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« November, 2003 »
Through the Glass Wall: Journeys Into the Closed-Off Worlds of the Autistic

Buten has worked with autistic children for most of his adult life. He believes he somewhat inderstands them; in some cases he seems to want to be someone with autism. This book is a short look at his work with autistics and an attempt to get inside the mind of someone with severe autism.

Buten employs the device of describing what it might be like as someone with autism to deal with the sensory imact and overload of a normal day to day life. He posits these experiences -- such as getting into a bed and having to have the covers all arranged just so -- as first person experiences and then follows up by saying “of course this isn’t how I see it, but how I might see it....” which can get somewhat confusing. He discusses his work in various centers for children with autism, trying to deal with children who have extreme difficulty even being in the same room with other people, much less interacting with them. Buten seems to see himself as the person who “gets it” who can help these children where others fail. While I found his anecdotes inspiring and his tone cheerful and readable, I wondered if other people shared this same high opinion of him. Not that it matters terribly, it’s an interesting read, but definitely a one-sided one.

Still Lives: Narratives of Spinal Cord Injury

Cole is a doctor in the UK who works with people with paraplegia [called tetraplegia in the UK]. In his attempts to understand how to assist people with disabilities he started talking to them about what their day to day lives were like, how they coped with the daily living issues we all face such as work, relationships and occupying free time. He talks to a wide range of people most of whom can’t move practically anything below their necks or shoulders. All the people he talked to were injured in some way, none were born disabled or became disabled as a result of MS or other diseases.

As with any cross-section of 12 people, some were upbeat and some were not. Some were coping well and some were not. Some had whole new post-accident lives carved out for themselves and some did not. They all talk pretty matter-of-factly about such touchy issues as bowel evacuation, sex and relationships, their time spent in hospitals and in rehabilitative therapy, and getting on with their families. Some of the people he talks to are more high profile -- have written their own books about their experiences or have been in the media for attempts to utilize technology to assist them in gaining more movement control -- and these people seem to offer the more polished interviews. Others are not having an easy time of it and their words reflect the “sometimes it’s good, sometimes it sucks” reality of living with a disability.

Cole is also interested in pain. His idea is that many disabled people live in some sense with near-constant pain that they attempt to put a more positive face on in the interests of being able to move about in “politie society” and not be seen as a burden or a downer. Cole specifically talks to each of the people he interviews about the pain they experience, how they cope with it and how it affects their ability to interact with the larger world. The candid looks at the lives of these people is well-done, with just enough of Cole’s personal thoughts and research interjected to give it the feel of a linear narrative.

Ultimate Prizes

What a strange book this was. I pulled it off of the booksale shelf at the library because it was a hefty paperback that sounded as if it would be a good story. It turned out to be a story about an archdeacon living in the UK who was going through a series of emotional crisises that required the assistance of other members of the church to help him sort it out. While not totally my cup of tea -- I find the workings of the church mystifying and not super compelling -- I did read it all the way to the end if only to find out what happened. The main character does a lot of soul-searching, visiting with memebrs of his family he has practically abandoned, and tries to get some perspective on his life which by all accounts he has made a shambles of. He’s not a very likable character, but his unraveling of his strange set of rationalizations and justifications about how he lives his life makes for interesting reading. Apparently there is a whole series of these books about religious life in England called the Starwatch series. While I probably won’t pick up another one of them, this one was an okay read.

Blood and guts : a short history of medicine

I had a weird problem with this book... The author was a charming looking man, with a big goofy grin and a lovely face. His author bio mentioned that he had recently died, or rather referred to him as “the late Roy Porter” every time I picked up this book, I got sad thinking that the world was missing such a great writing talent who must have died fairly young. It was weird and inexplicable, I’m not like that usually.

So, it took me a while to finish the book which is a fascinating history of medicine, including such subjects as surgery, hospitals and medical treatments. Each chapter is digestable and interesting in their own rights and when put together they are a really intriguing look at the medical establishment. The very last section, on medical insurance, is the only one where you get a peek at Porter’s populist tendencies where he briefly bemoans the lack of quality medical care available to people who can’t afford it and also the corporatization of something as human as caring for the sick.