Meditative, intimate essays consider the experience of suffering.
At the age of 39, Huber (English/Fairfield Univ.; The Evolution of Hillary Rodham Clinton, 2016, etc.) was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, autoimmune diseases that cause severe joint pain, surges of fever, and often loss of mobility. In this collection of essays written during the past five years (some previously published), the author reflects on her struggle to reassess her identity and make sense of affliction from diseases that flare up unpredictably and uncontrollably. She is dismayed by physicians who prefer not to deal with incurable illness because they “have been trained in environments of competition where cures and successes are prized.” She rails against doctors who cynically assume that she is trying to elicit prescriptions for opioids and others who ask her to rate her pain on a scale from one to 10, a rubric that she deems inadequate for expressing and treating pain. More helpful, she has found, is the McGill Pain Questionnaire, which opens with the salient question: “What Does Your Pain Feel Like?” Well-meaning friends who suggested herbal medicines or exercise convinced Huber that the “massive gulf separating the pained from the non-pained can be summed up in one question: ‘Have you tried yoga?’ ” Pain infuses her life: cooking, sex, caring for her son, teaching, and writing—which sometimes, she admits, “has been my only relief.” Her voice as “pain woman,” she discovers, is different from her other writing voices. “She has a kind of messianic confidence that I do not have in my normal writing or even in my normal living,” she writes. “Pain woman” surely gives voice to the feistiest essays in this uneven collection. Although Huber strives for metaphors to express her pain, she does not always succeed, and probing her experiences sometimes results in claustrophobic repetition.
Frank, thoughtful reflections that should resonate with the 47 percent of Americans reported to be living with chronic pain.