Thursday, December 13, 2007

Title: Laughing Sickness A Medical Mystery
Author: Anne Black Gray
Publisher: Bridgeway Books
ISBN: 978-1-933538-93-8
Genre: Fiction/Medical Mystery

The author grew up in semi-rural West Virginia, studied physics at Carnegie Mellon and then migrated to Southern California for a career in Aerospace Engineering. After retiring, she too up her second career (novel writing) at the same time that she was learning of the plight of victims of rare, hard-to-diagnose diseases. The needs of these patients became the inspiration for this, her first novel. The subject is very interesting and has been dealt with beautifully. It indeed reads like a good mystery and the reader is certainly kept waiting for the final diagnosis and to know how the patient fares.

The book gives the reader a good tour through the modern medical system, as experienced by Jessica Shepperd, the heroine of this novel, a sufferer from a hard-to-diagnose illness. She finds that when confronted with the apparently solvable problem, doctors who usually speak with science-backed authority can become irritable, evasive, dismissive and doubtful of the patient's mental soundness. If they can't find a physical reason, "it must be all in her head!" sums up the attitude of some of them.

Her illness changes her relationships with many, and she breaks up with her boyfriend, a doctor himself and who is a control freak. Jessica, on the other hand is obsessed with individual freedom. After a series of wrong diagnoses and after going on long disability leave (which affects her financially), she finally gets the right diagnosis (cataplexy) and hope is rekindled that the right treatment will enable her to lead an almost normal life. She also finds that she can write her experiences well and share with other sufferers. She also finds other people suffering similar problems and enjoys the friendship.

One small excerpt from the book:

Laughter and tickling inevitably cause attacks in over ninety percent of cataplectics.

Like her. May be all her life. When she was a little girl, if someone tickled her or told a joke, she fell. That could have been a precursor to her present condition.

She found little information on the physiology or neurology of cataplexy. It was simplistically described as a mistake, in conjunction with with narcolepsy, where the brain believes it's asleep and dreaming and, just as in normal dreaming, inhibits the body's ability to move. She read that narcolepsy and cataplexy are thought, but as yet not proven, to be autoimmune or autoinflammatory. Nothing was mentioned about sensations of switches flipping in the brain. Or about collapses after acceleration or deceleration.

End of the excerpt.

The books is extremely well written and beautifully printed. The style is engrossing and the suspense is kept up. I could put down the book only with a lot of difficulty and finished the book in 2 or 3 days. There is a lot of useful information about many medical conditions and diagnostic procedures. At the same time, it is entertaining too.

All in all, an excellent read.

No comments: