Sunday, February 27, 2011

More Book Reviews

More book reviews as promised.

I just finished reading this book:

The Essence of Happiness by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler, M.D.

 A short, simple, easy to read “reflections on overcoming suffering and obstacles to create a life of happiness”.  It's one of those books you can pick up and read over and over again when you need to re-focus and reflect on finding your “happy place” in life.

My absolute favorite reflection found in the book:

If you want others to be happy, practice compassion; and if you want yourself to be happy, practice compassion.


Along similar lines as “The Essence of Happiness” - but with more content are two of my favorite books written by Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D.:

My Grandfather’s Blessings – Stories of Strength, Refuge and Belonging

Kitchen Table Wisdom – Stories That Heal

Dr. Remen, “whose unique perspective on healing comes from her background as a physician, a professor of medicine, a therapist and a long-term survivor of chronic illness” shares a collection of true stories in both of these books.  The stories are short, easy to read and offer many uplifting, insightful and worthwhile messages.  What drew me to this author was reading in her bio that she has trained many thousands of physicians to practice medicine from the heart and her groundbreaking curriculum “The Healer’s Art” is taught in nearly half of American’s medical schools.   Dr. Remen was a pediatrician (at Stanford University) who gave up pediatrics to counsel people suffering from terminal and chronic conditions. 

I’ve read both of Dr. Remen’s books over and over again because the stories are short and enjoyable and I learn (or am reminded) of something new each time I read them.


How Doctors Think by Jerome Groopman, M.D.

This book was recommended to me by one of Jack’s doctors who made the book required reading for the interns and residents rotating through the PICU.  I loved this book and think it is a must read for anyone who deals with the medical profession on a regular basis.

From the inside cover of the book:

On average, a physician will interrupt a patient describing her symptoms within eighteen seconds. In that short time, many doctors decide the likely diagnosis and best treatment.  Often decisions made this way are correct, but at crucial moments they can also be wrong – with catastrophic consequences.  In this myth-shattering book, Jerome Groopman pinpoints the forces and thought processes behind the decisions doctors make.  Groopman explores why doctors err and shows when and how they can – with our help – avoid snap judgments, embrace uncertainty, communicate effectively and deploy other skills that can profoundly impact our health.  This book is the first to describe in detail the warning signs of erroneous medical thinking and reveal how new technologies may actually hinder accurate diagnoses.  How Doctors Think offers direct, intelligent questions patients can ask their doctors to help them get back on track.

It’s been several years since I’ve read this book and I could definitely stand to read it again.   I highlighted things in the book that stood out to me or that I wanted to remember.  A few of the things I highlighted:

Does acknowledging uncertainty undermine a patient’s sense of hope and confidence in his physician and the proposed therapy?  Paradoxically, taking uncertainty into account can enhance a physician’s therapeutic effectiveness, because it demonstrates his honesty, his willingness to be more engaged with his patients, his commitment to the reality of the situation rather than resorting to evasion, half-truth and even lies.  
(I couldn’t agree more!)

There is nothing in biology or medicine that is so complicated that, if explained in clear and simple language, cannot be understood by any layperson.

Laymen should understand the inherent limits and potential biases in the beholder’s eye, so that when there are important decisions to make, they can ask for another set of expert eyes.
(On why getting a second opinion is a good thing.)

This last one that I highlighted makes me laugh now.  I got the book shortly after Jack had his spinal fusion surgery in 2006.  Jack’s spine surgeon was an arrogant ass, to put it bluntly (but a good surgeon nevertheless).  I absolutely drove him up a wall with all my questions (which I know because of comments he made to other people that got back to me).  In any event, it didn’t surprise me that of the physicians interviewed for this book, the spine surgeons refused to reveal their identity:

The spine surgeons I spoke with were reluctant to be identified by name out of concern that candid answers would damage their standing in the medical community and reduce patient referrals.


Finally, for the perfectionists like myself out there (and I can think of a few) - 

The Pursuit of Perfect – How to Stop Chasing Perfection and Start Living a Richer, Happier Life by Tal Ben-Shahar, Ph.D.

For the true perfectionists out there, this book really hits home as the author talks about the behavior of the perfectionist.   The author discusses the difference between the Perfectionist and the Optimalist. 

The Perfectionist views life’s journey as a straight line.  The Optimalist sees it as an irregular spiral.

The Perfectionist is afraid of failure.  The Optimalist uses failure as feedback. 

The Perfectionist is rigid, critical and defensive.  The Optimalist is adaptable, forgiving and open to suggestions.

The Perfectionist focuses on the “destination”, setting goals that are overly ambitious or unobtainable. The Optimalist focuses on the journey and the destination. 

According to the author, by rejecting the all-or-nothing thinking of the Perfectionist and embracing the more nuanced, complex mind-set of the Optimalist, we can learn to accept our failures along with our successes and lead much happier lives.

The book has a lot of good exercises.  One that I found to be particularly useful – and one that I try to use when I get irritated with myself because I did or said something stupid or less than "perfect" - is the PRP Process. The PRP Process involves giving yourself permission to be human,  reconstructing the situation and gaining a wider perspective. When applying the PRP Process to a particular event:

1.                  Give yourself permission to be human: acknowledge what happened as well as the emotion that you are feeling as a result.
2.                  Reconstruct the situation.  Ask yourself what positive outcomes the situation can have.  This does not mean you are happy about it, but simply that there are benefits that can be derived from it. Can you lean something new? Can you gain a new insight in yourself or others? Can you become more empathetic or more appreciative of what you have in life?
3.                  Finally, take a step back and gain a wider perspective on the situation.  Can you see the situation in the larger scheme of things?  How will you see the situation a year form now? Are you sweating the small stuff?

The PRP Process really does help by putting things into perspective.

This book is a very good read for the perfectionist personality.


That concludes my reviews for the books I've read recently, as well as my favorite books to date.  As you can see, I'm not really into reading novels or fiction.  Although, I do like a good Nora Roberts book on occasion. I mostly read to learn and to try and improve myself, not so much to escape.  Maybe that's my problem.  I should read to escape more, eh?


Susan said...

Ann I love to read novels but haven't really in years. Too busy I tell myself, too many "special needs" books to read. And I will pick up a couple of those you've reviewed, they've been on my list, I just haven't gotten there. I think the escape of a good novel would be a nice change for you. Have a good week!

Christy said...

Thanks for the reviews. The part about the spine surgeons especially cracked me up.

I do think a good comedy might serve you well. When Harlie was in the hospital sometime in her first year, I picked up a book from the Ronald McDonald House. I just grabbed it off the shelf in a hurry and took it to the hospital with me. It was a book by the comedian Dave Barry. I don't remember it now, I just remember laughing out loud. Might be good every once and a while...