Wednesday, June 13, 2012

4.5 stars for Things We Left Unsaid (Pirzad)...and a quick status update

I confess...I think my new medicine is playing with my brain.  I saw several comments from folks who said they got "fuzzy brained" for a while when first adjusting to it.  I have only been taking one dose a day and doing that at night, but I'm pretty sure that's the case for me too.  One night, I tried to read when I couldn't sleep and just couldn't focus well at all.  A bit nervous about adding an A.M. dose'll be a week at two doses and then I'll go to three where I'll stay.  Almost everything I've read swears the side effects do go away and people were glad they stuck it out.  I can't tell yet if it is helping, but I definitely plan to stick it out.

I do, however, want to write up a review now.  I usually like to wait till I have two, but I'm worried I'll "lose" my thoughts, especially since my current read is a bit complex with shifting time periods and focal characters that all overlap/interrelate (is that a word?).  I am enjoying it, but the prior book definitely deserves not to be lost...

I was a Goodreads giveaway winner for this recently released translation of a novel by an Iranian-Armenian author.  It is set in Iran in 1962 and focuses on a town built around an oil company and an Armenian community with it's own social groups, religious institutions (notably, everyone has Friday off because it it the day of worship in the country but it is not the day of worship in the characters' religion), and schools.  The main character is Clarisse, a wife and mother to a teenage son and younger twin girls.  Her mother and sister (who is perpetually looking for a husband herself) are frequent, usually unannounced, visitors to her home.  The book opens when the children bring home a new friend who has moved into a neighboring home with her father and grandmother.  As Clarisse gets to know her neighbors and navigates her changing community (we see hints of a women's movement), she begins to question her life and her marriage, wondering for what seems to be the first time if she is happy and fulfilled.  

I greatly enjoyed this book.  In many ways, the basic story of a woman questioning her life, a life she's just lived for many years as a wife and mother without really examining her own satisfaction, could be set anywhere.  However, the culture definitely runs throughout and I enjoyed the glimpses into a different society.  The Armenians in Iran are very much a subculture and they generally only interact within their own community.  The community in the book is also very much built around the oil company, it is a more institutionalized version of the company towns we see in the U.S. with housing and transport built for workers and with different neighborhoods for workers and management (again, something seen in many U.S. towns).  It isn't a major focal point, but there are hints of politics such as when Clarisse wanders into a speech about women's rights (she's drawn to it but also very uncomfortable) and her concerns that her husband's political interests might be dangerous.

Through a good portion of the book, it was a hinting at being a 5 star read for me.  As it progressed, I got a bit frustrated with Clarisse and I felt like I couldn't really relate to her sudden discontent.  I felt like she was a bit dramatic at times, almost acting like things were tragic.  I don't want to spell out more detail since it might be spoiler-ish and think the disconnect may be due to cultural/temporal differences.  Despite that issue, I very much enjoyed the book and give it 4.5...rounding down just b/c I'm stingy with putting 5.  I enjoyed the writing voice, though I never know how much of that to attribute to a writer and how much a translator influenced a book that originated in another language.

FYI --  There is a useful appendix in the version I have that explains some elements such as public figures, cultural observations, and even foods that an American reader might not recognize.  I found it helpful to actually read through this section all at once (stumbled upon it when I looked to see how many pages were in the novel, an odd habit of mine) and then consulted it a couple of times as I read. 

Friday, June 8, 2012


I confess...I am pondering emBODYment..and playing with words to make them work for me.  This is really long...feel free to skip the update and go to the second section if you so desire...


I had a second round of diagnostic injections a couple weeks ago.  The second doctor at the pain clinic had been on leave and I pretty much wanted to throw her a Welcome Back party when the appointment folks said she had returned.  I knew it would be a better fit when she actually talked to me before the procedure and tried to make me feel less nervous.  After being belittled for being scared the previous time I had needles poked in my spine, I took this as a good sign.  I had about an hour after the injection where my pain dropped significantly.  I put it at a 2 on the ever-popular 1-10 pain scale...I can't recall the last time I hit a 2.  It only seemed to last as long as the anesthetic though, instead of having additional relief from the other meds in the cocktail.

I was able to schedule the follow-up with Lady Pan Doc.  She never once made me feel attacked, which was amazing after feeling so belittled every time I saw the prior Pain Don.  She said that the results really weren't what they would hope and that it indicated that it didn't make sense to move to ablation of the nerves.  She suggested she approved of the pain meds I'm on (SUCH a change from being called a wimp and told to just deal w/ a daily level 8-9 pain unmedicated).  I mentioned I really didn't want to need to use them for the next 50 years and she said I took the next words out of her mouth.  I also said that the maintenance meds did help but I was still pretty bed-bound and I wasn't ready to concede that I'm going to spend the next 50 years in this state.  She was completely understanding.

She wasn't sure what the next move would be but then mentioned that she figured I had already tried a different medication avenue.  I had not, so we are trying a medicine that really targets nerve pain.  She noted that patients have reported increased appetite on the medicine...people have put on weight but she said it was not the medicine itself but the increased food intake.  Given my history, that makes me nervous and it felt like almost being asked "How bad do you want it (i.e. relief)?"  After four months in bed, having to save up energy for a couple hours upright a week for dinner out or to see friends, the answer is clearly that I want it bad enough to deal with the side effect (Side note: Of course, the day before the appt I had ordered a bridesmaid dress based on my current size...the fact that my measurements landed me in three different sizes so I needed help from the store owner might be fodder for a future thought burst.).

The medicine can also make you a bit fuzzy at first so it is another one I need to build up over a few week at one dose, one week at two doses, and then move to the goal rate of three doses a day.  My online research has a lot of folks reporting good results with the medicine, though they noted they did have to wade through a transition time until they got used to it and the initial side effects faded.  After a minor SNAFU (b/c it would be too much to ask that it work easily) of the script being sent to the wrong pharmacy, I started it last night.  I am also getting some form of cream that I need to have mailed.  I'll try this routine for two months and then return (happily scheduled with Lady Pain Doc again and not the evil other doc).

I asked Lady Pain Doc if I may be looking at being on this new medicine for life.  She said that, if it worked, it would likely be a lifetime thing.  I'm not thrilled with that, but I'll do it if it gets me my life back.  On the good note, it would, hopefully, mean I can eventually stop the other pain meds which would be really great.


So, my new word. 

I think one of the challenges of chronic pain is the complex relationship it creates between the patient and her body.   I have never been particularly healthy.  As an infant, I got seriously ill after every round of immunizations and battled what was apparently a horrific case of diaper rash (Side Note: Apparently this required a diaper-free day and infant me greatly enjoyed the brush with nudism).  The migraines hit pretty young, but it was the mysterious hives that first really started the feeling of being trapped in a malfunctioning body rather than just having my body be a part of me.  The relationship grew more tenuous with the endo.  I think women should be able to embrace their bodies and their womanhood, but the endo makes that really difficult to pull off the "I am woman, hear my roar" mindset.

And then there's the eating and body image issues.  Those are really all about how one relates to one's physical being.  My struggles with those demons made it difficult to feel at peace with my body.  Binging was very much my soul and mind mistreating my body.  Over-exercising wasn't really any better.  I felt like my body was the primary element of "me".  I have definitely improved in this light, but there's still a tendency to look in the mirror and fight with my reflection.  This is especially true as I've lost the muscle tone that made me feel proud and helped me feel like I was in better harmony with myself. 

Now, the struggle of chronic pain.  Facing severe pain on a daily basis means feeling trapped inside a malfunctioning body.  It is impossible to forget that I am a creature with a body.  My body overwhelms my mind and soul.  The pain gets bad enough that my mind can't operate fully.  The mix of pain and medicine means there are times when I can't string a sentence together....a frustrating feeling for someone who likes to write.  I still do some ghost-writing for attorney blogs but there are days when I can't get the focus I need because I can't think beyond the pain.  Some days, I can fight.  Other days, the pain is just too much and I succumb and the pain wins. 

Chronic pain means being constantly emBODYed (and making up a version of a word to express it).  I know that I am more than just my body.  Knowing that is an accomplishment and an improvement from the worst periods of body image issues.  But still, dealing with chronic, severe pain makes never forgetting that I inhabit a body, that I am, inescapably, emBODYed.  Never being distinct from, or in charge of, my body is one of the biggest challenges of chronic pain.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Book Reviews: Never Tell (Burke) & The Story of Beautiful Girl (Simon)

I confess...I have little new to say.  But I do have two book reviews to share:

This is the third book featuring Ellie Hatcher as a New York detective.  I hadn't read the prior ones, which didn't prove any barrier to enjoying Never Tell.  The main story revolves aroud the death of sixteen year-old Julia, a student at a fancy prep school whose death appears to be a suicide but whose mother insists must be a victim of foul-play.  Interlaced with the investigation into Julia's prep-school world is the story of a blogger who is recieving threatening messages as she shares her story of surviving abuse and another plot line involving the release of a convict.  There's also a bit of Detective Hatcher's own story weaved throughout.  The plotlines do eventually tie together with a fairly complete conclusion (i.e. no dangling questions).

I don't read a ton of detective stories but I enjoyed this book.  I found the characters interesting, even some were a bit cliched.  I did feel like the ending was a bit too neat.  I expected the stories to converge and they did but there was one element of the conclusion that just pushed it too far for my tastes.  Still, I enjoyed the read, taking a detective story for what it is.  I'd definitely consider picking up another book in the series (though I am not sure if this book gives away some conclusion-type elements of the prior installments).  3.5 stars, rounded up where needed for "full star only" rating sites. 

It is an ordinary, quiet night when Martha, a retired small-town teacher, finds visitors on her doorstep.  Homan and Lynnie are clearly running from something and they have a newborn baby with them.  It becomes clear they are escaping from the School, an institution where Lynnie has been placed due to her developmental disabilities and where Homan has been as well (he's deaf and unable to communicate when he was found since his signs are not ASL...he is, however, of normal intelligence).  Authorities soon arrive, taking Lynnie back while Homan escapes and Martha hides the newborn.  The chapters rotate between the characters, showing the troublesome world of institutions contrasted with the power of love in many forms. 

I won this book on Goodreads and I'm glad I did.  The story is hard to read at times but there are many moments of hope throughout and it ends up falling into the heart-warming category.  There is also a lot of emphasis on communication and the perils of being trapped without it as shown by both the story of Lynnie, unable to speak of the abuses at the School, and Homan, who spends years on the run and is also unable to communicate.  There's a good bit of cliche, especially in the character of Kate, a teacher who cares for and mentors Lynnie despite the prevailing tone at the School, but I still enjoyed the read.  Parts did drag and it felt a bit predictable, but still rooted a good story with some good folks to cheer for throughout.  I can't really call it "light" given the portrayal of how the mentally disabled were treated fairly recently in our culture (the story opens in 1968), but it was still an easy read for someone who wants a bit more substance than typical summer fare.  Four stars.