Books On The Road

While more than one of my days on the road has been consumed by illness, either mine or my wife’s, I have had a chance to read a few books. Given the house on fire nature of my job for the last years, I haven’t had much time, or energy, to read much. One of the rare joys of an actual vacation, is the opportunity to dial it back a bit and engage ion some of the pass times a guy used to enjoy. So… I read three books in 5 days.

The first one I tackled was:

Seriously Lame

This is a seriously dull book, by an American doctor called Paul Ruggieri. I am not entirely sure of the point of this book, but it seems to be a mewling tirade about the fact that becoming a surgeon these days in the US is not an automatic license to pave your bathrooms in gold and retire when you are 41. He go on and on and on about the litigious nature of American medicine today and and how his life is a misery because he can’t accidentally cut your arm off when he was supposed to take out your gall bladder, and not face a lawsuit. His thesis appears to be that Doctors should be immune to everything (including patients) except great sacks of cash deposited regularly in unnamed Swiss banks.

I bought this tome because I like reading medical non fiction. I like the chase of the differential diagnosis on a difficult case. I like to learn about the human body and both it’s many failings and amazing design. Give this loser a miss. It is neither interesting, amusing or even very well written.

Next up was this journeyman work:

Better than a poke in the eye…. just

This is a memoir by Lt.Col (Ret) Michael Franzak. He spend 20+ years in the US Navy, and 10 years flying the AV-8B Harrier II for the USMC. This memoir is about his deployment to Afghanistan as the XO of VMA 513 posted to Bagram. Now… I like these sort of books. I like reading about ordinary people doing interesting jobs in the face of daunting odds. generally these military memoirs are good reading, generally written reasonably well, about events I may have a passing knowledge of as a consumer of news of the world. This book is, in retrospect, not different. My issue with this book is two fold. 1) The role of the Harrier in the conflict seemed to be largely to roar about overhead and threaten the Taliban insurgent with high levels of noise. This aircraft carries about 2 lbs of bombs, has difficulty in delivering same in anything like difficult terrain. It can’t use it’s vertical take off capability at the altitudes evident in Afghanistan, so operates like regular aircraft, a role for which it is dimly suited.

2) Franzak seemed a very reluctant warrior. Racked by insomnia, loathing his CO, endlessly bitching about his accommodations, he cuts a rather dismal picture of the pointy end of the spear. He drops one bomb, and that a miss, in his entire tour, and moans on and on about how hard the job is.

I got through it, and to be honest, I have read worse… but it is difficult to recommend it as it is so pedestrian and marginally interesting in it’s narrative. He does deliver a very telling lesson in the nature of the insurgent war in this part of the world. He describes how he has the chance to attend the interrogation of a captured Taliban fighter by the CIA. During the hours of endless questioning in a trailer by trained CIA operatives, the captive keeps looking at a fan on the wall, seemingly unable to focus on the task at hand. He does not seem to realize that years of internment at Guantanamo await if this interview goes poorly. He turns to the Pashtun interpreter finally and asks him… ” what IS that thing…” pointing to the fan on the wall…. “… it’s amazing…”. Here is a guy whose heart and mind you are hoping to capture through reason and bullets, and he he has never seen a fan before in his entire life. THAT is the take away form this book

Last but not least is my favorite so far:

Excellent read…

This a an excellent memoir by Dr.Ross Donaldson of his time in West Africa studying the evil Lassa virus. Lassa is one of the BIG FOUR VHFs or viral hemorrhagic fevers. The others, for the inquiring reader, are Ebola, Marburg and Crimean – Congo. Whether you have any one or the other is largely for Doctors to worry about, as you are dangerously screwed regardless. While they seem to have surprisingly low mortality rates in healthy populations with atmospheric medical care, they kill you dead in the most gruesome fashion should be unfortunate enough to be poorly nourished, and immune deficient. The hemorrhagic virus is like the flu with turbo charging, with the added side effect of making your cells leak fluid in copious quantity…. until you die.

This memoir is a riveting and well written account of a young med student who travels to Sierra Leone to study this disease under one of the worlds only experts in it’s treatment. His mentor would himself die of the disease a year later after an accidental needle stick. Donaldson spends his days in the Lassa Ward, a run down piece of shit hospital bereft of even the most minor medical equipment and drugs. His daily struggles with both the patients and the nursing staff make for highly entertaining reading. It is hard to believe, after you read this, that anyone would willingly go to a war torn country like this where human life is about as valuable as dirt, and struggle daily to save the lives of people who will, in all likelyhood, die of something else pretty darn soon anyway. The lethality of this disease, and it’s containment in this rickety hospital seem surreal, and the narrative is spellbinding.

Even if you have no interest in books like this, I would recommend it as a worthwhile study in human courage and selfless determination to make something right in the world.

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