book reviews, healthcare

A review of Amy Silverstein’s My Glory Was I Had Such Friends: A Memoir…

On April 18 of this year, the New York Times ran a beautifully written op-ed by the author, Amy Silverstein. I knew who Amy Silverstein was, because about 15 years ago, I read her amazing book, Sick Girl, which she published in 2007. Reading Sick Girl was life changing for me. At the time, we were living in Germany the first time, and I had ordered the hard copy of the book, because I didn’t own a Kindle. I’m not even sure if Kindles existed at that time. I think I decided to buy Silverstein’s book about her experiences as a heart transplant recipient after reading a review of Sick Girl in People. I love books about real life health crises… or, at least I used to love them when I was younger and the crises seemed less like something I might experience personally.

I read Sick Girl in 2008 and reviewed it for Epinions.com. I reposted my review here, combining it with another review I wrote about a book called Change of Heart, which was written by Claire Sylvia, another transplant recipient. The two books were very striking to me, as they had such different moods to them. Claire Sylvia’s book about being a double transplant recipient (heart and lung) was overwhelmingly positive and grateful. After she wrote her book, Claire Sylvia went on to also receive a kidney transplant. She died August 19, 2009, 21 years after her heart and lung transplant.

Amy Silverstein’s book, Sick Girl, by contrast, was a lot more negative and honest. Silverstein wrote a no holds barred account of what it actually means to be a transplant recipient. She received her first heart in 1988, when as a 25 year old law student, she had health problems that revealed a congenital heart defect. In Sick Girl, Silverstein explained that many people believe that organ transplants are miraculous cures for people whose organs fail. But really, organ transplants just trade one health problem for another, as recipients have to take medications that keep their immune systems from destroying the foreign organs. Amy Silverstein had a life expectancy of about ten years in 1988, after she accepted a heart belonging to a 13 year old girl who happened to die in an accident at just the right time to save Amy’s life.

In 2007, when Sick Girl was published, Amy had already defied her doctors’ expectations for her survival by an additional ten years. But even though she’d had 19 years, when she was expected to only have ten, and even though she’d become a wife and adopted her son, Casey, Amy had seriously contemplated suicide. She was tired of being a “sick girl”. In 2005, when Amy was thinking about taking her own life, she was fixated on how difficult the regime was, and how she didn’t want to live that way anymore.

When I read Amy’s book, written a couple of years after she had those suicidal feelings, I empathized. I could totally understand why she was so tired of being sick and tired all the time. She had to submit to a grueling regime that included procedures like heart biopsies, and taking medications that made her throw up and put her at risk for every virus in the atmosphere. A simple cold could leave her bedridden for weeks. And people didn’t understand what it was like for her and made clueless comments that were infuriating in their innocence… and ignorance. So she wrote her book to educate the masses.

Not everyone liked Sick Girl. A lot of people thought Amy Silverstein was ungrateful and unpleasant. Some people found her whiny and self-absorbed. Quite a few folks seem to believe that anyone who gets an organ transplant should shut up and be eternally grateful, even if they are constantly sick and having to see doctors for painful, invasive, and expensive treatments and screenings. I, for one, heartily disagree, because if no one ever complained about the experience of having transplanted organs, scientists and doctors would never know what to improve about the experience for future patients. Moreover, I don’t think that just because someone gets a new lease on life, they should be expected to just shut up and act happy. I also don’t believe Amy Silverstein was ungrateful.

Amy’s first heart lasted an astonishing 24 years, before it started to fail due to the ravages of her immune system, antibodies that her body developed to attack the heart, and the many powerful anti-rejection drugs she had to take to stay alive. She needed another heart transplant, but having undergone one already and knowing what receiving a second heart would mean for her, Amy Silverstein hesitated. But then she got by with a little help from her friends.

***

In 2017, Amy Silverstein wrote another book, titled My Glory Was I Had Such Friends: A Memoir. I downloaded the book in September 2020, but never got around to reading it until this month. I read it after reading Amy Silverstein’s obituary in The New York Times, which appeared just a few weeks after her lovely essay, titled “My Transplanted Heart and I Will Die Soon”, appeared in mid April. In the essay, Silverstein wrote that she had taken excellent care of her second heart, which she received in 2012. However, because of the drugs she had taken since 1988, Amy developed several types of cancer. From the op-ed:

Organ transplantation is mired in stagnant science and antiquated, imprecise medicine that fails patients and organ donors. And I understand the irony of an incredibly successful and fortunate two-time heart transplant recipient making this case, but my longevity also provides me with a unique vantage point. Standing on the edge of death now, I feel compelled to use my experience in the transplant trenches to illuminate and challenge the status quo.

Over the last almost four decades a toxic triad of immunosuppressive medicines โ€” calcineurin inhibitors, antimetabolites, steroids โ€” has remained essentially the same with limited exceptions. These transplant drugs (which must be taken once or twice daily for life, since rejection is an ongoing risk and the immune system will always regard a donor organ as a foreign invader) cause secondary diseases and dangerous conditions, including diabetes, uncontrollable high blood pressure, kidney damage and failure, serious infections and cancers. The negative impact on recipients is not offset by effectiveness: the current transplant medicine regimen does not work well over time to protect donor organs from immune attack and destruction.

After I read the New York Times op-ed in April, I remembered that I had downloaded Amy Silverstein’s second book about her second heart transplant, and how her friends had helped her (and her husband, Scott) through the experience. I made a mental note to read that book, but didn’t get to it until I read Amy’s obituary, which ran in the New York Times on May 16, 2023. Amy died on May 5, 2023. Two weeks after reading about her death, I’ve finished reading My Glory Was I Had Such Friends. Once again, I’m left very moved and better educated about organ transplants than I was before I read the book.

Although Amy’s op-ed indicates that transplant science hasn’t changed a lot since the late 80s, when she received her first heart, her second book indicates that things have actually changed somewhat. Because of her unusual circumstances, and the fact that she’d had her first heart for so long, Amy Silverstein was advised to go to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California, which has the most advanced transplant program in the United States. Amy’s first heart transplant was done in New York, and she’d spent the ensuing decades seeing doctors in New York. But even though they knew her better than anyone else, her doctors told her she should be treated by Dr. Jon Kobashigawa, a renowned transplant surgeon there. So that’s what Amy did. She packed and went cross country for treatment in Los Angeles. But she needed help, and that’s where her posse of friends came into the picture. They all had their own unique strengths that helped Amy survive in her hour of need.

Amy Silverstein was blessed with several female friends who loved her dearly. And those friends picked up their lives to be with Amy and her husband, Scott, as they waited for a new heart to become available to her. It was a very difficult time, and in the brutally honest and somewhat negative style of her first book, Silverstein explains how difficult it was… and how much a lot of it really sucked. Again, I could hardly blame her. Some of what she endured sounded absolutely horrifying. Also, as Amy got older, she became much less interested in indulging the egos of some of the people who treated her. I found her stories of what she endured both fascinating and dreadful… and again, I could hardly blame her for complaining. Meanwhile, she had these devoted friends who were there for her, in spite of Amy’s apparently difficult and demanding personality. There must have been good reasons for them to love her as much as they obviously did.

When I read the reviews on Amazon.com, I wasn’t surprised to see that, once again, some readers found Amy Silverstein abrasive and ungrateful. And, once again, I think they missed the point and probably didn’t think very long and hard about what Amy was enduring. As the negative reviewers complained about Amy Silverstein’s apparent lack of gratitude, they failed to have any empathy for her situation. It’s easy to think that if you or I were in such a grave situation, we wouldn’t be perfect patients, endlessly patient, sweet, compliant, and never once failing to constantly thank everyone profusely. But the reality is, if you are, yourself, in that situation, cooped up in a hospital room, unable to breathe or sleep, using a pacemaker that constantly sends painful shocks into your body because your heart is so diseased, and not even able to enjoy sunlight or fresh air, your attitude might suck, too. You might become demanding and unpleasant. Moreover, I don’t think Amy Silverstein was, at all, ungrateful.

If Amy Silverstein had really been an ungrateful patient, she never would have lived for as long as she did. Amy Silverstein respected both of her donors by taking excellent care of both hearts. An ungrateful person would not have done that. They would have simply given up, stopped taking their medications with the unpleasant side effects, quit seeing their doctors, and just up and died. Amy’s second donor was also a thirteen year old girl, who had been an athlete. After she received her second heart, Amy recovered within weeks. She went running, because she felt well… In fact, she felt better than she had since before her first transplant. Of course she was grateful! And she got another ten years to enjoy that heart before she died… not because the heart failed, but because of the drugs she had to take to keep it beating. I would imagine that the COVID-19 pandemic was especially hard for Amy, who was regularly wearing face masks years ago, because she was a transplant patient.

When I read My Glory Was I Had Such Friends, I could relate to Amy Silverstein’s story, and I knew she wasn’t blowing any smoke up my ass about what it’s like to be a transplant recipient. Yes, it’s important to be grateful, but as I mentioned up post, if no one ever complains, then improvements can’t be made. No one would ever see the need for improvements. That makes it harder for the patients of the future. Moreover, sometimes people should be told the brutally honest truth, so they can have a more realistic perspective. Yes, organ transplants are kind of miraculous, but they aren’t a cure. Amy Silverstein helped me realize how fine the line is between life and death for transplant patients. She would have turned 60 on June 3rd of this year, and she managed to accomplish so much in her lifetime. No one expected her to live beyond age 35, yet here we are. Maybe the reason she did live for so long is because she was so very “difficult” and “demanding”. Not complaining might have meant giving in… and giving up.

Anyway, I really enjoyed both of Amy Silverstein’s books, and I am grateful that she shared her experiences so candidly. I agree that sometimes she was negative, and I’m sure some staff at the hospitals she attended thought of her as a pain in the ass. But, I found Amy’s accounts of her experiences authentic, realistic, and important, and she was a very expressive writer.

I’m glad Amy didn’t simply shut up and stop whining. Those who found Amy insufferable can now take comfort that she won’t ever bother anyone again with her “negativity”, but she no doubt taught countless healthcare professionals through her remarkable case and astonishing longevity. Anyone who regularly reads my blog probably knows that I’m big on being real and occasionally “inappropriate”, warts and all. For me, Amy Silverstein’s books check all the boxes. I highly recommend them both.

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book reviews, healthcare, history, mental health, politicians

A review of Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter, by Kate Clifford Larson…

Amazon.com tells me that I purchased Kate Clifford Larson’s book, Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter on October 25, 2015. It was originally published on October 6th of that year, and I believe I bought it based on recommendations from Alexis, who was my #1 reader and commenter for years. I’m sorry it’s taken me almost eight years to finally get around to reading Kate Clifford Larson’s fascinating book about Rosemary Kennedy, and the very dysfunctional Kennedy family. I’m glad I finally sat down and read the book, because it was surprisingly compelling in many “soap opera-ish” ways.

I’ll admit that before I read Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter, I knew almost nothing about the Kennedy clan, other than the fact that they were a very rich and politically powerful Irish Catholic family from Massachusetts, and they seemed to be cursed by many tragedies. I never knew just how many tragedies there were until I finally read this book that’s been sitting in my Kindle queue for so long. My mind is blown on many levels.

Who was Rosemary Kennedy?

Rose Marie “Rosemary” Kennedy was born in her parents’ home on September 13, 1918 in Brookline, Massachusetts. She was the third child and eldest daughter of Joseph P. and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy. Her older brothers, Joe and Jack, were perfectly normal boys, born to wealthy and prestigious parents. Joe and Rose Kennedy would go on to have a total of nine children, eight of whom were healthy, strong, intelligent, and high achieving. Rosemary might have been completely normal, too, except for a terrible decision that was made as she was being born.

On the day of Rosemary’s birth, Rose’s doctor was not immediately available to deliver her, on account of a severe breakout of Spanish flu. The doctor had to be in attendance when the baby was born in order to collect his fee. Consequently, the nurse who was tending to Mrs. Kennedy told her to keep her legs closed and actually pushed Rosemary back into the birth canal. Because of those unfortunate decisions, Rosemary was kept in the birth canal for two hours without adequate oxygen. When the baby was born, she appeared to be healthy and normal, but as she grew, her parents realized that she was not developing as her brothers, and later, her younger siblings, did.

Soon, it became clear to her family that Rosemary had significant intellectual and mental delays. However, because the Kennedys were so rich, powerful, and ambitious, they kept Rosemary’s condition carefully hidden from most people. She was apparently beloved by her family, yet she was also an object of shame for them. Her parents– especially her father, Joe– took great pains to keep Rosemary’s difficulties out of the public eye.

When she was still a child, it wasn’t impossible to hide Rosemary’s condition from the public; but as she grew older, stronger, and wanting more independence, figuring out what to do with Rosemary, and hiding her disabilities from the public, became much harder for her parents. Complicating matters was the fact that physically, Rosemary was very attractive and flirtatious. She enjoyed the company of men, and they liked her, too. The Kennedys were concerned that Rosemary would end up falling into a disreputable lifestyle that would put her in danger or, seemingly worse to them, somehow embarrass the family.

Power parents…

Rose Fitzgerald was a favorite daughter of John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald, a very politically powerful Irish Catholic man from Boston, Massachusetts who had served as a Massachusetts State Senator, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, and the Mayor of Boston. Rose met her future husband, Joseph Kennedy, when she was a teenager vacationing in Maine. John Fitzgerald hadn’t really liked Joseph Kennedy and discouraged Rose from being involved with him. But Rose didn’t listen to her father; the couple were wed October 7, 1914, when Rose was 24 years old.

Joseph Kennedy was quite wealthy, and his wife and children wanted for nothing materially. However, he was very unfaithful and had many affairs, to which Rose turned a blind eye. As I read this book, I learned that Joseph was also very image conscious and ambitious, and he expected his family to present the proper look. Rose Kennedy was also very image conscious and obsessed over her children’s bodies. She weighed them every week, and according to Larson’s book, both parents relentlessly fat shamed poor Rosemary, who had a tendency to gain weight.

Rosemary’s schooling…

Because of her intellectual disabilities, Rosemary Kennedy did very poorly in school. Her reading ability never rose past a fourth grade level. She had terrible penmanship and spelling, even though she apparently enjoyed writing letters. She also had trouble counting.

Although Rosemary was basically sweet and loving, she often had what today we might call “meltdowns”. Because she had trouble regulating her emotions and could not seem to grasp basic educational concepts, she went through a whole lot of different schools. Her younger siblings’ scholastic achievements soon surpassed Rosemary’s, as Rose Kennedy was constantly searching for the right boarding schools for her children. Though the other children were bright, competitive, habitual winners, Rosemary was constantly the subject of anguished letters from harried teachers and headmasters who didn’t know what to do with her.

The family experienced a brief hiatus in their scholastic drama when they moved to England in 1938. Joseph Kennedy was then serving as the U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain, so the family was temporarily based in London. Rosemary was placed at a Catholic boarding school called Belmont House, where she thrived. Unfortunately, the Kennedys had to move back to the United States due to Nazi Germany’s attack on Europe. Although Joseph and Rose kept Rosemary in England for as long as they could, it was too unsafe to allow her to stay there permanently. She moved back to the United States and then seemed to enter a negative spiral. All of the gains she had made at Belmont House quickly vanished as Rosemary became even less manageable.

Another tragic decision– Lobotomy…

Rose and Joseph Kennedy kept trying to find a suitable place for Rosemary. They failed repeatedly. Rosemary’s behavior grew more erratic and unpredictable. While her parents were apparently genuinely worried about her well-being, they also worried about how public knowledge of Rosemary’s condition might affect their political status and business standing.

Joseph Kennedy had heard about a new psychosurgical procedure being offered at George Washington University Hospital in Washington, DC. Psychiatrist Dr. Walter Freeman, and his associate, surgeon Dr. James W. Watts, were developing a technique that supposedly made “difficult” people like Rosemary more compliant and calm. The procedure was called “lobotomy”, and it involved numbing, and then boring small holes at the top and on either side of the patient’s head while they were awake and restrained. Although the vast majority of patients who had lobotomies did not experience good outcomes, Joseph Kennedy was apparently so eager to solve his issues with Rosemary that he eagerly signed her up for the operation. He did not tell Rose or his other children that Rosemary had the surgery until after it was completed in November 1941.

Like most of the other patients who had served as human guinea pigs for Freeman’s and Watts’ research, Rosemary Kennedy had devastating results after the lobotomy. She temporarily lost the ability to walk and talk, and became even more significantly intellectually delayed. Rosemary eventually learned how to walk again, but did so with a limp. She never regained her ability to speak clearly, and her arm was left palsied.

Heartbreakingly, after the lobotomy, Rosemary’s family basically abandoned her to the care of psychiatric facilities and, later, nuns. She very rarely saw her family for over twenty years, until Joseph Kennedy’s death in 1969. At that time, her family began bringing her back into the family circle. In spite of her intellectual and mental health issues, Rosemary Kennedy was very physically strong and healthy. She died of natural causes on January 7, 2005, in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin. She was 86 years old.

My thoughts on the book…

It may seem like I’ve given away a lot of Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter in this review, but actually, I’ve just scratched the surface of this incredible story. Kate Clifford Larson did an excellent job researching this book, and writing a compelling explanation of the Kennedy family. I’ve barely mentioned Rosemary’s siblings, three of whom died tragically young, nor have I shared some of the more shocking and outrageous aspects of this story. I definitely came away with an opinion of Rose and Joseph Kennedy, who gave birth to remarkable children who would shape and influence America, yet showed such crass and callous disregard for Rosemary. Yes, it’s true that some of their actions had a lot to do with the mores of the time period, but a lot of it was also just very cold-hearted and cruel, not just to Rosemary, but also to the people who were tasked with helping her.

I do think that this book is profoundly sad, and parts of it are pretty infuriating on many levels. However, it’s also fascinating, given the historical importance of the Kennedy family and the events that were going on at the time. If you’re interested in American and world history, this book may be a page turner for that alone, as it offers glimpses of the current events of the time, and touches on business, politics, health, and mental health care.

While I definitely think the way Rosemary was treated was cruel, I also realize that there were very limited options for people like her when she was coming of age. That was a time when “defectives” (as they were sometimes called then) were forcibly hospitalized or otherwise locked up, sterilized, and/or kept out of society, and away from their families. Rosemary Kennedy was both blessed and cursed by having such a wealthy family. They could afford to send her to different camps, schools, and hospitals, but they were also ashamed of her, and didn’t want her to “ruin” their financial and political successes.

The Kennedy family was also very deeply entrenched in religion. Larson touches on how Rose Kennedy’s deep devotion to Catholicism caused huge rifts with her children, as she insisted that they adhere to her strict beliefs. If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you might already know how I feel about religion, and parents insisting that their children adhere to their religious beliefs. Rose Kennedy’s use of Catholicism in her attempt to try to control her adult children is bad enough, but Joseph Kennedy’s disastrous decisions made solely to protect his image and career were especially reprehensible. Moreover, both Rose and Joseph Kennedy treated some of the people who helped Rosemary with contempt and a true lack of consideration.

Kate Clifford Larson includes extensive footnotes, photographs, and a detailed bibliography. Some reviewers complained that there were too many resources included, and too little text. Personally, I didn’t have that complaint, but then to me, this book included information I didn’t know. People who already know a lot about the Kennedys may find this book to be repetitive. Some even stated that they felt it was a waste of time to read it. Again– this is my review, and it wasn’t a waste of time for me. It does make me think I might want to read more about the Kennedys, however.

Overall

I’m glad I read Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter, by Kate Clifford Larson. I would recommend it to history and political science buffs, but also to anyone who enjoys true stories. However, I would caution readers that this story is pretty sad and infuriating in some parts. Also, I would caution that this book is not strictly about Rosemary Kennedy, but is more from the perspective of her family. You won’t be reading much about what life was like from Rosemary’s perspective, as Larson doesn’t seem to do a lot of original research.

If I had known more about the Kennedys before I read this book, I might have had a more negative opinion of it. But, since I learned new things by reading it, I honestly don’t think of it as a poor effort. Some Amazon reviewers who obviously know more about the Kennedys than I do did take issue with the fact that the book is more about the Kennedy parents and, to a lesser extent, their children, than Rosemary herself.

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true crime, videos, YouTube

YouTube introduces me to another compelling prison v-logger…

The unaltered featured photo comes courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

I have always loved reading and hearing true stories. When I was growing up, I also loved reading fiction. I think I lost my love for reading most fiction when I was an English major in college. It was further eradicated when I lived in Armenia and most of the only reading material available in English was of the trashy romance novel type. I was so desperate to read something in English that I read the bodice rippers, anyway. I found a lot of the romance novels kind of depressing, probably because I didn’t have a love life to speak of in those days.

Nowadays most of my reading is all about biographies, autobiographies, current events, and the like… I like documentaries, too. There are still a couple of fiction authors I enjoy, but I have so many non-fiction books that I stay pretty busy… especially since I tend to fall asleep pretty quickly when I read these days. I need to buy a chair for reading, because I usually try to read in bed and it’s not long before I’m dead to the world.

I think my tendency to fall asleep when I read has also led to me watching more YouTube videos. YouTube has caused me to discover other true stories… many of which would have never been told in days past. YouTube can also offer a new beginning to people who otherwise might not have ever had one.

Take, for instance, Jessica Kent. She’s a popular YouTuber who has a channel all about her experiences in prison. I discovered her via Mama Doctor Jones, an OB-GYN who makes really excellent videos about women’s health issues. Someone asked Dr. Jones to react to Jessica’s video about giving birth when she was incarcerated in an Arkansas prison. I was so impressed by Jessica’s heartbreaking story that I checked out her channel and subscribed. In the old days, Jessica might not have been able to carve out a successful career after being in prison. But now, she has a thriving channel with 992k subscribers. She creates original content that people find compelling. I assume that’s allowed her to live a more law abiding life.

Jessica Kent has carved quite a career out of YouTube…

I write that “I assume”, because I really don’t know. She did make a few videos recently indicating that she’d had some issues lately with her (apparently former) significant other. I don’t want to speculate too much on the details, except to state that I think it’s pretty hard to go straight after an experience like prison. Jessica has a lot of empathy for prisoners, which is totally understandable. She was one herself. But a lot of people who have been incarcerated were incarcerated for good reason.

While many prisoners are basically decent people, the truth is, the majority of them did something that put them behind bars. They don’t always learn their lessons when they’re behind bars, which can make consorting with them risky, even if they seemed to have turned over a new leaf. See my book review on Shannon Moroneyโ€™s book about her ex husband, sex offender Jason Staples, for more on that.

Christina Randall is also a popular prison v-logger. She has 1.38 million subscribers, and covers true crime topics as well as her own experiences being incarcerated in Florida. I don’t watch her channel as much, but it looks like lately, she’s been focusing on recent true crime cases in the media, rather than telling her own stories. I know she and Jessica Kent have also collaborated. Personally, I prefer hearing the true stories from the people themselves, which is why I don’t follow Christina’s channel. But obviously, she’s compelling, and she has a lot of dedicated followers. If that keeps her out of prison, I say “more power to her”.

One of Christina’s videos about her own experiences.

Lately, I’ve been watching another channel, this time by a guy named “jumpsuitpablo”, who spent ten years in prison in South Carolina. He’s an up and coming YouTube talent, with 27.1k subscribers, at this writing. I find his content very compelling for a few reasons. First, I think he has a really nice speaking voice. It’s pleasant to listen to. He’s intelligent, and a good storyteller. Secondly, I lived in South Carolina for three years, so I’m interested in his experiences doing time in that state. And thirdly, he covers Alex Murdaugh. I don’t actually care that much about Murdaugh’s case, but that was what initially hooked me to jumpsuitpablo’s channel. I kept getting YouTube suggestions for the channel, based on Murdaugh’s case.

Alex Murdaugh’s case is a reminder that the mighty can fall pretty rapidly. Murdaugh was once a very successful attorney living the high life in South Carolina. Now, he’s a convict, being evaluated before he gets shuffled off to do his time. It so happens that jumpsuitpablo has actual experience being incarcerated in the same prison where Murdaugh is, and he knows people who are still there. So that gives him access to some very interesting content. But jumpsuitpablo also shares his own stories from his days as a prisoner. It’s fascinating stuff.

This is quite a harrowing story.
Yikes!
Then, when you get out, become a v-logger…

I guess in the old days, before we had YouTube, these folks might have written books about their experiences. But it takes a lot of time to write a book, and back before the Internet, it wasn’t so easy to get published… even if you self-published. Nowadays, anyone can write a book, or become a video star, or even a music star. I know some people lament this form of progress, because it makes it harder for people who do things the “old-fashioned” way. But frankly, I’m glad to see people who were once incarcerated making money in a legal way. I also think their experiences matter, and they have stories that ought to be told, and HEARD, by regular folks.

Like many people, I used to assume that the incarcerated were all dangerous, bad people who deserved what they were getting and more. That was an opinion based in ignorance, and perhaps on what I had seen and heard on television or read in books. YouTube videos that star actual convicts put human faces on the prison experience. No, I don’t condone what prisoners have done to get locked up, but I also realize that there but by the grace of God go I. It’s very easy to get arrested and/or locked up in the United States. All you have to do to realize that is to watch one of the many cop videos on YouTube.

I’m sure this guy never thought he’d get busted…

When I watch the cop videos, I tend to vacillate between feeling sorry for the police (because the public can be incredibly disrespectful), to feeling really sorry for the arrestees (because cops can also be incredibly disrespectful). I often yell at the cops, too, because a lot of them genuinely appear to be on power trips and blatantly deny people their civil rights. On the other hand, a lot of people are total assholes and have no respect for the law, or other people’s safety or property. I probably shouldn’t watch as many videos as I do, for the sake of my blood pressure… but they are so compelling! And I have a pretty boring lifestyle, so I tune in and enhance my knowledge of true crime. ๐Ÿ˜‰

I definitely don’t think I could stand to go to prison, but obviously, I probably would adapt. It appears that most people do. Some people adapt better than others do. Some people even become institutionalized, and can’t function outside of prison. We’ll never see any videos from those people.

I’ve seen other prison v-loggers, too, but to me, their content isn’t as interesting or professionally done. Which just goes to show you that it takes talent and skill to make good content. It’s too bad prison is what led some of these folks to their YouTube careers. Maybe under different circumstances, they would have been able to avoid those unfortunate experiences. Obviously, they survived, but there are lingering costs associated with going to prison. I sure wouldn’t do it to boost my own very modest and tiny YouTube channel (with 130 subscribers).

Anyway, if you find prison content interesting, I’d especially recommend watching jumpsuitpablo’s channel. His content is very interesting, and I’d like to see him stay out of prison. I also recommend Jessica Kent and Christina Randall, although I haven’t been keeping up with their channels as much lately. If anything, these folks remind me to stay on the straight and narrow path.

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book reviews, celebrities, LDS, religion

A review of Bad Mormon by Heather Gay…

Ugh… Monday morning again. This week, I get to endure it all alone, as Bill is on another one of his many business trips. I truly hate it when Bill travels alone. I get lonely hanging out here by myself. The good thing is, I often finally manage to finish books when Bill goes away.

Early this morning, thanks to a bout of insomnia, I completed Heather Gay’s book, Bad Mormon, which I’ve been trying to get through for the past week or two. I bought this book just as it was published last month. I probably would have read it regardless, but I think it was a discussion on the Recovery from Mormonism board that made me decide to take the plunge so soon after its publication. There was a time not so long ago when I eagerly devoured books about ex Mormons, but I’ve since sort of lost interest in upbraiding the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

I also had absolutely no idea who Heather Gay was before I read her book. I don’t watch her on the Bravo reality show, Real Housewives of Salt Lake City, nor am I the sort of person who attends medical spas. I’m not impressed by vapid celebrity wannabe types, nor do I like facades. Someone on the RfM thread mentioned that Heather had been written up in the New York Times, though, and I am a subscriber to that publication. So I probably read the New York Times piece and headed off to Amazon soon afterwards. If you like, you can read the New York Times piece, too. I’ve used a gift link in this review.

Anyway, now I’ve finished reading Heather Gay’s story of becoming a “bad Mormon”. Overall, I’m left with a mixed mind. The book starts out very interesting, as Heather explains her family of origin and their devotion to Mormonism. Heather Gay (nee Deans), now 48 years old, was born in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, the third of six children. Her parents moved around a lot when they were first married, so her siblings were born in scattered places across the United States, much like my sisters and I were (we’re Air Force brats). When Heather was five years old, her parents moved to Denver, Colorado, where they settled for the rest of her growing up years.

Heather’s parents were fairly devout members of the LDS church, and she lived by the strict lifestyle rules of the faith. On the surface, she lived the wholesome lifestyle expected by her family and church leaders. She participated in church activities, dressed modestly, eschewed premarital sex, and did not use alcohol or other forbidden substances like coffee, tobacco, and tea. She dutifully submitted to interviews with her bishop, who asked her probing questions about her sexual habits and other personal topics. This was all normal in the LDS church, where members must prove “worthiness” before they can attend temple ordinances.

Heather attended college at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, earning at degree in Humanities. Then, having graduated BYU at age 21, she decided to go on an 18 month church mission in Marseille, France. She’d had visions of enjoying French culture and becoming super fluent in the language, but the reality was that she spent most of her time there trying to convince very reluctant and resistant French people to join the church. And she had very little success in that endeavor.

Before she could go to France to sell the LDS church to the French, Heather had to attend the Missionary Training Center at BYU. There, she developed a crush on one of her language teachers. She was flirty and bawdy with him– as much as female LDS missionaries can be when they’re being heavily indoctrinated in religion and crammed with language training. One day, their class was in a different room, and the teacher tried to “warn” everyone through a lesson that they were being watched by the powers-that-be. The next day, the handsome teacher was gone, and Heather was sure it was because of her outrageous behavior (which would have been perfectly normal and appropriate for us “Gentiles” at her age). Years later, she looked him up on Facebook and determined that there was an entirely different reason for the teacher’s sudden dismissal.

At this point, I must interject. This part of the book was fascinating and a quick read. I was really enjoying the book through her stories of her mission in France, especially since we’re about the same age.

When Heather got back from her mission, she met her husband, Billy Gay, a member of so-called Mormon royalty. He came from a wealthy, connected family, but to Heather, had seemed very grounded and normal. She loved how he went surfing and lived a low key lifestyle, even though she hated his penchant for booking Southwest Airlines. Although she noticed some subtle signs that maybe they weren’t a good match, Billy and Heather got married, and he bought her a Porsche.

Then, Heather was pregnant with her first of three daughters, and the reality of being a Mormon wife hit Heather with a traumatic force. She was expected to quit working to be the perfect wife, mother, and helpmeet. Heather had a drive to work, a creative bent toward photography, a head for sales, and other ambitions. But she was supposed to be a good Mormon wife… quiet, obedient, servile, and always facilitating her husband’s and children’s dreams. The lifestyle was stifling, especially since Billy didn’t seem to appreciate his wife’s efforts toward domestic perfection. By the time their eldest daughter was eight years old, the Gays’ ten year old marriage was on the skids. Much to Heather’s horror, after a period of separation, Billy served her with divorce papers.

There Heather was, living in a McMansion that, without her husband’s help, she couldn’t afford. She was raising her daughters mostly without Billy’s help, although he insisted on having access to the marital home. Before their split, Billy showed up after Heather changed the locks. There was a fight, and Heather called the police, who filed domestic violence charges against Billy. At that point, there was no going back, and Heather soon found herself enjoying life as a woman outside of the LDS faith, drinking, partying, and getting stopped by the police while driving under the influence of alcohol.

Then, as she struggled to recover from her failed marriage, Heather ran into a woman at church who asked her who’d done her Botox. The woman said she’d been “spocked” (meaning her eyebrows took on a vulcan like appearance, like Mr. Spock on Star Trek). The woman, who was a nurse, offered to put Heather in touch with her boss, an ophthalmologist turned facial plastic surgeon who ran a medical spa in Salt Lake City. Soon, Heather was also involved in the business, and eventually bought it with her friend. As the spa blossomed, Heather found her way out of Mormonism, and apparently into certain television viewers’ hearts.

Heather Gay’s Mormon Stories podcast about Bad Mormon.

My thoughts

Like I mentioned up post, I’m of a mixed mind about this book. I loved how it started, even though I struggled to get far at first. Those darn afternoon naps have a tendency to kill my reading efforts. Heather offers some very juicy and revelatory comments about her experiences in the LDS church. I’ve been reading about Mormonism for many years now, since I’m married to an ex convert, so none of what she wrote was personally shocking to me. I was just surprised by how very open she was about it in the book for others to read.

Mormons typically regard temple rituals as secret– er, sacred– and they don’t talk about them outside of the temple. Now, it’s true that Heather Gay is an exmo, but she still has family members in the religion. I would imagine the backlash for being so open could be very serious… not unlike what Prince Harry is now experiencing in the wake of publishing his book, Spare. But just as she once taught church investigators about the LDS religion, so is she now teaching non-members about the church… but in a much more negative light.

My positive impressions of Bad Mormon started to wane as I read about Heather’s divorce. It’s not that I don’t think the divorce was warranted. It clearly was. It’s more that Heather seemed to trade one artificial construct for another. Although I know a lot of people love Mormonism, I’ve always thought of it as kind of the Wal-Mart of religions, borrowing a lot of stuff from many different faiths and passing it off as something “different”. I also know how difficult leaving the religion can be, especially when a person’s entire family is invested and devoted to it. Ex Mormons are some of my favorite people, because a lot of them are very brave and intelligent, while still kind and friendly. I also love that so many of them have lived abroad, like I have. I ‘ve found many ex Mormons to be very thoughtful and interesting people, with good taste in books and music.

I guess I was turned off a bit when Heather went from being a member of a very demanding and kind of fake religion to peddling cosmetic spa treatments. I know a lot of people are into their appearance. Heather writes that looking good makes people feel good, after all. I guess I’m just not that impressed by extremely image conscious people. I find that a lot of them are not very genuine underneath the veneer. Naturally, I don’t know anything about what Heather Gay is like. I’ve never seen her on her TV show. I thought the first part of her book was very interesting and substantive. But then, she falls into this sort of vapid lifestyle change that seems less genuine to me. I found it off-putting, and frankly, simply found Heather’s story about building her business less interesting.

I’m sure there are a lot of people who will love Bad Mormon. I see the book is already getting high marks, with only a modest number of neutral and negative reviews. I did really like about half of this book. The second half, however, impressed me far less. Heather Gay seems very fixated on looks and money and other obvious trappings of success, and while those are important aspects of living to a lot of people, I don’t find excessive image and money consciousness attractive. I am especially unimpressed when the image and money obsession is coupled with religion, although at least in Heather’s case, she finally decided to leave the religion.

Don’t get me wrong. I like having money, and I like looking attractive when I can. I just don’t like a shallow, single-minded focus of those things, because they don’t tend to last, and they usually matter a lot less to most people than less tangible markers of success.

Anyway, I’m truly not sorry I read Bad Mormon, although I do think it could have used some editing, especially in the photo section. I commend Heather Gay for figuring out the truth about Mormonism and living life on her own terms. I wish her well, and hope she continues in her successful endeavors, even if I, personally, don’t necessarily admire what she does for money.

Overall, I think I’d give Bad Mormon 3.5 stars out of 5.

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book reviews, healthcare

My review of This is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor, by Adam Kay…

Many people think of medical doctors as superhuman. Some people think of them as inhuman. Former physician, Adam Kay, writes in his 2017 book, This is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor, that anyone can be a doctor. Personally, I disagree with that opinion, but then, I have never aspired to be a doctor of any kind. Maybe if someone held a gun to my head and told me I had to study medicine, I might be able to do it. I am pretty math challenged, though, and I have a weak stomach. Adam Kay reminds us that working in healthcare, especially as an obstetrician-gynecologist, can be messy, exhausting, hilarious, and tragic.

I see from Amazon.com that I bought This is Going to Hurt last summer. I don’t remember why I bought it, but buying it wasn’t a bad decision. It IS a best seller, and I did legitimately enjoy reading Kay’s diary entries about being a young doctor in Britain’s famous National Health Service. Kay is often very funny, which stands to reason, as he now makes a living as a comedy writer for television and film. But before he commenced his career making people laugh, he brought over 1200 babies into the world.

So why isn’t he still doctoring? By now, he’d be long finished with the arduous training physicians go through. He might be enjoying a full night’s rest, a couple of days off, here and there, and deference from his more junior colleagues. I won’t ruin the book by explaining why he left the field. Instead, I’ll just say that medicine wasn’t for him. Before he realized that medicine wasn’t for him, Kay spent years climbing the ranks from medical school to senior registrar, just one level beneath consultant. Over the years, he collected many funny anecdotes, which he cleverly recorded in a diary… the basis of this book.

Kay writes that he decided to become a physician when he was about sixteen years old. He’s Jewish, and his family is chock full of physicians, and he was expected to carry on the tradition. In the United Kingdom, medical school lasts for six years and begins after graduation from high school. So, before he really had much of a chance to dwell on the decision, he was off to medical school. Once a person embarks on such a career odyssey, it cam be hard to admit when the fit isn’t quite perfect.

Starting in 2004, Kay chronicled his adventures and misadventures in the British National Health System, often with hilarious anecdotes about patients, colleagues, and superiors. He offers a look at how the British healthcare system works, wryly commenting on the politics that affect embattled doctors in training, who are chronically exhausted, underpaid, and overworked. Some of Kay’s stories are downright disgusting, but in a hilarious way. For instance…

I shared the above passage with friends on Facebook. One friend called bullshit on it, but frankly, I could see this happening. From what I’ve read and observed, doctors in training work so hard that they don’t always pay attention to hygiene. Kay writes that he gets very little time off and frequently has to cancel plans with friends and family because he has work to do. He explains that the NHS is often understaffed, especially on weekends, nights, and holidays. So the mostly young staffers in training do get exhausted to the point of not caring so much about things that most of us would notice and take care of right away after a shift.

Some of the entries are very short, while others run for a page or three. I liked the short anecdotes, which made the book easy to read and hard to put down. I also liked that Adam Kay adds lots of footnotes, which are convenient to read on a Kindle. Click the links, and a brief explanation of certain medical terms comes up. I learned new things reading this book, not just about medicine, but also some British language differences.

I will warn that the book ends on a serious note. Kay was inspired to publish this book when, back in 2015, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Jeremy Hunt, accused junior doctors of being “greedy”. Kay had left the profession by 2015, so he had nothing to lose by speaking out about the realities of life as a junior doctor in England. He reiterates that the job was often awesome, especially when he saved a life, or when he helped someone feel better. But there’s a high price to pay for that privilege of saving lives and being respected for doing that job on a daily basis.

Some readers might not appreciate Kay’s cynicism. Again, I must point out that some of the humor is pretty gross, and Kay isn’t always respectful. Some people might not appreciate his graphic descriptions or use of vulgar language. Personally, I loved it… but I have a very ribald sense of humor and I enjoy scatology. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Below are a few more samples…

On many levels, I could relate to Adam Kay’s predicament. I was supposed to be a public health social worker myself. I can imagine that if I’d actually done that work, I would have eventually become burned out, cynical, and bitter. I don’t know that healthcare would have been the ideal career for me. But I wanted to be employed. Kay says that he was expected to be a doctor, and his family was pretty upset when he gave up his medicine career. I expect he’s much happier as a comedy writer. He doesn’t have to make life and death decisions anymore. Now, he just worries whether his comedy kills, rather than his doctoring skills. It’s a lot less pressure. Since he’s been so successful, it no doubt pays better, too. I guess that goes to show that people really ought to choose their careers… just like they should choose whom they love.

I liked This is Going to Hurt. I highly recommend it, especially to anyone in the medical field, but also to anyone curious about the British healthcare system. It’s a real eye opener.

As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.

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