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“Am I Dying?! A Complete Guide to Your Symptoms – and What to Do Next”

  • By Christopher Kelly, M.D., M.S. and Marc Eisenberg, M.D., F.A.C.C.
  • c. 2019, Wm. Morrow
  • $25.99, $31.99 Canada; 337 pages

Everything hurts. Your belly is bloated, your eyes are bloodshot, you’re nauseous, your skin feels hot, and your head might explode. Even your hair hurts and you’re about to go back to bed. But should you? First, peek inside “Am I Dying?! By Christopher Kelly, M.D., M.S., and Marc Eisenberg, M.D., F.A.C.C. and know if chillin’ when you’re illin’ is the right plan of action.

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You were fine yesterday. Overnight, not so much; you woke with a weird bunch of symptoms that make you wonder just how sick you really are. Is this just a bug of some sort, or should you be worried?

That, says Kelly and Eisenberg, is their patients’ number-one concern: “should you freak out or chill out? Are you acting like a hypochondriac or being totally reasonable?” Is it a good idea to look online for information, or will that just muddy your thoughts?

Starting with everything above your shoulders, Kelly and Eisenberg methodically look at what’s ailing your noggin and neck. How bad should a headache get before you call 9-1-1? What if you’re having trouble sleeping, or you got beaned in the noggin by a ball, can’t sleep, or simply cannot stay awake?

Moving down, if your chest hurts just a little but it goes away and doesn’t come back, you might be able to wait. Same if you just chugged two cups of coffee and your heart’s racing. But there are big symptoms that indicate a trip to the ER is an absolute must so know what to look out for and get going.

If you just got done eating a big bowl of bean soup, washed down with a soda you drank through a straw, you can “chill” if you’re feeling bloated. Severe abdominal pain, think: ER. Nausea plus vertigo is a yellow-light, so make an appointment with your doctor. Add headache, get in the car. Suddenly swollen joints? Go to the ER. Excessive temperature? Go. Fever and “purplish blisters on your skin”?  Go. Loss of consciousness, heavy blood loss, tarry stool?  Go, go, and go (but do not drive yourself)!

In their introduction authors Kelly and Eisenberg remind readers that this book is just a book and “when in doubt, ask a doctor.” That’s a sentiment you’ll see again and again – talk to your doctor – in “Am I Dying?!”

And yet, despite that the main raison d’etre for this book is serious, there’s a lot of fun-poking here, too. The authors use humor where appropriate, which tends to diffuse a potentially terrifying situation and brings readers back to a pre-hysteria point. The advice is solid – as much as a book on possibly-life-threatening situations can be – and it’s put together in a sensical way that makes it easy to use.

Be aware that this book presumes usage by a somewhat level and literate head, caveats are everywhere, and remember that it’s not a doctor-equivalent. Still, if comfort, rest, and peace of mind are all you really need, having “Am I Dying?!” around couldn’t hurt.

“Sugar Run: A Novel”

  • By Mesha Maren
  • c. 2018, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
  • $26.95, higher in Canada; 320 pages

It was right where you left it. Nothing had been moved or altered. Things had stayed the same and whatever you were looking for was right where you left it. That goes for keys, eyeglasses, coffee cup and, in the new book “Sugar Run” by Mesha Maren, it could also include a life.

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She’d been told she’d spend decades behind bars.

But there she was, ready to leave after only 18 years inside Jaxton Prison, a ticket in her hand and four hundred dollars borrowed from her brothers. Jodi McCarty was going home to West Virginia.

But first, she had to find Ricky. He was in Georgia, and she had time.

Ricky was Paula’s brother – Paula being Jodi’s lover and the woman she killed – and it had always been Paula’s dream to get him far away from their abusive father. Jodi knew that that was something she had to do now, so she headed to Chaunceloraine before re-starting her life on her grandmother’s farm.

And in her search for Ricky, Jodi found Miranda.

When Miranda left her husband, she only wanted attention, but she got a surprise instead: he took their three boys and left her with no money. She had no home, either, so she was staying the run-down motel near where Jodi had landed. Half-drunk one night, she ended up in Jodi’s room – and she stayed.

Days before her first meeting with a parole officer in West Virginia, Jodi gathered Miranda and the boys she’d helped steal back and she headed home, having talked Ricky into leaving with her. Jodi loved Miranda, and the cabin where she’d grown up was a good place to raise kids. It was in rough shape, but it was home.

But, as it turned out, it was someone else’s home: the land was sold for back taxes while Jodi was in prison, and sand miners were buying up the area. Jodi didn’t know what to do and, as the pressure to care for her makeshift little family grew, she realized that she didn’t know Ricky or Miranda very well, either …  

With the slam of a door, “Sugar Run” starts out with a stunned shiver and it sprints. Author Mesha Maren perfectly captures the surrealness of being snatched from an unwanted reality and hurled into one that doesn’t make sense. Even if you’ve only just driven past a prison, you’ll know the crush of it.

Back and forth the story goes, as we learn what happened when Jodi was just 17 years old. That’s a mandatory part of the tale and it’s also, sadly, the cause of some disorientation since things begin to unravel as it’s populated with more and more people. Readers are rewarded with a gauzy, delicate ending but the last dozen pages make it tough getting there.

And that’s too bad, since there’s more overall-positive things to say about this book than not. Try “Sugar Run,” linger, and you might love it but beware: you might also just as soon wish you’d left it.

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.

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