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Book Review: Bold Women of Medicine: 21 Stories of Astounding Discoveries, Daring Surgeries, and Healing Breakthroughs by Susan M. Latta

Publisher’s description

ra6Meet 21 determined women who have dedicated their lives to healing others. In the 19th century, Florence Nightingale and Clara Barton—the “Lady with the Lamp” and the “Angel of the Battlefield”—earned their nicknames by daring to enter battlefields to aid wounded soldiers, forever changing the standards of medicine. Modern-day medical heroines such as Bonnie Simpson Mason, who harnessed the challenges of her chronic illness and founded an organization to introduce women and minorities to orthopedic surgery, and Kathy Magliato, who jumped the hurdles to become a talented surgeon in the male-dominated arena of heart transplants, will inspire any young reader interested in the art, science, and lifechanging applications of medicine. Lovers of adventure will follow Mary Carson Breckinridge, the “nurse on horseback” who delivered babies in the Appalachian Mountains and believed that everyone, including our poorest and most vulnerable citizens, deserve good health care, and Jerri Nielsen, the doctor stationed in Antarctica who, cut off from help, had to bravely treat her own breast cancer. These and 15 other daring women inspire with their courage, persistence, and belief in the power of both science and compassion.

Packed with photos and informative sidebars and including source notes and a bibliography, Bold Women of Medicine is an invaluable addition to any student’s or aspiring doctor or nurse’s bookshelf.


Amanda’s thoughts

bold womenThis is a great book to have on display during Women’s History Month, or as part of your science display, or to have at the ready for students needing to do a biographical report on someone possibly less well known. Have a careers section in your library? Stick this face-out there. Does your school have a health careers class or track, as the high school I used to work at does? Make sure that teacher and their students know about this book. While some readers will likely read this whole thing from cover to cover, it will probably be most useful for those looking for information about one specific woman or time period. Though the biographies are brief and include pictures as well as sidebars, it’s still a lot of information to absorb. The book includes the women many have heard of, like Elizabeth Blackwell, Clara Barton, Florence Nightingale, and Virginia Apgar, but also includes many more that may be less well know. One chapter is dedicated to Rebecca Lee Crumpler and Rebecca Cole, the first African American women physicians (circa 1860-ish). Others include Civil War surgeon Mary Edwards Walker; Native American (Omaha tribe) doctor Susan LaFlesche Picotte; Catherine Hamlin, a gynecologist who worked in Ethiopia from 1959 on; Edna Adan Ismail, a Somaliland pioneer in the movement to end female genital mutilation, and many more. An interesting, thorough look at the lives, careers, and achievements of these inspirational women. 


Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781613734377

Publisher: Chicago Review Press, Incorporated

Publication date: 09/01/2017

Series: Women of Action Series

Sunday Reflections: Mental health medications are not your enemy

On Tuesday, I’ll be sharing my review of The Last Time We Say Goodbye, by Cynthia Hand. For the most part, it was a book I really liked. But I had one MAJOR issue with it: the main character’s attitude toward taking medicine to help with the panic attacks and depression she’s feeling in the wake of her brother’s suicide.


After Alexis, the main character, tells her therapist about her panic attacks, he says, “There’s a medication we can get you for that.” He goes on to tell her about SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), and she refers to as him “waxing poetically about drugs.” Alexis goes on to explain Brave New World to him, telling him about soma, the drug that’s supposed to make everyone happy in the book. She says, “That futuristic society where everybody is drugged to be happy, all the time, no matter what happens–it’s horrible–monstrous, even–it’s like the end of humanity. Because we are supposed to feel things, Dave. My brother died, and I’m supposed to feel it.” She also reveals that her brother, Ty, had taken antidepressants for two years and “a fat lot of good it did him.” Alexis calls Dave a “drug pusher.” So, giving up on this train of thought, Dave instead prescribes her to write in a diary. This attitude of being anti-medicine, of medicine not letting you “feel” whatever it is you are supposed to feel remains consistent through the whole book. 


Here’s my issue: I like medicine. I believe in medicine. It’s what’s kept me a mostly functioning human being for 19 years. I have generalized anxiety disorder. If I didn’t take the host of pills in my cabinet every day, I would probably do nothing but obsessively ruminate my way through worrying about every single issue that has ever and may ever occur in the history and future of humanity. I would not be able to get anything done because I’d be too busy listening to my brain obliterate every good thought or idea I have. I would be busy listening to the lies that my unmedicated brain loves to make up–everything is actually awful, nothing good will ever happen, everything good is actually bad, etc. I would not be able to drive my car, because of my terror of being trapped in a moving metal box and my distrust of everyone navigating their little metal boxes (a fear that existed long before my dad was killed in a car accident two years ago). I would not be able to parent my kid because I’d be too busy crying and panicking and falling apart. I would not be able to sleep because nighttime is anxiety’s favorite time to eat my brain. The list goes on forever. The bottom line is that I would not be able to. Just to. To anything.


At the library, I spent a fair amount of my day hearing from my teen friends about their own mental health struggles. Being readily approachable and being a mandated reporter, I’d listen to them, give them a book either reflecting their experience or distracting them from it, and then turning around, filing a report, and worrying about them. The common theme in all of their stories: they didn’t want to be put on a medication. What I always, always, ALWAYS did was tell them that I have taken medication forever for my anxiety. That some days are terrible and I take three different medications just to be able to function. That going on medicine was hands down the best choice I made for myself in my entire life. I don’t walk around feeling terrible. I sleep. I breathe. I don’t usually have panic attacks. The kraken that is mental illness can’t reach its nasty tentacles quite as far into my brain because of medication. 


I know my teenage attitude was also, “Oh, I would never want to be on medication. It just makes you a zombie.” Apparently my teenage self thought being a complete basket case was preferable. It’s not. Medicine isn’t your enemy. Untreated mental illness is your enemy. Therapy is fantastic, but therapy combined with the right medicine–that’s your ticket. Getting help, in all forms, is good. Being open to help, in all forms, is good. It is good, it is necessary, and it is OKAY. If your medicine makes you feel funky, keep trying other medicines. Something will help.


I so deeply dislike and worry about the message in this book: Ty took meds and he still killed himself, so they don’t work. Alexis claims to generally not feel anything at all. “I don’t need drugs to numb the pain.” She has panic attacks and suffers terrible dreams for weeks after her brother dies. When her mother offers her a Valium, Alexis barks at her, “What is it with people trying to force-feed me drugs?” The only time she even in passing considers medication is when she’s having a panic attack at school and thinks “maybe this drug thing Dave suggested isn’t a bad idea after all.”  Alexis is an extremely smart girl. She excels in math and science and will be attending MIT, but she has a fundamental misunderstanding about mental health medicines.


An author’s note at the end explains that Hand’s brother committed suicide when they were teens. What I really wanted at the end was also some kind of list of helpful resources (helplines etc) or acknowledgement that while Alexis chose not to take any medications, they can greatly help people suffering from a variety of mental health issues. Do I think all books need to be instructional? Of course not. But I don’t like seeing a very common notion about medication perpetuated in a book like this. The best thing we can do to help not just teenagers but everyone suffering from mental illnesses is to be open and honest, to remove the stigma (of the illnesses and the various treatments), and offer hope. For many teens, the only places they might find these conversations may be in books. Let’s not let them walk away thinking, See? I told you. Nothing can help.

There is help. 


National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255

The Trevor Project hotline 1-866-488-7386

Trans Lifeline 1-877-565-8860


As always, we welcome your thoughts. Talk to us in the comments or you can find me on Twitter–I’m @CiteSomething.