I did a whole lot of reading towards the end of 2016 and below you’ll find a few of my favorites. Towards the end of the year, I really tried to read more non-medical and self help type books since that’s usually what I’m drawn towards and I’ve always thought of reading as a way to broaden my horizons.
Enjoy! What are you all reading these days?
When flying to Florida for my review course, I saw someone at the airport reading You are a Badass: how to stop doubting your greatness and start living an awesome life by Jen Sincero and was immediately intrigued. It’s no secret that I greatly appreciate a good self-help book and while roaming around Target on a particularly off day in my studying, I picked up this one (anyone else always walk out of Target with 3924238x as many things as they came to get?).
I hadn’t read anything about the book myself but had seen it in passing multiple times and was mainly looking for something to help me stay motivated during four very intense weeks of studying for boards. I had high hopes when I saw that her dedication included one of my favorite Rumi quotes:
And still, after all this time,
the Sun has never said to the Earth,
‘You owe me.’
Look what happens with love like that. It lights up the sky.
But, unfortunately, it didn’t do much for me. Most of the book felt very redundant and none of Sincero’s ideas felt particularly revolutionary or new. I realize she’s ‘preaching to the choir’ with her ideas because I’m very passionate about self reflection and regularly check in with myself to ensure my life is heading in a direction I want. For those who want to understand how they can better their lives but are at a loss as to where to start, this could potentially be a good option.
There are parts of the book I found to be extremely condescending. Most people who pick up this book are likely in a difficult place in their lives and could probably benefit from a compassionate advisor but that’s not Sincero’s style. For those who benefit from a more tough love approach, this may be right up your alley – and as she said in her text ‘tough love is still love.’
The only part of the book I truly disliked was the chapter on depression. She made having depression sound like you’re throwing yourself a pity party and that you could just ‘get over it.’ Depression is a clinical diagnosis and shouldn’t be interchanged with sadness. Using medical diagnoses so freely can be extremely dangerous because it makes people feel even guiltier about their behaviors when it’s actually due to a chemical imbalance in their brains. We wouldn’t throw around diagnoses like diabetes and hypertension like they’re just describing a craving for sweets or being angry, so we should do the same when it comes to psychiatric diagnoses.
The final chapter ‘Beam Me Up, Scotty’ was definitely my favorite. It inspired me to stop making excuses and finally start brainstorming and working on the books I want to write so for that, I will be forever grateful to Jen Sincero. There are so many reasons to put off the things that are important to us but nothing will ever get done unless we prioritize and invest our time in things that are actually worth our time.
I was browsing one of my favorite used bookstores downtown and had heard a lot of great things about A Million Little Pieces by James Frey over the years so decided to purchase it. As someone who is considering going into psychiatry, I thought it would be a great opportunity to learn more about addiction because addiction and mental illness often go hand in hand. And addiction is a huge problem in the area I’m from, and hope to eventually settle down to practice medicine, so even if I do not go into psychiatry, I will still have patients who suffer from addiction.
Overall, I think the book is definitely a great read. I found myself staying up too late trying to just finish the chapter because I was so engaged. It evoked a lot of emotion – I found myself gasping out loud and physically cringing during some parts.
But other than it being an interesting read, it’s basically complete garbage as a ‘memoir.’ I’m not very far in my medical training but I can say that most of what Frey talks about in this book would never happen in the medical system in this country. I don’t want to spoil too much of the book for those of you who are planning to read it but I just want to say that patients who have a history of addiction still receive humane and safe medical care. I’m sure there are institutions where it may not be up to the same standard as a private community hospital but I highly doubt the savagery described in this book would be allowed. As with geriatric care, patients who are medically unstable with acute injuries would be in the care of health care professionals equipped to care for the illnesses and then transferred to nursing homes or rehab facilities.
Additionally, having worked with patients who suffer from addiction in my clinics, volunteering on the streets with the homeless population and volunteering in the prison system – I imagine that anyone who is suffering from addiction, which is a lifelong illness with no cure, would be incredibly offended after reading Frey’s narcissistic attitude towards battling addiction and the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. He maintains this high and mighty attitude throughout his time in rehab and denies the genetic and disease aspects of addiction, which can be extremely damaging to readers who also suffer from addiction. It can also be damaging for the loved ones who deal with addiction because the text makes it seem as though all you need to get past your addiction is six weeks in rehab and willpower.
There has been great controversy about the authenticity about Frey’s criminal activity in the book as well as the accuracy of the eventual death of some of the people he met in rehab. Everyone is, of course, entitled to their own story and their own way of dealing with their illnesses but putting out a work of fiction, while claiming it a memoir, can be extremely damaging and triggering for those who also suffer from addiction.
So, bottom line: it’s a great read if you treat it as a work of fiction but I find it extremely frustrating and disappointing as a future health care professional who hopes to help patients work through their illnesses, including addiction.
During my first year in medical school, I picked up The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander in an effort to get a better understanding about the prison system in the United States. While I had heard about the astronomically high rates of incarceration, I wanted to understand why things were the way they were. In the first chapter ‘The Rebirth of Caste,’ Alexander introduces the idea that the prison system is used as a legal and ‘politically correct’ means of slavery after emancipation of slaves. Under this system, law enforcement agencies are almost universally protected, regardless of their actions, and seemingly arbitrary (and often racist) mandatory minimum sentences exist for petty crimes. Throughout the text, Alexander also discussed the high recidivism rates within the prison system. She details many barriers that prevent inmates from reintegrating into society after returning to the free world including restricted access to employment and housing and severe parole policies.
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I feel like I’ve always had this love/hate relationship with Mindy Kaling (okay, hate is a strong word – let’s just say that I had really high expectations for her and sometimes felt let down). My first real exposure to her was her first book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) and I absolutely loved it. It’s been a few years since I’ve read the book (and I’ve become much more critically thinking in that time) so I’m not sure if I’d feel the same way now.
After reading the book, I started watching The Mindy Project and also had a sort of love/hate relationship with the show. As a South Asian woman myself, I was so excited to have someone who looked like me be a lead in a show. In the show, Mindy Lahiri is an eccentric and hilarious OB-GYN and I loved that. But I felt irked by the lack of people of color on the show, particularly when it came to Dr. Lahiri’s love interests. Knowing that Mindy Kaling understood the lack of diversity in Hollywood, I had this really intense expectation of her show to be full of people of color and people of ‘normal’ sizes. And every time her character dated a white man, I felt profoundly disappointed – like my older sister had just stabbed me in the back (yes, I really was this dramatic). I even stopped watching her show for a while.
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The past week or so has been pretty hectic with my birthday, going to a talk by Paul Farmer and finals so I thought I’d just do a general update on all that. I’ve never been a big fan of making a big deal about my birthdays. I’ve just always felt like it’s more a day to celebrate my mom, because she’s the one who worked so hard all those years ago. But with the madness that is finals week in medical school, I wanted something to look forward to. At midnight, hubby gave me my presents and a wonderfully hilarious card. After class we went to this bakery/coffee house near campus. Other than the fact that it closes super early, it’s a really nice place to study during the week. It’s kind of hidden so doesn’t get too much traffic and they have big tables (and outlets!!).
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To me, reading a book is a lot like meeting someone new or making a new friend: the timing has to be right. Most of my favorite books are my favorites because I read them at the right time – during a crisis of faith, when I was broken hearted, when I needed inspiration – a time when I needed to read what I read. I think the best friendships start that way too, when you meet someone you really need in your life at that moment – or maybe they needed you. The books below mean a lot to me because they gave me a different world when my own didn’t feel like home.
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I wish I remember how I stumbled upon this incredible text, but I honestly don’t. Nonetheless, I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that in many ways Dr. Christine Montross’ Body of Work: Meditations on Mortality from the Human Anatomy Lab got me through the first year of medical school.
I’ve been very open about how anatomy lab was and still is one of the most transformative and difficult experiences of my life, both as a subject of study and emotionally. When I first began studying anatomy, I did recognize the great privilege it was to study the human body from this perspective. I was almost unspeakably grateful to those who donated their bodies so that my colleagues and I could become better healers. But when we first started dissections in October of last year, I did not understand how integral this experience was for me as a physician in training. I did not understand why I was learning about how to ‘save lives’ by studying the dead. I felt traumatized. Every time I stepped into anatomy lab, I simultaneously felt grateful, sad and anxious. Everything felt so unnatural. I knew rationally that the cadavers felt no pain during our dissections but that did not prevent me from wincing at the sound of each rib cracking or a saw cutting through bone.
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This piece is the second in my series about my experience in anatomy lab during my first year of medical school. The first piece in this series can be found here.
I wrote both these pieces as a means to reflect on and normalize what I was feeling on the first day of anatomy lab and during a dissection I found to be particularly difficult, emotionally. Now that I’m finished with my first year of medical school, I look back and I’m even more grateful to have had this experience. Death, ironically, will always be a part of life but being in this field we have to work even harder to healthily cope with this reality. While the point of anatomy lab was to teach us about the human body in a tangible way, all the cadavers were the ultimate teachers about both life and death. From them, I learned what a heart, my heart one day and likely the hearts of future patients, looks like when it’s no longer beating. From them, I felt the weight of a cirrhotic liver. From them, I saw what a ‘smoker’s lung’ actually looks like. But from them, I also learned the muscles I use to type this sentence. They are the reason I can feign x-ray vision and imagine my muscles, tendons and bones working together as I hit each key. They are the reason I marvel at all my nieces and nephews as they grow and learn to walk and speak and think. They are the template for every patient I will see in my career as a physician.
It’s been just over a month since we finished anatomy lab and said goodbye to our cadavers. Thank you, great teachers, for your final sacrifice. I hope that you have finally found rest and ‘burst into light.’
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This is the first in a two-part series of reflections on my time in the anatomy lab during my first year in medical school. It was written after my first day in anatomy lab and reading it even after all this time, and having finished my first year, I can still feel everything I felt on that first day. I’ve had quite a love-hate relationship with the anatomy course this past year but reflecting back now, I know that it has been one of the most transformative experiences of my life. I can say with full confidence that it will allow me to become a better healer in the future.
To those who donated their bodies so we could learn to become better healers: thank you for this selfless and final sacrifice. You have all been the best teachers about both life and death. And for that, I will always be grateful and indebted to you. Thank you.
“Now I am a student of medicine, a field with its own great paradoxes. The first of these I encountered in the anatomy class and is still one of the most powerful: that you begin to learn to heal the living by dismantling the dead.” – Body of Work: Meditations on Mortality from the Human Anatomy Lab by Dr. Christine Montross
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