How can I pass up a book with a title The Naked Lady Who Stood on Her Head by Gary Small, M.D., and Gigi Vorgan? The letters M.D. give me some assurance I hadn’t landed on a weird porn site and I really wanted to see what was behind this title. Then I encountered my second problem. The subtitle tells me these are anecdotes, cases, or stories by a psychiatrist. Isn’t there some sort of confidentiality between a doctor and patient? This is especially true in the case of a psychiatrist where the treatment almost demands revelations of dark personal secrets. This book might discourage me from seeking counseling or treatment if I had to worry that I might be talking to an aspiring writer. I was initially put off by the idea that the stories violated patient privacy. I decided to only read enough to know the story behind the title.
That didn’t happen. I read the entire book and discovered a lot of information I believe valuable for the maintenance of everyday health. Dr. Small took time in the preface to address my concerns. Obvious things like changing patient names protected some personal identity. Altering patient backgrounds and setting up proxy patients who would exhibit multiple symptoms so no single patient could be easily identified were a few techniques Dr. Small used. It would be interesting to know how many former patients read this book, identified themselves, and then contacted Dr. Small with either positive or negative feedback. Dr. Small recounts follow-up contact done years later with some patients but I did not read whether any of the follow-up contacts took into account this publication.
For readers who have had experience with counseling, a good place to start this book is with the preface. Then read about the authors. Gigi Vorgan is Dr. Small’s wife and co-author. She had her own career in film and television before deciding to work with her husband on this book. To save a reader’s time, I will quote Dr. Small’s qualifications from the book.
“DR. GARY SMALL is director of the UCLA Memory and Aging Center at the university’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience & Human Behavior. He is also professor of psychiatry at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine. His research, supported by the National Institutes of Health, has made headlines in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and USA Today. Scientific American magazine named him one of the world’s leading innovators in science and technology. Dr. Small lectures throughout the world and frequently appears on Today, Good Morning America, PBS, and CNN. He has written five books, including the New York Times bestseller The Memory Bible.” (p.271-272).
This is a book worth reading if only to know about medical advances in the treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease, memory loss, and other deleterious effects of aging. Each of the fifteen chapters of the book is well referenced in the section Notes. Over the course of his career, Dr. Small became increasingly concerned with geriatric care. Memory loss can occur without developing into Alzheimer’s Disease and is one of the areas where I learned new information. How many people are aware that excess consumption of water can lead to short-term memory problems and, further along, to coma and death? In one of the chapters, Dr. Small helps a friend who definitely gets enough exercise and consciously consumes quantities of water to make up for water loss through sweating. Until he has periods of time when he is not conscious.
I was unfamiliar with the effects of too much or too little insulin until I read this. I knew that some people should have emergency supplies of candy with them and that others should avoid excess sugar intake but the case Dr. Small presented was an eye-opener complete with an explanation of why things happen.
The book has lots of information about manic and depressive states, depression, OCD, hysterical blindness, and my all-time favorite that seems to underlie most mental and physical problems, denial. There are no spoilers in a work of this type but I will mention that the case described in chapter 15 will almost bring a reader to tears. And it was depressing in its inevitability. The disease described is not the same as that suffered by Senator John McCain but reading this book a few days preceding Senator McCain’s memorial service depressed me to the point that I took a few days off from reading or writing.
Dr. Small writes in a style easy for the general reader. Medical terminology is explained in clear language. I did not have to use the dictionary that is internal to Kindle. I gave the book four stars and recommend it for readers who might be having a few doubts about seeking help. Dr. Small is reassuring about the competence of mental health professionals to provide help without stigmatizing the person seeking help. I also recommend the book to those not seeking help. Understanding why bad things can happen to good people and how we can deal with resultant social problems must be a good thing.