It’s Official!

in-the-kingdomAs of yesterday, In the Kingdom of the Sick is officially available in bookstores and online.

I have so much more to say about all of this, and about writing and audience and lots of other things, but this week, I’m simply juggling virtual events, in-person events, the end-of-semester crunch, and the like.

So let me say the most important thing of all—thank you! To those of you in real life who have supported me and helped me find time to write, to those of you who are virtual cheerleaders, to those of you who gave me your time and insights along the way, and to all of you who have shared links, posted items, and plan to read the book. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts.

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of doing a Q&A with Paula Kamen over at Ms. Magazine’s blog. There are lots of other links to share in the coming days, but here’s an important update: my segment for Fresh Air will run tomorrow, April 11. The show runs 1-2pm; check your local public radio stations or listen online.

(I will be doing an Author event at Northeastern during that time, so you’ll hear it before I do. Be kind ☺)

Facebook Twitter Email

Pre-Pub Date Announcements and Excitement

It’s hard to believe pub date is almost officially here! Some exciting pre-pub date links and announcements to share (and I promise a return to more regular posts and content soon):

Friday, the Wall Street Journal published a thoughtful and comprehensive review of In the Kingdom of the Sick. I had no idea they were reviewing it, so it was a most welcome surprise.

Today was a day of double duty for me. I had a piece on the potential consequences of the new DSM-5 diagnosis of Somatic Symptom Disorder on women living with pain published on WBUR’s CommonHealth. I was also incredibly lucky to be at WBUR, Boston’s NPR station, to tape an interview with Terry Gross for Fresh Air. It looks like the segment will run later this week, but I will confirm the date and details as soon as I can.

The virtual book tour is moving along nicely, and I am so grateful for all the people who are participating. Want to win a free copy of In the Kingdom of the Sick? Click on over to this great Q&A Allison Nimlos did at DiabetesMine and enter to win in the comments section. Allison asked some really insightful questions!

Edited to add: my undergraduate alma mater, Georgetown, published a nice article where we discussed both my books and chronic illness as a public health issue. Hoya Saxa!

Stay tuned for lots more exciting news, reviews, and events tomorrow and in the coming days—and remember, tomorrow is the day you can officially purchase the book online and in stores.

Facebook Twitter Email

Virtual Book Tour: It Takes a Village

I can hardly believe that after all this time, the April 9th pub date for In the Kingdom of the Sick is practically here! There are all kinds of great posts, interviews, and other events in store next week—I really can’t wait to share them.

I am just as pleased to share this week’s virtual book tour events. This book is incredibly research-intensive (I joked to my father that the Bibliography was my prize achievement), but the patient stories are what draw the research out and advance it. To that end, I was so lucky to be able to interview some incredibly wise, insightful patients, physicians, and advocates. Their perspectives added so much to be book, and I was particularly interested to see their thoughts on the final product.

One such person is intrepid health blogger Duncan Cross, who reviewed In the Kingdom of the Sick this week. He writes, “You need this book because it is the best or only book that captures the full social picture of being sick in America.”

His review is comprehensive, and towards the end, he writes, “Now I want to say what it [the book] could be: the catalyst for a new community of people with chronic illness in America. Laurie feels (as do I) that for too long patients have been segregated by their diagnosis, when so much of what we endure and aspire is shared, is universal to the experience of illness. Too many of our dialogues and discussions begin with our diagnosis — as if Crohn’s and lupus and cancer can’t talk to each other. That keeps us from getting anywhere, from social progress — there’s a reason healthcare reform was a bust. But if we instead start from this book, from what is shared and universal, there’s so much we can do together.”

And that takeaway means so much.

Speaking of research and interview voices, a review up at How To Cope with Pain had this to say:

“As I finished the book, I had the image of Laurie as a master orchestra conductor. Laurie was able to lead all of us in creating a beautiful whole. A few notes of piano are nice, as are a violin melody. But taken together, a symphony can be moving and inspiring. “

And so more than ever, I am grateful for the people who gave me their time and insights as I wrote this book, and to all the writers and researchers before me whose work was so helpful.

Facebook Twitter Email

Battle for Grace

It’s already a big spring for books about illness. I’ve written about The Last Best Cure and In Sickness As in Health, and now I’d like to introduce you to Cynthia Toussaint.

In the course of writing about gender and pain for In the Kingdom of the Sick, I interviewed Cynthia Toussaint several times. A former dancer whose life was turned upside down when a ballet injury turned into a serious, debilitating pain condition, Toussaint is the founder of For Grace, a nonprofit for women in pain. Her experiences having her pain dismissed and her suffering ignored, as well as her incredible story of unconditional love, make for a compelling read in Battle for Grace, her new memoir. In fact, Battle for Grace launched on Maria Shriver’s Architects of Change site.

Here is some more official information about Cynthia, as well as Battle for Grace:

“Cynthia Toussaint is the founder and spokesperson of For Grace (, an organization that fights to ensure the ethical and equal treatment of all women in pain. She has fostered two California Senate hearings on thunder-treatment of and gender bias toward women in pain and gave testimony at both events. Toussaint has appeared on more than 75 local and national television shows and featured in over 200 news stories, including ABC World News with Diane Sawyer, PBS, Discovery Health, The Learning Channel plus the New York Times and Newsweek, among many others. A recent media highlight was an invitation from Maria Shriver to launch Battle for Grace on her Architects of Change website. Toussaint lives in Los Angeles, CA, with her beloved John…

Toussaint takes readers on an extraordinary 30-year journey where a crippling mystery illness triggered uncontrolled violence that almost destroyed her. The story begins with a minor ballet injury at age 21 that grew into the chronic pain disease, Complex Regional Pain Syndrome. Her pain went undiagnosed for 13 years as doctors told her it was all in her head. Bedridden for a decade, she was unable to speak for five of those years and was often reduced to the violence that attacked both herself and John Garrett, the love of her life. John has remained at her side for 33 years. She lost the career she’d dreamed of as an actor, dancer, singer, the chance to have a child and very nearly John as well…But Cynthia somehow stuck with it, refusing to be a victim. In her battle to survive, she’s taken on the role of activist and aggressively challenges HMOs and pharmaceutical companies that put the unholy dollar ahead of patient care…”

I am grateful for Cynthia’s insights in my own book, and pleased to share the details of her new memoir.

Facebook Twitter Email

Exciting News and Virtual Book Tour Events

The controversy over chronic Lyme disease and the way social media has so greatly influenced the trajectory of patient advocacy are issues I explore in detail in In the Kingdom of the Sick, so I am thrilled that Dorothy Leland posted a review of the book over at today. Please click on over and check it out, especially if you or someone you know has been impacted by Lyme disease.

In other book news, I have some exciting announcements:

I will be appearing on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross. I am a huge, huge fan of this show and am so excited for this opportunity. It looks like my segment will air Tuesday, April 16th, but I will post specific details on how to listen and confirmation of this as the date approaches.

will be taping my reading event at Brookline Booksmith on Wed, April 17th, at 7pm. If you’re local, Brookline Booksmith is one of the best independent bookstores in the Boston area and a great venue, and I would love to see you there! (Be advised events take place on the lower level of the store.) Please also pass along this event information to anyone you know in the Boston area who might be interested.

And since we’re talking dates, a reminder that I am also doing an author event at Northeastern University at noon on April 11, if a daytime event is more convenient for you.

Thanks so much!

Facebook Twitter Email

In the Kingdom of the Sick Virtual Book Tour Event: Review at Pop Health

This week kicks off the virtual book tour for In the Kingdom of the Sick. From now through pub date (April 9) and beyond, writers, patients, and experts will be participating in a variety of events for the book–interviews, reviews, giveaways, announcements, etc.

I am thrilled to announce today’s post is up over at Pop Health, where public health professional and pop culture expert Leah Roman reviews In the Kingdom of the Sick. Leah has a great perspective on these issues, particularly in terms of the language we use to describe illness and the societal tensions illness causes. Please click on over to read the review and leave your comments for her.

Thanks so much, Leah!

Facebook Twitter Email

Gender and Pain in the NYT

I wrote an Op-Ed on the gender gap with chronic pain, and it was published in today’s New York Times Sunday Review. From all the patients I follow and have interviewed, I know these issues resonate with so many of your experiences, and I do hope you check it out.

For those of you interested in all of this, I delve into the gender and pain issue in greater detail in In the Kingdom of the Sick.

And speaking of news, I saved the best for last: my father is doing great after his kidney transplant, as is his donor. It is truly an amazing thing to witness, and I will write a longer post about all of this soon. Thanks so much for your support!

Facebook Twitter Email

The Night Before Transplant…

Some observations of fact:

Since 1988, there have been 116, 712 living donor kidney transplants.

Of that number, 4, 064 have taken place in Massachusetts, where we live.

Five hundred twenty-three living donor transplants have taken place at Beth Israel, where my father’s transplant will take place.


A living donor kidney starts to produce urine in the recipient’s body before the surgery is over. (For some reason, this blows my mind.)

(Source: my father’s surgeon.)

Some observations of the heart:

No matter how many times you tell yourself all people who have this surgery are in poor health and are therefore high-risk, no matter how highly recommended the surgeons are, no matter how amazing the opportunities medicine allows for are, it is all still really scary.

Watching someone you love slip away before your eyes takes a piece of your soul. Watching that person have hope and begin to make plans for the future slowly restores it.

I can say without a hint of hyperbole or exaggeration that my father is indomitable, and has always been my hero.

Lucky for all of us, we now have another hero, whose compassion and sacrifice are giving us a second chance.

Please keep my father, his donor, our families, and both sets of medical teams in your thoughts and prayers tomorrow.

Facebook Twitter Email

In Sickness As In Health: Chronic Illness and Relationships

If you’ve read this blog for awhile, you know how important I think discussing the impact of chronic illness on relationships is. I’ve followed Barbara Kivowitz’s wise, thoughtful writing about all of this for years, and I am pleased to share that she has co-authored a new book with so many helpful insights, perspectives, and advice. In Sickness As In Health pubs today, and you can find out more about it and the challenges of navigating illness in relationships in the Q&A we did:

1.     Can you tell readers a little bit about how your own journey as a patient, a partner, and a professional led you to co-writing this book?

The short story is that my coauthor and I each lived the experience of being the ill person in our relationships and were stunned by how much the illness subverted our customary patterns of connecting with our husbands, and by how important our husbands were to our healing.  Illness became the third partner, entering into the living room, the kitchen, and the bedroom at will.  And there was nothing out there to help couples learn how to move though the illness experience together from both relational and practical perspectives.  We decided to write In Sickness As In Health so that couples could learn from each other’s stories and get practical advice from experts in different fields.

The longer story is that I, like most healthy people who enter into a committed relationship, never took the “in sickness” and “for worse” parts of the vows seriously.  They were words not predictions.  For others, not us.

However, when I was in my late forties and had been married for fifteen years, I got slammed by a mysterious chronic pain condition.  It didn’t take long to realize that while the pain resided in my body, both our lives were radically dislocated.  As partners, we had been used to being different but equal and sharing the load.  We were ordinary, and had no idea what a gift that was.  Then I went from being an active psychotherapist and outdoorswoman to a puddle of anguish and uncertainty.  My partner, a scientist and technologist had a massive problem he could not solve and devolved to being a helpless witness.  All of my empathy and intuition and all of his analytic abilities could not make the pain go away.

Suddenly, pain was the dominant partner in our relationship and our customary tools and ways of connecting were no longer adequate.  We went from being equals to being patient and caregiver, roles neither of us knew or liked.  For example:  I was used to sensing other people’s needs, not expressing my own, so when I was in the grip of a pain episode and regressed to being a crying child wanting to be held, I had to learn to figure out and boldly ask for exactly what I needed.   Richard, the arch problem solver, had to learn to just “be” with me and not keep trying to “do” for me.  Over time, we had to learn how to reorient our roles to accommodate pain and how to communicate at more honest, deeper levels more quickly because we were both too exhausted to equivocate.

I wanted to hear what it was like for other couples living with illness, so I began my blog In Sickness As In Health.  I heard so many profound stories that I realized there is a book here.  Our book combines couples’ stories, with relationship and practical advice from experts; and hopefully will help readers not only find tools they can use but also a way to feel less alone.

2.     In the book you write you learned that “under extraordinary circumstances, people can rise to the extraordinary; that illness can be a gateway and not an epilogue; and that even in the absence of a cure, healing is possible.”  That distinction between a cure and healing is so important, especially since most people with chronic illness will not receive a cure. In brief, what does that healing look like?

Anne Frank wrote in her diary, “Where there is hope there is life.”  I would humbly add that where there is hope there is healing.  And there is always something to hope for, even when a physical cure becomes unlikely.   You can hope for love and rectification of important relationships.  You can hope for greater spiritual awareness.  You can hope for comfort.  You can hope to help someone else.   You can hope to make one small corner of the world a better place.

Hope moves us towards the light; and in that light we may be able to see something that was hidden before.  And that something can be the piece we need to complete a critical part of ourselves.  I think of healing as becoming more than who we were a moment ago.  And that is always possible.

3.     You write of three dimensions of illness—the crisis, a balancing act, and regaining equilibrium. A common thread among these stages seems to be an ongoing adaptation of roles. What is your biggest piece of advice in terms of how to navigate new roles within a relationship while still maintaining one’s identity?

This is a great question and a complex one.  You could justifiably argue that we change our identities many times in the course of a relationship – parenthood, new career, death of an adult parent.  Identity flexibility in this context is a healthy adaptation and allows us to keep our balance when the tectonic plates under our relationship shift.  On the other hand, you could also say that our identity is our inner fixed point, our immutable sense of who we are, and that nothing diverts it. It serves to ground us wherever we wind up and lends us ballast.

Whichever approach to identity you prefer, one piercing piece of identity wisdom I was given when I first got sick was: “I have pain. I am not my pain.”  You have an illness, but you are not your illness.  Over time, it can become easier to lose your sense of yourself as a being that is bigger than your illness.  You may need to change roles to cope with the demands of your illness, but you do retain that essence of self that extends above the illness.  Think of roles as the cloaks you wrap around your identity to help you accommodate to shifts illness may require of you.

In my situation, I remained an intuiter and my husband remained a problem solver, but our roles quickly became that of patient and caretaker. These roles lasted for a year, and we slide back into them when I have a relapse.  My coauthor suffered a serious stroke, and her husband consciously decided not to take on the role of caretaker but rather to maintain his identity as her adult partner and have aides do the daily care.  There are many permutations, and each couple ultimately figures out its own way.

Role adaptability is how we achieve balance in our relationship, how we complement each other’s capabilities.  Illness can cause imbalance, and we then need to purposefully recalibrate our roles.

Here’s some advice for maintaining a healthy role balance:

  • Notice:   pay attention to the cues (in both partners) that tell you things are off track – illness symptoms, stress symptoms, energy levels, irritability, distance, things not getting done
  • Talk and Listen without problem solving:  pick a time when you are unlikely to be interrupted and alternate saying to each other these six statements.  Do not discuss.  Only ask questions for clarification:
    • I feel…
    • I fear…
    • I hope…
    • I want…
    • Here’s what I appreciate about you…
    • I love you.
    • Pick one or two changes you’d like to make and offer them to your partner
    • Pick one or two changes you’d like your partner to make and ask him/her to consider them

This is not a linear, problem solving approach to role modification.  In fact it may take time for changes to be noticed.  The intention with this approach is to work as partners, not adversaries, to name and honor the emotions that underlie any role agitation, to describe the changes you can give and would like to receive, and to consciously adapt your roles in as constructive a manner as possible.

4.     Many of the compelling stories you weave into the text involve couples that faced a sudden change in health status. What major takeaways can you give to those couples for which illness has always been part of the relationship? There isn’t the same “before” and “after,” yet these couples face their own unique challenges.

Illness, as those of us who live with it know, is fluid, even capricious.  Periods of stability alternate with periods of relapse.  I had been doing really well for many years when suddenly some damn butterfly in Beijing flapped its polluted wings, and I suffered a massive pain relapse.   As your illness changes, the “before” and “after” become part of the rhythm of your lives.

However, entering a relationship with illness does bring certain challenges.  Intimate questions like what to tell (and show) and when to do so can arise even before you know each other’s favorite ice cream flavor.  Having illness as part of the landscape right from the outset can force authentic communication.   This can be tough, but also a gift.   One couple we interviewed had to deal with one partner’s kidney failure about a year after they first met.  The illness accelerated their connection and forced them to think deeply about their relationship and to speak with powerful honesty about their needs and limits.

I think that for couples for whom illness is present at the start of the relationship, the need for regular communication and clear role definition may be more acute.  If these couples can learn how to connect and partner authentically in the arena of illness, they may be able to transfer that ability to other areas of their relationship.   As one of our interviewees said “Illness can be a great teacher, if you let it.”

And, remember, that we have an illness but we are not our illness.  There are still many galaxies to explore with your partner out of the range of illness.

* * *

Thanks so much, Barbara!

Facebook Twitter Email

Spring Preview: In the Kingdom of the Sick Pub Date, Book Events, and More

in-the-kingdomAs you know, I wrote another book.

You might not know that its release date is right around the corner: APRIL 9, 2013.

I am pretty excited to share this with you.

In the Kingdom of the Sick: A Social History of Chronic Illness In America
is available on pre-order now, and you can read more about in this starred review from Booklist.

If you’re local to the Boston area, I want to share two key author events. I would love to see you there!

1. On April 11, I will be doing a Meet the Author discussion and book signing at Northeastern University at noon. (I teach at Northeastern, so this is especially cool for me.)

2. On April 17, I will doing a reading at Brookline Booksmith at 7pm. This is one of my favorite bookstores around, and I can’t wait.

I am also really excited to announce that from late March throughout April, I am doing a virtual book tour with interviews, reviews, giveaways, and other events on different sites across the Internet, so no matter where you are, you can still be involved. I have some seriously amazing, insightful, and gracious people involved in this, and I will link to all of it from this blog.

I will also be posting events, reviews, and other press on my new Facebook page and on Twitter, so you can follow me there, too. The book explores patient rights, gender and pain, social media and patient advocacy, as well as the influence of science, technology, and culture on the experience of chronic illness (and more), and after all this time, I can’t wait to see it out in print and in readers’ hands.

Stay tuned!

Facebook Twitter Email