Saturday, March 05, 2011

Review: Chocolate and Vicodin

Note: I bought my copy of Chocolate & Vicodin: My Quest for Relief from the Headache that Wouldn't Go Away with my own money.  After all, what are friends and blog readers for if not to support each other's ventures? I should have ordered a signed copy through FlyLeaf Books, but I wanted to get my money's worth out of my Amazon Prime membership before it expired.  My review is unsolicited but may be a little biased because I am a fan.


Jennette Fulda knows more about unsolicited advice than almost anyone. After undertaking two of the best ventures for attracting other people's opinions -- losing weight and dealing with chronic pain -- I think she could complete her study of busybodyness by getting pregnant, preferably with octuplets through artificial insemination.  I don't have children but I have observed through my sister's pregnancy and early motherhood experiences that you get lots of opinions about that too.

One of the more interesting things about Chocolate and Vicodin is the way Jennette uses her experiences as a blogger to frame the book. Each chapter begins with one or two actual emails from readers (identities disguised, of course) suggesting her headache might be caused by everything from a problem with one of her chakras (pp. 44-45) to wireless internet (p. 147) to irregularity (pp. 172-173). All of her readers want desperately to help her figure out the cause and treatment for her headache.  I seem to remember sending in one or two ideas myself, and I feel a little sheepish after I read how much pressure all of this advice seemed to add to her stress.  While she waits for her insurance company to clear her requests for conventional treatments, she tries a handful of these suggestions from her readers.  She even made a video about it:



She takes an interesting approach to these treatments: "I had started to view my medical appointments as work I had to do to earn my 'piss-off policy' for that treatment. It was like earning patches for my sash when I had been a Girl Scout. I would go to the acupuncturist, give it a good try, and then when it didn't work I could tell everyone who had suggested acupuncture to piss off: (pp. 138-139).  "Why couldn't she just decide for herself that it wasn't for her without shelling out the bucks for acupuncture?" you might think.  I'm not going to judge, because when I had my house on the market for 9 months without a buyer, I went to a Catholic bookstore to buy a statue of St. Joseph to bury in my yard just so I could tell my mother's neighbor I had tried it (and in the desperate hope that it just might work, which it didn't).  When you have a problem that solicits unwanted advice, you get the feeling that everyone will think it's your fault you are sick if you're not willing to try a chiropractor or whatever voodoo ritual they suggest.

Besides, it wasn't like conventional medicine had much more to offer her.  Her doctors had her try all kinds of prescription medicines, get MRIs, and even spend several days home-administering an IV to see if those things would help her find relief.  There didn't seem to be a lot of great science on headaches to fall back on, just a lot of things that might work.  My father suffered from cluster headaches (referred to as "suicide headaches" in this book) for much of my childhood, and I remember him going through similar torture.  There just isn't a lot of great help to be had.

In the end, Jennette had to accept that a certain amount of chronic pain might just be part of her life and find ways to manage it with a minimum of suffering. Most of the things that helped the most were general wellness strategies like getting good sleep, eating a healthy diet, and exercising.

What makes this book fun and not at all a sorrowful slog is that Jennette maintains a sense of humor about her predicament and even a certain amount of gratitude, once she realizes how many people are living with chronic pain. And she even finds time to take a trip to Europe, headache and all.

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"Count your calories, work out when you can, and try to be good to yourself. All the rest is bulls**t." -- Jillian Michaels at BlogHer '07