Earlier this fall, over the course of a tense dinner table discussion, it came to light that a dear relative of mine held some blatantly transphobic beliefs. I was greatly distressed by this — not only because these beliefs were at complete odds with my own, but because I had no idea what to do. I felt that it was my responsibility to educate them and keep communication channels open... but having had little success with blunt confrontation, I was at a loss.
Then I read First Year Out: A Transition Story, the second graphic novel by Vancouver-based author Sabrina Symington. First Year Out describes the story of Lily in her first year as an openly trans woman, and covers everything in Lily’s life from the basics (such as how she gets dressed and her first experience with online dating) to the harder conversations (like confronting her mother about her TERF [trans-exclusionary radical feminism] attitude and telling her boyfriend that she wants sexual reassignment surgery). Through the incredible medium of graphic story-telling, we get to literally see how Lily grows into herself. ...continue reading →
Denis Daneman is Professor and Chair Emeritus in the Department of Paediatrics at the University of Toronto, and Paediatrician-in-Chief Emeritus at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto
Here’s a strong recommendation for all paediatricians and paediatricians-in-training: if you are going to read only one book in 2018, seriously consider Ghost Boy: The miraculous escape of a misdiagnosed boy trapped inside his own body, the autobiography of Martin Pistorius, co-written with Megan Lloyd Davies. The book was given to me by a colleague aware of my bibliophilia, my South African roots and my advocacy for child health: “Read this!” she said, simply and forcefully. I obeyed, picking it up a couple of days later. I could not put it down until I’d read it cover to cover.
The story is pretty simple: a 12 year old, previously well boy in South Africa, develops an undiagnosed neurological illness, which leaves him mute and quadriplegic ...continue reading →
When Breath Becomes Air begins with Dr. Paul Kalanithi’s childhood life in Arizona, where he developed a passion for English literature and biology that provided the foundation for his desire to pursue medicine. During the first half of the book, Dr. Kalanithi writes about this journey, which notably involved attending several internationally-esteemed universities: Cambridge, Yale, and Stanford. Not only did he graduate from these schools with honours — he was also pursuing the notoriously demanding specialty of neurosurgery. Despite the rigour of residency training in this discipline and a blooming relationship with his partner, Lucy, Dr. Kalanithi was not merely managing; he was gradually rising to prominence in the field as a clinician-scientist. ...continue reading →
The HIV/AIDS Care Unit (Unit 371) at Chicago’s Illinois Masonic Medical Centre was founded on a heartbreakingly simple observation. “We are all just people taking turns being sick,” stated Dr. David Blatt, one of the founders of Unit 371, in MK Czerwiec’s newest graphic novel — the aptly named Taking Turns: Stories from the HIV/AIDS Care Unit 371. Czerwiec was a brand-new nursing graduate on 371 during the height of the HIV epidemic, and Taking Turns is in many ways her tribute to the unit’s extraordinary spirit. The intention of the unit was made clear from day one: this would be a place where the most stigmatized and ostracized patients could be cared for with empathy, understanding, and love. ...continue reading →
I remember learning about “atypical” presentations of heart attacks during a cardiology lecture in my second year of medical school. Jaw pain, shoulder pain, and fatigue replace the archetypal central chest pain and diaphoresis, making the diagnosis much more subtle and easy to miss. Only later, as a footnote, was it mentioned that these presentations usually occurred in women. I thought it was odd that something that occurs in half the population was said to be “atypical,” but as is so often the case in medical school, I didn’t have time to dwell on it for long; the lecturer had already moved on to angina and I missed what he had said about beta-blockers. ...continue reading →
Dr. James Maskalyk describes emergencies “as a sign of life taking care of itself” in his most recent memoir, Life on the Ground Floor. Throughout his book, the reader is left to wonder what exactly Maskalyk means by this. It is an ominous phrase that, at first glance, reads more like a repackaged “survival of the fittest” for emergency departments. However, through deft and emotional storytelling, Maskalyk urges us to look beyond this stark message of Darwinism and see that emergencies are the purest form of life helping life, or “life taking care of itself”. ...continue reading →
Graphic novels have emerged from the field of medical humanities as a powerful medium for telling stories — particularly stories of mental illness. Ellen Forney and David B. are two recent, best-selling graphic novelists who write about their experiences with mental illness and have broken ground for many new artists to carve their place in the mental health graphic novel genre. Clem and Olivier Martini, brothers and authors of The Unravelling, also deserve recognition as graphic novel trailblazers. The Unravelling is the second book that touches on their family’s experience with Olivier’s diagnosis of schizophrenia. However, this book also centres on their mother, Catherine — Olivier’s caretaker and roommate — who is rapidly losing her independence and cognitive abilities at age 89. It is a personal and emotional account of caregiving, as well as an angry lament of the state of Canada’s healthcare system for the mentally ill and ageing. ...continue reading →
In the introduction to The Remedy, British Columbia-based editor Zena Sharman states her intention plainly: to make people’s stories the centre of conversations on queer and transgender health. The resulting anthology is a stunning and captivating look at the past, present, and future of health and healthcare as it relates to LGBTQ+ people in Canada that more than accomplishes Sharman’s goal. A long-standing frustration with healthcare providers is a common theme among the stories contained in The Remedy. ...continue reading →
Imagine working in a hospital where a child is admitted and kept on the wards for seven years without being allowed to see their family. Now imagine being that child, and growing up to be an adult in today’s healthcare system. Would you ever set foot in a hospital again? Would you ever trust a doctor? These are the kind of questions that come to mind while reading Medicine Unbundled: A Journey through the Minefields of Indigenous Health Care, a book written by investigative journalist Gary Geddes. By travelling across Canada and interviewing Indigenous leaders, Elders, and members of a wide variety of First Nations, Geddes provides a powerful account of how Canada’s historic Indian Hospitals and Tuberculosis Sanatoriums directly and intentionally contributed to the genocide of Indigenous people. ...continue reading →
Health policy pundits should look to André Picard’s new book for a dose of common sense on some of Canada’s most urgent health issues. Picard, as most Canadians know, is the long-time health columnist for The Globe and Mail. The book, Matters of Life and Death: Public Health Issues in Canada (Douglas & McIntyre), is the best-of those columns over the past 15 years, updated and conveniently packaged under 14 topic headings like opioid use, medical assistance in dying, cancer, marijuana, indigenous health and infectious disease. Most importantly Picard delves into medicare itself. Canadians spent $228-billion in 2016 on health care: Do we get value for our money? Is it sustainable? Picard not only asks the right questions, he provides some very credible answers. ...continue reading →