'm reading this book, if I just liked the macabre or do I like depressing reads.  Well, let me tell you that after seeing cancer at its worst in several friends and loved ones, this book was a breeze and quite informative.  I love medicine and I really found it interesting that a medical examiner can tell so much about a person's story (life experience) just from performing an autopsy!  I'm serious!  If you smoked every day your entire life, your lungs will be charcoal black.  If you were an alcoholic, your liver will not lie to the medical examiner.  And interestingly, it's amazing what a medical examiner can piece together from a crime scene by just doing an autopsy of a body.

I think the most difficult parts to read and understand for me in this book were when the medical examiner discusses having to do an autopsy on a person who commits suicide.  The author's father committed suicide when he was thirty-eight years old.  And I do think that played a part in why she chose to proceed into the field of forensic pathology.  If you've ever witnessed a medical examiner on the stand during a trial, let me tell you, they know what the dead person experienced.  They can tell you if the death was quick; they get to the bottom of what caused a person's death and how a person died; and what I liked most was the idea that this doctor felt that oftentimes, it was up to her to help speak for someone who may have died needlessly or in an especially traumatic manner.  Cause really, when it comes down to it, when a homicide happens only the victim and the assailant know what really happened until the body arrives to the medical examiner. 

It was also moving to discover that the author was one of many medical examiner's who took part in identifying the remains of victims from the 9/11 attacks on September 11th, 2001.  This woman was actually on her way to work the morning of September 11th and saw the first plane that hit the World Trade Center Towers.  She knew something was amiss because the plane was flying entirely too low.  She discusses how they had to basically set up an outside morgue under tents in their office parking lot and continually receive bodies from the trade center site in body bags.  And that often didn't mean receiving an intact whole body.  These folks were meticulously sorting through bones, muscle, teeth, etc. trying to find any sort of evidence that might be utilized to help identify an individual lost in this disastrous event.  And I had no idea of the enormous effort it took to do this job.  Those of us watching from afar or via television didn't see all the behind the scenes work that was going on to help identify all the remains left behind or help bring some peace to all the families that lost someone in this tragic event.

All in all, I really enjoyed this book.  You should definitely pick it up, not assume the worst, and give it a read.  I found it quite informative and I have a whole new profound respect for doctors of forensic pathology because of this book!

Till my next read!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Summary & Evaluation: Madness: A Bipolar Life by Marya Hornbacher

Dear Lit Lovers,
Well folks, I had heard and read a lot of praise about the book I just finished reading entitled Madness:  A Bipolar Life by Marya Hornbacher which has been out on book shelves since 2008.  It's usually listed as a highly recommended memoir so obviously I was anxious to read it and have my own reaction to it.  The book chronicles the author's early life experiences with bipolar disorder and it opens with a particularly gut-wrenching narrative of self-injury.  The author narrates her experiences with getting a correct diagnosis and treatment (or lack thereof) for what I know as manic-depressive disorder, also known as bipolar disorder.  Here's what struck me as interesting while reading this memoir:

1)  Ms. Hornbacher lives with a disease that causes her to vacillate between bouts of extreme mania or hyperactivity to bottom of the barrel lows or depressive episodes.  For many years because of a history of eating disorders, many doctors attempt to treat her for depression.  It was very obvious to me just from the way she wrote the sections about mania that she was enveloped in some time of overwhelming extreme euphoria.  Her rate of speech and writing was like rapid fire gunshots.  I could always tell when she was headed into a manic state by the fact that colors seemed more vivid to her, she was in a constant state of "need to go or be doing something".  And it didn't matter if what she was doing was hurtful to herself and others.  Drinking does not help this disease; I think it makes the effects of mania and depression ten times worse than it would be without getting inebriated.  There were times when the author would just disappear for a month at a time, drive recklessly, and not sleep for days.  Honestly, I knew she had to be exhausted from the mania because just reading about her exploits exhausted me and left me wondering:  would someone please prescribe this woman a sedative! 

2)  The hospitalizations the author receives in relation to bipolar disorder can be stretches of time that she doesn't remember which is truly scary.  Part of this memory loss is attributable to the electroconvulsive shock therapy she receives.  And it was truly fascinating the number of doctors she has seen regarding this disorder.  Some appear to understand the symptoms and treatment for this type of disorder better than others.  Usually, depending on whether she's highly manic or severely depressed, treatment involves adjusting her medications.  There are several occasions when she specifically tells a psychiatrist that she's in the midst of a hyper living mode and the psychiatrist just lets this information go in one ear and out the other while insisting on treating her for extreme depression.  Interestingly, the author generally knows when she needs help and what type of treatment is needed; however, there are times when a husband or friend has to nudge her gently to reach out for help. 

3)  There are moments when the author has total clarity about her illness.  She makes an appointment with a psychiatrist or willingly goes to the hospital for treatment.  Other times she decides that she will just stop taking her medication and self-medicate with alcohol.  Honestly, I think this would be an exhaustive to disorder with which to live.  And a patient never knows when their moods will suddenly swing one way or another on an emotional pendulum.  It was most apparent that folks with bipolar disorder appear to need and even structured daily schedule.  What appears most detrimental to their well-being is excessive amounts of free or unplanned time.  And then there's always the issue as I've seen with friends where an individual with bipolar disorder decides to not take their medications or worse, adjust the medications themselves by randomly increasing or decreasing their dosages. 

4) Are individuals with bipolar disorder more self-involved than the average person without the illness?  I would say so based on this book and the people I have known who have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.  It's almost like they have to be constantly on alert for mood swings or emotional triggers that might send them into a tailspin.  It was especially interesting to see the author not really have any compassionate consideration for her husband and his depressive episodes; however, she readily recognizes that he goes above and beyond the call of compassionate consideration when she's in the grips of mania or depression.

A highly interesting read.  I will definitely be giving my copy of this book to a friend who is living with a significant other with bipolar disorder.  What might be also entertaining is for a loved one living with a bipolar patient wrote about the disease from their perspective.  Just a thought.


Sunday, September 14, 2014

Are You My Acquiring Editor?

Dear Lit Lovies,
 I'm waiting to see who is going to be my acquiring editor because I've written five manuscripts in three years.  And yes, you read that correctly.  I'm putting the final touches on my latest manuscript.  Which editor is going to find the diamond in the hay stack?  Will he/she be from Random House, Kensington Books, Simon and Schuster, or Globe Pequot Press?  Doesn't matter to me.  My priority is getting the material out there.  I write about life's sticky subjects:  domestic violence, secrecy, healthcare, rivalry, the tyranny of corporate America, life, death, and all those other topics of endless commentary and fascination.  I've got the next Tuesdays With Morrie that's geared for women.  Some lucky editor and agent will discover that this author is the exception to the rule or realize they have the winning lottery ticket.  Until then, I'm just being patient and getting my manuscripts scripted into the proper format. 


Friday, September 5, 2014

Vacation Blogging

Dear Lit Loves,

It's been four years, four manuscripts and now I am taking a vacation.  Me and The Brewster decided to reward ourselves after four radically tough years so here we are vacationing on Hilton Head Island.  I'm taking eight days to sit under an umbrella on the beach and read, spend my afternoons at the pool, and venturing out in the evenings for a decent place to eat. 

The trip to Hilton Head Island from Atlanta took about four and a half hours.  I did overhear a conversation at a nearby table last night in which a man bragged that he drove that route in three hours!  Where's the fire, dude?!  We stopped for lunch on our way here.  Upon arriving in the late afternoon we unpacked, toured the resort, and went to dinner at Marley's.  I had crab cakes and the Brewster had spiced salmon.  Honestly, Marley's might be the best restaurant on the island. 

My first day here, I blew out my flip flops.  Seriously, I was coming back out to the beach when the soles of my flip flops fell off and yes, the sand was mighty hot!  Wonder if this is what Jimmy Buffett is speaking about in his song "Margaritaville"?  The Brewster took a look at the flip flops; there was no hope.  Those babies were gone.  There wasn't enough super glue on the island with which to piece them back together.  So I went and bought me a new pair at The Westin hotel.  After accomplishing this, we made our way to San Miguel's for tex-mex.  Delicious, and we didn't break the bank either.  Plus, they have especially fresh salsa. 

The next day I found myself at the pool swimming laps and reading the book entitled The Cancer Chronicles when the Brewster appeared.  Lo and behold, the man's left flip flop was coming apart.  You know what an engineer does with a non-compliant flip flop?  He finds a rubber band to hold the parts together. We went to The Old Oyster Factory for dinner that evening.  My shrimp basket and hushpuppies were to die for, but the Brewster said his Mahi Mahi was way overcooked.  The view there is terrific by the way.  And then we headed to the local grocery store where the Brewster bought super glue and proceeded to fix his flip flop.  It worked.

I'm shocked at the number of people on their cell phones/smart phones while on the beach!  Yikes!  One man had his with him while jumping waves in the ocean.  And I'm seeing fifty percent of people reading with ipads/Kindles and fifty percent are reading the old-fashioned way like me.  Interestingly, some people like to sit or stand in the pool while reading their book/novel.  After getting splashed by several kids who decided to use the pool fountains at water cannons, there was no way in hell I was taking a book in the pool with me. 

Which brings me to going one evening to get pizza.  We went to Giuseppe's Pizza.  Good salads, outstanding staff, and extremely good pizza.  I highly recommend it!   On the flip side of this, we went to one local seafood joint on the harbor front.  Beautiful boats and scenery.  The Brewster said this place was well known and good.  The first issue was hearing a server converse with the woman sitting at the table behind me about how they were both from New York.  The next thing you know the server is making fun of southerners and the way we speak.  Not amusing.  I ordered a crab cake sandwich and the Brewster had the spicy sauteed shrimp over pasta.  Mine was nothing to write home about and no, I could not get sweet tea there either which didn't help matters. The Brewster said his meal was okay, but nothing to write home about so we have forever scratched that restaurant off our list of recommendations. 

Today, it started raining.  We opted not to be in the pool during a storm.  I made my way out to the balcony and actually saw several people in the pool during the storm.  Diehards.  I admire their fortitude, but wondered where there common sense had gone?  Perhaps on the mega pool slide?  When it rains, I go shopping.  So I visited the local Lilly Pulitzer store and found myself another pair of flip flops (seventy-five percent off) and a sundress (fifty percent off)!  Score!!  The Brewster and I then went to lunch at a place called Red Fish.  I definitely recommend the blue crab dip.  The Brewster had the spicy rock shrimp tacos with black beans and I had the Thai Chicken Salad.  Simply superb!  This made up for the previous night's major disappointment.

I have a couple more days here in paradise before I head back to HotLanta.  And Lord knows I could use some good news from an editor or agent right about now or anytime in the VERY NEAR FUTURE!  In the mean time, I'm meditating, living in the moment, napping and dodging small children as well as teenagers with shovels, water guns and water cannons!!

Til Next Time, May You Find Your Own Little Piece Of Paradise Wherever You Are!