My favorite health book? (NHBPM 13)

I think it’s patently unfair to ask a reader what their favorite book is. It’s like saying, “Which finger is your favorite?” or “Which hair on your head is the very best one?”

You’re a different person with each book you read — and each time you read the same book — and there are simply too many books, too many possibilities, too many contexts. Choosing a favorite is like comparing apples to orangutans.

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The corollary is that I’m suspicious of anyone with a ready answer to the favorite book question. Partly because having an answer implies that the question is valid, and I’ve already posited it is not.

But I also have a shameful snobby reaction, where I can’t help but assume that anyone with a standout favorite book probably just hasn’t read very many books. De gustibus non est disputandum, of course, and I would never expect anyone to like the same books I do, or vice versa, or even to like books at all. But it seems ingenuous to have, or to be willing to share, a favorite book.

Have I set the stage to prove how worldly and snobby and literate and assy I am?


Now I can effuse about my favorite health book, because it is awesome!

My all-time favorite book for people with chronic illness is The Art of Getting Well by David Spero, RN.

But wait. Doesn’t the “chronic” in “chronic illness” mean you’ll never get well?

Well, yeah. And no.

Feeling suddenly less certain? A little confused? Perfect! That shifting you feel under your feet is the fertile ground of your new life.

The short answer: wellness is a state of mind, and the way to reach that state is through self-care.

Self-care is a foreign, revolutionary concept for most people, and for women especially. But there’s a reason all those pre-flight safety films tell you to put your own oxygen mask on first: if you are incapacitated  you will not be able to help anyone else. Your first responsibility must be to yourself.

The good news is that self-care is a combination of attitudes you can adopt, skills you can practice, and habits you can develop that will become second nature. And that’s a gift that anybody can get, as long as they give it to themselves.

It’s absolutely true that your disease may never go away, or even get better. This isn’t about denying the obvious, or the terrible. Far from it. But the (immense) power of self-care is such that you can stake a claim and intentionally build such high quality of life that your post-diagnosis life can be better than it was even before you got sick.

It happened to me. That’s how I know the “getting well” of the title sounds paradoxically impossible but is actually actual.

And you could not ask for a kinder, more knowledgeable, or wiser guide to living better than Spero, a nurse, journalist, health educator, and patient. I appreciated his deep experience and his gentle humor, evident even in the chapter titles:

Chapter 1: Studies Show Life is Hard

Chapter 5: Twenty-Four Reasons to Live

Chapter 7: Your Body–Love It or Leave It

The Art of Getting Well rocked my world, though like any true legend, its exact origins are shrouded in mystery. I can’t even remember how I ended up with it, other than it happened sometime after my diagnosis. But we were totally meant to be together, and that’s all that matters.

my health bookshelf. not shown: all the books I’ve borrowed or given away.

Living well is the best revenge. Start today.

Ready any good health books you’d recommend? Tell us about it!

Health Activist Soapbox (NHBPM 5)

The tl;dr version: Get informed. Vote your conscience. Help your neighbor.

I hold it, that a little rebellion, now and then, is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical. (Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to James Madison, January 1787)

An idealist. A romantic. A radical.

Somebody who doesn’t understand how the real world works.

I’ve been called a lot of things since I started refining and sharing my political opinions circa age 10.

But on the contrary, sir: I’m painfully aware of how the real world works, and that’s exactly why I want to change it.

As I see it, the whole point of living in society is to pool our resources – food, money, time, talents, strength, and know-how – and to mitigate our weaknesses (broadly defined as a lack of resources). It’s like a giant family where everybody contributes and everybody benefits. We don’t all need to contribute equally nor to benefit equally.

By working together, we are capable of feats of greatness that not even the greatest of us could pull off individually. Specialization and interdependence are what keep our world going round. Independence is a dangerous myth that can rob of us our greatest wealth – our cooperation.

I thought this was supposed to be a HEALTH activist’s soapbox.

It is. I hope I’m not the first person to tell you that your health, like the rest of your resources, is mutable and subject to revocation. The healthy among us are but temporarily able-bodied. Maybe they’ll never come down with MS or rheumatoid arthritis or cancer or Alzheimer’s or Ebola. Good.


But accidents can happen to anybody (any body), and a bad hangnail or a “simple” broken leg that heals beautifully can be utterly disabling in the meantime.

That stomach bug that knocks you out for a few days? A uncomfortable glimpse into your corporeal mortality…and your toilet bowl.

That chunk of frozen blue airplane poop that randomly falls out of the sky and kills you? Could happen even if you’ve never lived near an airport.

An infinite number of accidents could happen to anyone, at any time, through absolutely no fault of their own. That’s why they’re called accidents.

But the American political fetish for “personal accountability” is distinctly uncomfortable with things that just happen. It’s much more flattering to think you pulled yourself up by your bootstraps than that you just happened to be born into a well-to-do family in a well-to-do nation during a prosperous economic swing. On the fate/hardwork spectrum, they prefer to stake their claim firmly on the hardwork side.

Fate, on the other hand, is regarded only as something that happens to the less fortunate.

You were born brown? Sorry, no refunds, no exchanges.

God didn’t give you a penis? That’s a shame. Now make me a sandwich. And smile while you do it.

But provided you are not a candidate for major office, you and I know the truth.

At some point, we’re all less fortunate.

That’s what it means to be human, and it’s humbling and heavy and sad.

But this is also the truth: There are things we-the-people can do to mitigate the inevitable less fortunate times and keep temporary disruptions from turning into life sentences. Or death sentences!

When something happens to you and you can’t provide for yourself, the people in your family-society should step in to provide for you. We help the helpless and unwell; we don’t stand on their necks. We apply the best knowledge and resources we have to to getting better, so that as a whole, we can keep going, keep growing.

All of us. Together.

Depending on who you ask, healthcare is sometimes called a safety net or an entitlement. I prefer to call it a basic human right. It’s unethical to forbid someone access to care because they can’t pay for it, or because their state isn’t as resource-full as a neighboring state. There is enough healthcare to go around, so spread it around.

If someone took it upon himself to guard the door of a ritzy health clinic to stop poor people from coming inside to seek care, that guard would probably be arrested and charged with assault. Why, then, is it okay to write and uphold laws that allow insurance companies to deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions? It’s no less threatening and disruptive and dangerous. It’s no less un-American.

We don’t tell a hurricane-ravaged coast that we’re rooting for them, but could they please hurry up and turn the lights back on? We send our extra resources – fuel and food and water and manpower and money – so they can get unravaged, get back to work, build a better coastline, embody the spirit that makes us all proud to be Americans. It’s what they’d do for us.

We don’t tell a kid with an ear infection that he’ll start to feel better as soon as he discovers penicillin, so he better get cracking. We give him the antibiotics we already have so he can get better, get back to school, invent the next big thing, save the world. It’s what he’d do for us.

But then, everybody knows kids are idealist romantic radicals who don’t know how the real world works.

I just hope a few of them grow up to be president one day.

I just hope one of them has grown up to be president tomorrow.

Image of a suffrage flyer from the Missouri Historical Society’s collections.