A former attorney discovers her current dementia is linked to past multiple surgeries and a lifetime of poor nutrition in Briones’ (Jane Doe Overdose, 2015, etc.) novella, part of a series steeped in science.
Doris Finley is an “everywoman” who experiences cognitive decline after losing her appendix, uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes, and gallbladder to a series of medical procedures. The surgeries, which began when Doris was just 4 years old, came fast and furious, and in most cases, doctors didn’t tell her about alternative treatments and neglected to provide proper follow-up care. She nonetheless proceeded through life, falling in and out of love, raising her children, and building a career. But as she aged, she continued to be dogged by poor health. As the novella opens, a confused Doris has just shoplifted from a gift store owned by retired nurse Grace Gallagher, who’s privy to many of the details of Doris’ medical history. An ensuing trip to the emergency room offers a ray of hope that Doris, now in her 60s, will finally receive the care she deserves. Briones doesn’t pull punches in this work. As a certified physician, she has the medical knowledge to make a convincing case that organ removal, poor post-surgical care, and a penchant for high-fat foods play a role in dementia. The story pinpoints cause and effect with precision; readers learn that Doris’ first operation, the removal of her appendix, likely reduced the amount of good bacteria in her gut—essential probiotics that could have helped her avoid a later health issue. The story posits that Doris’ hysterectomy, meanwhile, likely harmed her brain by depriving it of hormones that aid in mental acuity. The author is at her best when she sticks to problem-solving, and she offers intriguing medical insights—first through the character of Nurse Grace and later, through the eponymous Dr. Berta Briones, “a maverick in her field,” who appears in the final chapter. The story built around this central diagnosis, however, is easily forgettable and includes little character development. Readers interested in learning more about dementia could consult several nonfiction books that provide answers in a far less circuitous manner.
A cautionary tale about traditional medicine that’s heavy on advice but short on storytelling.