Monday, September 14, 2009

Reality Check

“The Doctor is In(sane): Indispensable Advice from Dr. Dave”
By Dr. Dave Hepburn
ISBN No. 978-1-55365-408-7

“I Was a Really Good Mom Before I Had Kids: Reinventing Modern Motherhood”
By Trisha Ashworth and Amy Nobile
ISBN No. 978-0-8118-5650-8

“Our Days are Numbered: How Mathematics Orders Our Lives”
By Jason I. Brown
ISBN No. 978-0-7710-1696-7

By Oliver Sacks
ISBN No. 978-0-3073-9817-8

Today’s epic column is all about reality checks and what better way to start our check with a check-up from a real live doctor?
If you don’t have a daily newspaper that publishes Dr. Dave Hepburn’s column then “The Doctor is In(sane)” is a great way to catch up on why he’s been called “The Dave Barry of medicine” and the new Frasier. Like the teaspoon of sugar that helps the medicine go down (anyone under 20 should Google the line for an explanation) Dr. Dave turns a visit to the doctor into a visit to the comedian. He’s “Grey’s Anatomy” with an anatomical punchline.
”A patient’s worst fears are too often followed by a patient’s burst tears as the diagnosis of herpes is explained to them,” he writes. “They often then deeply desire to bring a fatal conclusion to that attractive source of their disease.” He’s a witty, friendly doctor who’ll teach you new things and ways to look at the world as well as make you laugh.
He’ll also make you think about the bigger picture in ways you won’t imagine. When a columnist for a daily newspaper allegedly committed suicide; allegedly suffering from alleged depression and alleged severe back pain, I unallegedly crinkled my forehead and wondered: if they couldn’t get something worthwhile out of all the articles their paper runs about depression and back pain then what could there possibly be in there for the masses besides ads for leaky condos and work-at-home scams? In short, “The Doctor is In(sane)” made me wonder why the dailies continue to publish advertorials about cures for back pain and depression when even their own writers don’t get something out of them. People don’t need empty platitudes. They want to be informed, entertained and maybe learn a little something along the way. That’s where Dr. Dave comes in. His book has enough wow-worthy medical advice to necessitate the book’s index and enough humour and heart to make reading about even the toughest disease digestible.
The wonder of science – well, the results of procreation – figures prominently in “I Was a Really Good Mom Before I Had Kids.” Hmm…maybe “wonder” is too ambitious a word.
These authors have really gotten the Mommy Mindset down to a science – a nuts-and-bolts science. They catalogue every conceivable duty, obligation and thought that can pop into a Mom’s head – and then make great fun of it in a let-off-some-steam kind of way. Wisely, the book takes the women’s magazine format of LOTS of breezy, easy to read lists, quizzes and tips. There are user-friendly chapters titled “Am I a Bad Mom if I Don’t Buy Organic Spaghettios?” and quizzes like “Rank these questions in order of bitchiness.” But the best part of the book is the dozens of “Dirty Little Secret” entries where Moms confess stuff like “I want my own apartment because I don’t like people touching my stuff. And I would prefer if my husband didn’t visit.” Yes, even when you’re finished the book a certain “you had ‘em, you raise ‘em” mentality remains but the biggest recommendation I can give the book is that even guys will find it worth reading.
“On any ordinary day, from the time we get up in the morning until we go to sleep at night, mathematics shapes our lives.” That’s the starting line from “Our Days are Numbered” and if you’re like me (a math-hater) your first inclination is to prove the book wrong. Wrong in any way you can! Sure, you might wake up at a certain time (clocks are full of numbers) and you might have TWO pieces of toast and you might bike EXACTLY 1.2 miles to work, but like all those reality TV shows, if you ignore them they really kind of don’t exist. Math, like humour in medicine and good parenting is really all about having a mindset: it’s as complicated as you want to make it. And “Our Days are Numbered” wants to make it REAL complicated. The book starts out well. And like the start of the year in high school math you think you get what the book is about – until about halfway through when the teacher starts talking about differential equations and “logic.” Like cocktail chatter the book that started out interesting devolves into a highbrow bore. Sure, there’s something here for the geeks. And there’s something here for the squinters who have a lot of time on their hands. The book IS readable and its applications to daily life entertaining. The problem is that this book about days being numbered turns your daily life into a numerical, joyless grind.
After visits to the doctor, parents with screaming kids and dull math teachers it’s no wonder we finish off with a “Migraine.” This book from another doctor, Oliver Sacks. Sacks is so well known (Robin Williams played him in the adaptation of his own book in the 1990s movie “Awakenings”) that he doesn’t even use the title “doctor” on the cover of his book.
But then again, maybe he didn’t have any space left over. The elegantly understated font in this book could singlehandedly give you a migraine, and Sacks is sometimes so verbose that I’m pretty much reduced to quoting his book’s jacket to tell you what the book’s about:
“The many manifestations of migraine can vary dramatically from one patient to another, even within the same patient at different times. Among the most compelling and perplexing of these symptoms are the strange visual hallucinations and distortions of space, time, and body image which migraineurs sometimes experience.” The results, says Sacks, have been things like “Alice in Wonderland” (yes, “Alice in Wonderland”) and the art created by people while in the migraine “aura.” “Migraine” reminded me of people who try to draw or write songs while they’re high. They pretty much depress themselves when they sober up and finally see the evidence of their unlocked “creativity” is merely scribbles and vomit. Migraines and “Migraine” - according to Sacks - are vastly different and much more fascinating. This time the art comes straight from an illness within. In our over-medicated age “Migraine” is a really rare document; a medical mystery that even Advil can’t solve. This book is a horror story in sunlight. Now THAT’s a reality check.