The Pain Chronicles: Cures, Myths, Mysteries, Prayers, Diaries, Brain Scans, Healing, and the Science of Suffering

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Each of us will know physical pain in our lives, but none of us knows when it will come or how long it will stay. Today as much as 10 percent of the population of the United States suffers from chronic pain. It is more widespread, misdiagnosed, and undertreated than any major disease. While recent research has shown that pain produces pathological changes to the brain and spinal cord, many doctors and patients still labor under misguided cultural notions and outdated scientific dogmas that prevent proper treatment, to devastating effect.

In The Pain Chronicles, a singular and deeply humane work, Melanie Thernstrom traces conceptions of pain throughout the ages—from ancient Babylonian pain-banishing spells to modern brain imaging—to reveal the elusive, mysterious nature of pain itself. Interweaving first-person reflections on her own battle with chronic pain, incisive reportage from leading-edge pain clinics and medical research, and insights from a wide range of disciplines—science, history, religion, philosophy, anthropology, literature, and art—Thernstrom shows that when dealing with pain we are neither as advanced as we imagine nor as helpless as we may fear.

Both a personal meditation and an intellectual exploration, The Pain Chronicles illuminates and makes sense of the all-too-human experience of pain—and confronts with extraordinary grace and empathy its peculiar traits, its harrowing effects, and its various antidotes.

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About the author

Melanie Thernstrom is a contributing writer to The New York Times Magazine and the author of The Dead Girl and Halfway Heaven: Diary of a Harvard Murder.

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Additional Information

Publisher
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Published on
Aug 17, 2010
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Pages
384
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ISBN
9781429979450
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Language
English
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Genres
Health & Fitness / Pain Management
Medical / History
Social Science / Disease & Health Issues
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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"With Lous Heshusius as a guide, pain patients can learn much about the perils of a modern health-care odyssey. Health professionals can learn how an articulate middle-class female white patient thinks (with all that thinking entails) when her world is irreversibly altered by pain. She does not promise happy endings. Chronic pain is like that. From the rare intersection in this text between patient narrative and physician response, however, readers may construct a dialogue on pain in our time that cannot fail to bring plentiful opportunities for personal insight and professional enlightenment."—from the Foreword by David B. MorrisChronic pain, which affects 70 million people in the United States alone—more than diabetes, cancer, and heart disease combined—is a major public health issue that remains poorly understood both within the health care system and by those closest to the people it afflicts. This book examines the experience of pain in ways that could significantly improve how patients and practitioners deal with pain. It is the first volume of a new collection of titles within the acclaimed Culture and Politics of Health Care Work series called How Patients Think, intended to give voice to the concerns of patients about their own medical care and the formulation of health policy.Since surviving a near-fatal car accident, Lous Heshusius has suffered from chronic pain for more than a decade, forcing her to give up her career as a professor of education. Inside Chronic Pain, based in part on the pain journal Heshusius keeps, is a stunning memoir of a life lived in constant pain as well as an insightful and often critical account of the inadequacies of the health care system—from physicians to hospitals and health insurance companies—to understand chronic pain and treat those who suffer from it. Through her own frequently frustrating experiences, she shows how health care providers often ignore, deny, or incorrectly treat chronic pain at immense cost to both the patient and the health care system. She also offers cogent suggestions on improving the quality and outcome of chronic pain care and management, using her encounters with exceptional medical professionals as models.Inside Chronic Pain deals with pain's dramatic and destructive effects on one's sense of self and identity. It chronicles the chaos that takes place, the paralyzing effect of severe pain, the changes in personality that ensue, and the corrosive effects of severe pain on the ability to attend to day-to-day tasks. It describes how one's social life falls apart and isolation takes over. It also relates moments of happiness and beauty and describes how rooting the self in the present is crucial in managing pain. A unique feature of Inside Chronic Pain is the clinical commentary by Dr. Scott M. Fishman, president of the American Pain Foundation. Fishman has long tried to improve the lives of patients like Heshusius. His medical perspective on her very human narrative will help physicians and other clinicians better understand and treat patients with chronic pain.
Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction

When three-month-old Lia Lee Arrived at the county hospital emergency room in Merced, California, a chain of events was set in motion from which neither she nor her parents nor her doctors would ever recover. Lia's parents, Foua and Nao Kao, were part of a large Hmong community in Merced, refugees from the CIA-run "Quiet War" in Laos. The Hmong, traditionally a close-knit and fiercely people, have been less amenable to assimilation than most immigrants, adhering steadfastly to the rituals and beliefs of their ancestors. Lia's pediatricians, Neil Ernst and his wife, Peggy Philip, cleaved just as strongly to another tradition: that of Western medicine. When Lia Lee Entered the American medical system, diagnosed as an epileptic, her story became a tragic case history of cultural miscommunication.

Parents and doctors both wanted the best for Lia, but their ideas about the causes of her illness and its treatment could hardly have been more different. The Hmong see illness aand healing as spiritual matters linked to virtually everything in the universe, while medical community marks a division between body and soul, and concerns itself almost exclusively with the former. Lia's doctors ascribed her seizures to the misfiring of her cerebral neurons; her parents called her illness, qaug dab peg--the spirit catches you and you fall down--and ascribed it to the wandering of her soul. The doctors prescribed anticonvulsants; her parents preferred animal sacrifices.

Winner of the NBCC Award for General Nonfiction

Named on Amazon's Best Books of the Year 2015--Michael Botticelli, U.S. Drug Czar (Politico) Favorite Book of the Year--Angus Deaton, Nobel Prize Economics (Bloomberg/WSJ) Best Books of 2015--Matt Bevin, Governor of Kentucky (WSJ) Books of the Year--Slate.com's 10 Best Books of 2015--Entertainment Weekly's 10 Best Books of 2015 --Buzzfeed's 19 Best Nonfiction Books of 2015--The Daily Beast's Best Big Idea Books of 2015--Seattle Times' Best Books of 2015--Boston Globe's Best Books of 2015--St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Best Books of 2015--The Guardian's The Best Book We Read All Year--Audible's Best Books of 2015--Texas Observer's Five Books We Loved in 2015--Chicago Public Library's Best Nonfiction Books of 2015

From a small town in Mexico to the boardrooms of Big Pharma to main streets nationwide, an explosive and shocking account of addiction in the heartland of America.

In 1929, in the blue-collar city of Portsmouth, Ohio, a company built a swimming pool the size of a football field; named Dreamland, it became the vital center of the community. Now, addiction has devastated Portsmouth, as it has hundreds of small rural towns and suburbs across America--addiction like no other the country has ever faced. How that happened is the riveting story of Dreamland.

With a great reporter's narrative skill and the storytelling ability of a novelist, acclaimed journalist Sam Quinones weaves together two classic tales of capitalism run amok whose unintentional collision has been catastrophic. The unfettered prescribing of pain medications during the 1990s reached its peak in Purdue Pharma's campaign to market OxyContin, its new, expensive--extremely addictive--miracle painkiller. Meanwhile, a massive influx of black tar heroin--cheap, potent, and originating from one small county on Mexico's west coast, independent of any drug cartel--assaulted small town and mid-sized cities across the country, driven by a brilliant, almost unbeatable marketing and distribution system. Together these phenomena continue to lay waste to communities from Tennessee to Oregon, Indiana to New Mexico.

Introducing a memorable cast of characters--pharma pioneers, young Mexican entrepreneurs, narcotics investigators, survivors, and parents--Quinones shows how these tales fit together. Dreamland is a revelatory account of the corrosive threat facing America and its heartland.
A story of drug and alcohol abuse and rehabilitation as it has never been told before. Recounted in visceral, kinetic prose, and crafted with a forthrightness that rejects piety, cynicism, and self-pity, it brings us face-to-face with a provocative new understanding of the nature of addiction and the meaning of recovery.

By the time he entered a drug and alcohol treatment facility, James Frey had taken his addictions to near-deadly extremes. He had so thoroughly ravaged his body that the facilityís doctors were shocked he was still alive. The ensuing torments of detoxification and withdrawal, and the never-ending urge to use chemicals, are captured with a vitality and directness that recalls the seminal eye-opening power of William Burroughsís Junky.

But A Million Little Pieces refuses to fit any mold of drug literature. Inside the clinic, James is surrounded by patients as troubled as he is -- including a judge, a mobster, a one-time world-champion boxer, and a fragile former prostitute to whom he is not allowed to speak ó but their friendship and advice strikes James as stronger and truer than the clinicís droning dogma of How to Recover. James refuses to consider himself a victim of anything but his own bad decisions, and insists on accepting sole accountability for the person he has been and the person he may become--which runs directly counter to his counselors' recipes for recovery.

James has to fight to find his own way to confront the consequences of the life he has lived so far, and to determine what future, if any, he holds. It is this fight, told with the charismatic energy and power of One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest, that is at the heart of A Million Little Pieces: the fight between one young manís will and the ever-tempting chemical trip to oblivion, the fight to survive on his own terms, for reasons close to his own heart. 

A Million Little Pieces is an uncommonly genuine account of a life destroyed and a life reconstructed. It is also the introduction of a bold and talented literary voice.


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