Review: Ben Bravery – The Patient Doctor

The Patient Doctor
Ben Bravery

“At the age of twenty-eight, with his Beijing-based science communications business doing well and a new relationship blossoming, Ben Bravery woke from a colonoscopy to be told he had stage 3 colorectal cancer…. Now, driven by his experience on both sides of the healthcare system, this patient-turned-doctor gives a no-holes-barred account of how he overcame the trauma of his illness to study medicine and shares what he believes student doctors, doctors, patients and their families need to do to ensure that the medical system puts the patient at the very heart of healthcare every day.”

Hmm, this was an interesting book, but not an outstanding one. While it was interesting to see the way that Ben-as-a-patient affected Ben-as-a-medical-student, it wasn’t anything particularly new to me. I also already had some pretty in-depth knowledge about how broken the medical system is in Australia.

The medical training provided to doctors in Australia is good in some ways (covers a lot of important information, very physiology/anatomy based) but bad in others. It seems to pay lip service to making compassionate great communicators out of doctors. As Ben exposes again in his book, there’s just so much crammed in and an idea that providing patient-centred care will take longer in a workplace where doctors are already overwhelmed.

It was fascinating to me that I saw the changing hospital/specialist centre size from both a patient (this book) and a nurse (A Caring Life) perspective. I also find it of interest because we usually assume that larger medical clinics will be better specialised to help people, even if this isn’t necessarily accurate. I felt that Ben’s attitude and understanding of his condition (and the humour he had to offer) was impacted by doctors the most. Now I’ll be waiting for a fully-fledged doctor’s thoughts on the system at the time!

I’d love to see a memoir or non-fiction from a higher up hospital administrator who is responsible for some of the funding and why student doctors / specialists / surgeons / every medical professional in the system are so overworked. I’m all for making sure doctors aren’t unemployed, but being underemployer or overworked is not good enough.

I am grateful that I live in Australia and healthcare is free. That’s reason enough that I might just be happiest with whoever I see in a hospital. What Ben advocates and encourages through his book is for patients and their families to feel confident speaking up for themselves. That’s something easier said than done, but I think it could be done.

I’d recommend this for readers interested in what it looks like to be a complicated cancer patient and the beginning trials of medical school. There’s some humour to keep it light, even if overall I think the book is a picture of the complicated nature of healthcare in Australia.

Hachette | 29 June 2022 | AU$32.99 | paperback

Review: Patrick Radden Keefe – Rogues

Rogues: True stories of grifters, killers, rebels and crooks
Patrick Radden Keefe

“Keefe explores the intricacies of forging $150,000 vintage wines; examines whether a whistleblower who dared to expose money laundering at a Swiss bank is a hero or a fabulist; spends time in Vietnam with Anthony Bourdain; chronicles the quest to bring down a cheerful international black-market arms merchant; and profiles a passionate death-penalty attorney who represents the ‘worst of the worst’, among other bravura works of literary journalism. The appearance of his byline in the New Yorker is always an event; collected here for the first time readers can see how his work forms an always enthralling yet also deeply human portrait of criminals and rascals, as well as those who stand up to them.”

Once this book arrived, I wasn’t sure if I would be interested in a series of academic essays about ‘rogues’. That being said, I actually found myself quite eagerly diving into the stories, and it helped that the first was about wine fraud! After each one I needed to take a breather to really absorb what I had read and I ended up reading the book over two major sittings. By the end, my brain was feeling a bit overused and I would have said that the last 40% was a slog. I’m not certain that the last story really covered a ‘rogue’ (Anthony Bourdain – more of a sad ending than anything else) but none-the-less it was a good point to end the book.

I wondered whether the author had become self-realised after profiling defense attorney Judy Clarke — who represents “the worst of the worst” – and realising that what he has done in this series of essays is very much alike to what Judy does with her clients. In each case, I felt that Keefe had eventually become quite sympathetic to the person involved which went a little against what I believed was supposed to be a journalistic neutral position.

Be aware that some of the language, particularly regarding legal circumstances, can be quite impenetrable for the average reader. I occasionally felt quite stupid while reading because I didn’t know anything about the political context or any of the major players. I don’t think this is deliberate by the author, and it’s probably just a side effect of me avoiding anything that looks like news/media.

I think that this book is great for anyone who has an interest in law and international crime. Also, anyone keen on knowing more about journalism in the ‘old days’ would enjoy it. I feel as if ‘true journalism’ is a dying art – social media now allows, and even encourages, people to write their own narratives (which we see to some extent for the criminals discussed). However, if someone is already an avid reader of Keefe’s work this probably isn’t a great buy as this isn’t new content just reprints.

Pan Macmillan | 28 June 2022 | AU$36.99 | paperback

Review: Anna Kent – Frontline Midwife

Frontline Midwife
My Story of Survival and Keeping Others Safe
Anna Kent

“Anna Kent has delivered babies in war zones, caring for the most vulnerable women in the most vulnerable places in the world… In Frontline Midwife, Kent shares her extraordinary experiences as a nurse, midwife and mother, illuminating the lives of women that are irreparably affected by compromised access to healthcare. This is at once an astonishing story of the realities of frontline humanitarian work, and a powerful reminder of the critical, life-giving work of nurses and doctors at home and around the world.”

Nurses work bloody hard. Every novel, every book I read, I know that nurses work very hard for sometimes very little reward. My mother was a nurse in aged care and I understood how hard it was for her to deal with patients dying every shift. For Anna to be able to keep her head above water and to keep working as a midwife even with all the avoidable deaths is amazing all by itself.

Anna’s storytelling is spot on, and it makes for compulsive reading even if you know what the ending is. She manages to personalise all of the women she meets even as you know she is protecting their identities. It’s unsurprising that Anna suffers from PTSD and I am grateful and humbled by Anna’s willingness to share it with the world.

I would swear to you that I reviewed this book, but perhaps I did it only in my head. I certainly felt quite strongly positive about it while reading it, even if I found some of the messages to be mixed.

My problem with this book is that it is assumed that all women will want to have children. Kent recounts the story of triplets being born and wonders what their mother will do when she learns she can’t have more children. Um, isn’t three enough? Or, you know, she might like to do something else with her life rather than just produce children – she’s not going to die in childbirth at least. Perhaps she will be able to get an education? Perhaps she can be a local midwife.

I felt the same way about the woman who had had multiple miscarriages and then lost her husband right before successfully birthing a child. How will she provide for herself? How can you bare to bring up a person in poverty like that? Of course, it’s not the woman’s fault, or Anna’s fault – it’s a humanitarian crisis that shouldn’t exist but does because of the wealth disparity in the world. Please don’t interpret this review as a critique of who should be ‘allowed’ to have children – that’s another whole problem in itself.

Australians should feel blessed that Anna Kent has told this raw, honest story and also given a careful look into what Doctors without Borders can look like in practice. We don’t all need to be midwives, but we can all use more compassion. Buy this book for anyone who needs their eyes opened to the horrific realities that we still face in 2022. Buy it because you’re curious to know what it looks like in the war torn countries of the world. buy it because it’s ultimately a human story that we have all been part of.

Bloomsbury | 31st May 2022 | AU$29.99 | paperback

Review: Keith Cox – A Caring Life

A Caring Life
What fifty years in nursing has taught me about humanity, compassion and community
Keith Cox

“As a nurse for nearly fifty years, Keith Cox provided expert care and comfort to countless people facing the unimaginable…Over the years, Keith has seen dramatic advances in medical treatment, as well as the limits of what medical intervention can achieve – which is why compassion and grace are his guiding principles, both on the ward and in his own life. A Caring Life is the inspirational story of a nursing trailblazer who has learnt firsthand the value of human connection and kindness, in challenging times and in everyday life – and the satisfaction of living a life of service and meaning.”

I requested this novel because I always enjoy memoirs of nurses and health professionals in general (eg. The Jungle Doctor). However, I had expected more stories about Keith’s patients, rather than about Keith himself. That’s not to say that this book wasn’t good, just that it was different to what I was expecting.

I was fascinated by the development of cancer treatments over the last 50-80 years and how what used to be a rapid death sentence has become longer years of living and even maybe complete remission for cancer sufferers. However, this is not true of all cancers, and there are still very rapid deaths.

At times this memoir was lighthearted, and at others it was heartbreaking and almost brought me to tears. Keith’s approach to patients and their families is something that I aim to channel in my own teaching. It’s never just about the content or the treatment, it should always be compassionate care that looks at a whole person rather than just one element of them.

Despite Keith being a relatively more religious man than many other Australians, this doesn’t come through in the novel – it’s mentioned, but never takes center stage. It seems as if the only important thing to come out is compassion and care – the book is named very appropriately. This book is worthy to be placed on any family bookshelf that has a nurse or cancer survivor in it.

Pan Macmillan | 26th April 2022 | AU$34.99 | paperback

Review: Diagnosis Normal – Emma A Jane

Diagnosis Normal
Emma A Jane

“Combining brilliant storytelling with rigorous research, Diagnosis Normal is an incisive and darkly funny memoir from journalist turned academic Emma Jane. ‘I have three gears: glum melancholy, inappropriate outbursts, and extreme slapstick. On a good day, I can pass as normal but not for too many minutes. I’m what most people would regard as a hardened introvert . . . I like other people. I’m just not very good at them.’”

This book was pretty mind-blowing. I found myself connecting with Emma perhaps even a little too closely. The way that she approaches storytelling is just like her personality – powerful and confusing and detailed all at the same time. I couldn’t read this all in one go, I needed to take my time and sip it in small gulps to give myself enough time to really think about the implications of the work.

Buy this for the people in your life who don’t believe or can’t understand what gender fluidity, autism and abuse can have on a human who appears fine. It’s a deep insight into just one human psyche and what that can look like. It’s not comfortable to read, and the line about being not being good with people resonated with me. I am better able to interpret other people from reading this book.

If you are looking for a fictional #ownvoices autism novel, then can I suggest Helen Hoang? It’s still insightful, but not nearly as full-on as this book. Normalising things is not normal! The human brain is a little crazy, and we indeed understand very little about it.

I don’t usually read non-fiction publications such as those that Emma A Jane writes in her scholarly work, but if the strength of personality and impactful writing is anything to go by, I should get my hands on those as well. If this was fiction, I’d give it 5 stars!

Penguin | 1st March 2022 | AU$34.99 | paperback

Review: Guy Raz – How I Built This (S)

How I Built This by Guy Raz

“Award-winning journalist and NPR host Guy Raz has interviewed more than 200 highly successful entrepreneurs to uncover amazing true stories… In How I Built This, he shares tips for every entrepreneur’s journey: from the early days of formulating your idea, to raising money and recruiting employees, to fending off competitors, to finally paying yourself a real salary. This is a must-read for anyone who has ever dreamed of starting their own business or wondered how trailblazing entrepreneurs made their own dreams a reality.”

I read this as an audiobook and it was absolutely amazing! It helped that the author read it as the way he told the stories was just brilliant. It’s jam packed full of founder/CEO/business owners stories of how they got where they are today – the good, the bad, the boring and the ugly parts. A lot of business books only tell the success stories. I love that this book didn’t just show the successes but was just the truth of how they got there.

The author did an absolutely amazing job of the story telling, which in itself makes the book. It is structured in chapters where each chapter has a point that those stories relate to, but it’s hardly a theory book. It’s the stories told in really awesome ways that keep you on the edge of your seat. If you are an entrepreneur or in business, you will find something there that is relatable to you.

The author does run a podcast, but is not like other authors that spend half the book selling their business product to you. His podcast business is relatable because he would be unable to write this book without it, but it’s not sold to you.

5 stars normally means a reread. But I’m unsure if I need to hear the stories again. It was totally still deserving of 5 stars though! If business is what you want to do in your life – it’s a must-read for daily inspiration and small business tips that make a difference.

Review: Michael Robert – The New Strategic Thinking: Pure and Simple (S)

The New Strategic Thinking: Pure and Simple
Michael Robert

“Management expert Michel Robert unveils his practical and proven methodology for you to plan and implement effective corporate strategies. Featuring a detailed explanation of how Robert used his approach to turn around Caterpillar as well as case studies of leading companies that utilize Robert’s method, The New Strategic Thinking shows you how to assemble a strategy team, identify your company’s driving force, determine the focus of the strategy (product, customer, or market), and launch initiatives company wide.”

This book was just average and just another strategy management book. The author says they are bringing something different to the business world but it still came across as the same as other similar books on the topic.

On the first page the author mentions the “Decision Processes International” which is from then on referred to as “the DPI process”. DPI is the company the author is from, but he doesn’t actually explain what this “DPI strategy process” is. I guess it’s a secret only for those hiring their company and not to be exploited in a book.

There is then a little more on little tips, but nothing substantial. For the whole second half of the book you get case studies of real examples. Now normally I like the case studies, but this was the worst part of the book. They all started with how they needed help, then they found the DPI company and used DPI strategy and then bam everything was great again. It was in depth in the before and after but only 1 line saying they used DPI strategy and then the switch to it that saved the business. There was no actual explanation of the DPI strategy, what it is, how etc.

There were some tips at the start that I remember thinking at the time were great and I should review them at a later stage, but by the end I couldn’t remember these at all. The book gets too caught up in how awesome the creator is, and forgets that not everyone has the time or inclination to hire DPI. Overall it felt like the author was just promoting their company and not actually having any knowledge explained. 2 stars.

Review: Chloe Buiting – The Jungle Doctor

The Jungle Doctor by Chloe Buiting

“Explore the majestic, biodiverse world with Australia’s very own ‘jungle doctor’. Fresh from veterinary school, passionate conservationist Dr Chloe Buiting headed for the frontline of Africa’s rhino-poaching crisis, going on to live and work in many other remote corners of the globe. From catching wild giraffes by helicopter in Zimbabwe to meeting elephants with prosthetic legs in Asia, working with Maasai communities in Tanzania and tending to wildlife caught up in the bushfire crisis at home in Australia, Chloe’s compassion for animals in their natural habitat takes her into awe-inspiring locations – and hair-raising situations.”

The Jungle Doctor was really good read as long as you weren’t expecting a James Herriot level of detail about vet life. I could have had more stories here with so much more detail. It contains many stories both fascinating and horrifying – it was amazing how many details this vet was able to fit in about poaching and other culture harmful practices that impact animal welfare.

It seems impossible to think that in a first world country we are putting animals in exhibits in zoos to try to keep them from dying out in the wild! It seems like the whole world doesn’t care so I found that really quite confronting.

I have a sister in law that studies very hard to become a vet. She’s never been a jungle vet but she does specialize in exotics and some of the things that you have to do for exotics are very strange!

I think this is almost of an appropriate level for a teenager – let’s set a somewhat arbitrary age of 13, but it is going to depend on the precociousness of your reader. This book highlights why it’s important for us to look after the environment. I wouldn’t reread it, but I’d recommend it to anyone who loves animals and wants to know a little more about veterinary practice in the wild.

Pantera Press | 4th May 2021 | AU$32.99 | paperback

Review: Jacinta Parsons – Unseen

Unseen
The secret world of chronic illness
Jacinta Parsons

“Broadcaster Jacinta Parsons was in her twenties when she first began to feel unwell – the kind of unwell that didn’t go away. Doctors couldn’t explain why, and Jacinta wondered if it might be in her head. She could barely function, was frequently unable to eat or get out of bed for days, and gradually turned into a shadow of herself. Eventually she got a diagnosis: Crohn’s disease. But knowing this wouldn’t stop her life from spiralling into a big mess of doctors, hospitals and medical disasters.”

Wow. This is a heartbreaking and heartwarming account of one woman’s live destroying disease and how she got through and lives with her condition. I could hardly believe that doctors had gotten it so wrong, and the huge impact of a clinical trial gone wrong on the rest of her life. Remember that you don’t have an obligation to participate in something, but you do have an obligation to make the most of what you have. This is something the author realised over time, thankfully not too late.

Jacinta admits that Indigenous Peoples and people of colour or low socioeconomic standing struggle to advocate for themselves in the system. That’s fine. My problem arose in that she didn’t consider other countries where healthcare isn’t a basic human right at all. I think of the horror of the USA system, and I consider Australian healthcare to be brilliant in comparison!

Possibly TMI time, but I’ve always struggled with ‘period pain’. I generally think of myself as quite stoic and straight-forward, but it’s something I haven’t bothered to go to the GP about. I manage to somehow forget that it’s a problem! Jacinta highlights why this is a BAD idea, and also why it’s something that women do that undermines themselves – and gives the statistics to back it up.

I hope that the medical students that I help to train have compassion and curiosity to look deeper into chronic health problems, and the self-awareness that it’s ok if GPs are sick sometimes too. This is a book not just for ‘normal’ humans to understand chronic illness, it contains insights relevant to health professionals as well. I would recommend reading it in small doses – as an audiobook I found it almost overwhelming, yet compelling to listen to at the same time.

Review: Andra and Tatiana Bucci – Always Remember Your Name

Always Remember Your Name
Andra and Tatiana Bucci

“A haunting WWII memoir of two sisters who survived Auschwitz that picks up where Anne Frank’s Diary left off and gives voice to the children we lost. … An unforgettable narrative of the power of sisterhood in the most extreme circumstances, and of how a mother’s love can overcome the most impossible odds, the Bucci sisters’ memoir is a timely reminder that separating families is an inexcusable evil.”

I have been ‘enjoying’ a number of non-fiction novels lately about the Holocaust. I say ‘enjoying’, but really they are quite sad reads due to the devastating loss of life as a result of Hitler’s anti-Semitic policies. I found myself horrified and yet not surprised at the level of brutality exhibited by the Nazi’s. It’s one thing to have a critical idea of World War II (as I’ve said before, my history knowledge is poor) and another to really experience it as these writers did.

To hear that 230,000 children were deported, and that less than 200 survived is horrific. No, that’s not a typo. Somewhat confusingly perhaps, the book blurb suggests that all of these children were subjected to experiments by Josef Mengele, the Angel of Death. This was not the case – the majority of children were simply gassed to death because they were deemed to be useless. Andra and Tatiana remain together because they are thought to be twins – and remembering their names is crucial in being able to return them to their parents many years later.

I am haunted by the last fact I learnt in The Keeper of Miracles – some people don’t believe that the Holocaust happened. This makes it all the more important to keep publishing, promoting and researching literature about this catastrophic loss of more than six million lives. This book should be higher on the high school reading list than the iconic fiction book of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (which has noticeable inconsistencies with the real events of the Holocaust) or the very dense memoir If This is a Man. Always Remember Your Name gets full stars from me.

Allen & Unwin | 20 February 2022 | AU$29.99 | paperback