Book Review: The Deepest Well

I bounce back and forth between reading non-fiction related to my academic interests and more fun novels (like Where’d You Go, Bernadette). I’ve been on a non-fiction kick recently so I can keep up with the research I’m most interested in, and I wanted to share one of my recent reads with you.

I am passionate about adverse childhood experiences, particularly experiences of trauma, and The Deepest Well is all about how adverse experiences influences our lives in ways we never could’ve imagined. Not only does it lead to increased risk of a number of different mental illnesses, but it also leads to increased risk for heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and many other diseases. It is not an issue that only effects those of low socioeconomic status, but it can effect anyone. If you had a parent with a mental illness or had a family member go to prison, your risk goes up.

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A higher ACE score means higher risk the board; it’s a dose-response effect. ACE scores don’t dictate your health, but those scores provide insight and can indicate you might be at higher risk.

The author, Dr. Nadine Burke-Harris, describes her work on ACEs and her creation of a non-profit in the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood in San Francisco. I live in San Francisco so Burke-Harris’ descriptions of the wealth disparities, and health disparities that accompany them, hit close to home. Two neighborhoods, defined by zip codes, in San Francisco can have an average life expectancy difference of 22 years. Twenty-two years.

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Facts like this blow me away and strengthen my dedication to research and making positive change. Change does not mean we can eliminate adverse experiences, but we can help build resilience, educate parents, and provide positive interventions to minimize the negative impact of those adverse experiences.

ACE scores do not tell the whole story, but it provides powerful evidence and a simple, tangible metric for us to understand how early experiences influence us for the rest of our lives–both mentally and physically. I highly recommend The Deepest Well if you’re interested in learning more about chronic stress, adverse experiences, and health outcomes.

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Have you heard of ACE scores? Does the correlation between ACE scores and heath outcomes surprise you?

 

 

Book Review: When Breath Becomes Air

I’ve had When Breath Becomes Air on my list for about three years. I’ve often prioritized other books or put off reading it because I knew it would be heavy and difficult. Luckily it was our book club pick for this month and I am so glad I finally read it.

This book was written by a Stanford neurosurgeon diagnosed with late stage lung cancer. He describes his life, philosophy, and reflections on practicing medicine and dying. Yes, it was incredibly sad, but it was so much more than sad. I stayed up two hours past my usual bedtime reading this–caught up in a journey even when I already knew the ending.

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The writing was so beautiful; the thoughts so insightful and grounding. His reflections made me think about my own mortality and facing death of those we love. He lived his life so fully with a dedication to his goals & values. His book is a testament to this and will continue to impact the world long after his passing.

I went to an Emory alumni dinner this past weekend, and one alum brought her husband who happened to be a neurosurgeon at Stanford. Since I just finished the book and wanted to create conversation, I brought up that I had just finished the book. To my surprise, the neurosurgeon had actually worked with Paul Kalanithi and knew him well. I was slightly shocked at how nonchalantly I had brought it up; I immediately apologized. He stopped me and said that he was glad that the book was having such a broad impact–the best possible outcome for such a tragedy.

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It also reminded me that Paul was not a mythical figure, but a real person who died only a few short years ago. His legacy lives on not only through his book, but also through the hundreds of physicians, nurses, patients, and friends with whom he interacted. A few days after finishing the book, I was listening to NPR One and a Modern Love podcast episode came on (also an essay–“When a Couch is More Than a Couch”)…it was all about a woman who was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer at 39. It was deeply engaging; and the twist at the end connected back to the book. Definitely give it a listen!

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