Bookworm: Questions of life and death

Terri Schlichenmeyer
“Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? Big Questions from Tiny Mortals about Death” author Caitlin Doughty.

“Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? Big Questions from Tiny Mortals about Death”

  • By Caitlin Doughty
  • c. 2019, Norton
  • $25.95, $34.95 Canada; 222 pages

Like many felines, your Fluffy is a fussy eater. She only dines on the freshest food, and if it’s the flavor she doesn’t like today, she’ll starve before she’ll take a bite. There are some days, in fact, that you can’t get her to sample one morsel which, you’ll see after you’ve read “Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs” by Caitlin Doughty, may be a very good thing.

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As a mortician, funeral home owner, and writer, Doughty gets a lot of questions about death and dying and some of them are from kids. She’s “willing to answer strange questions” with answers that are sometimes just as strange.

What, for instance, would happen if you died while you were in space? Doughty answers with a few examples, saying that NASA doesn’t know – yet – but there are options, if that should ever happen. One of them is a long shot, but it’s a really cool possibility.

“Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? Big Questions from Tiny Mortals about Death” by Caitlin Doughty.

Maybe your family has grandma’s ashes sitting in the living room. However did a whole human body fit inside that little urn?  It’s a matter of physics, in a way: the human body is mostly made of liquids and fats that will evaporate in a super-hot crematorium. What’s left are “cremated remains” in “a thrilling combo of calcium phosphates, carbonates, and minerals and salts.”

Will your body make a mess when you die? Says Doughty, there’s a good probability but you shouldn’t be embarrassed. Funeral home workers are used to cleaning up body fluids and preventing further “leakage” and such, so no worries.

Learn what happens to the sibling when one conjoined twin dies. Read about why you can go ahead and make a face without worrying but forget about eating popcorn before you’re cremated. Find out how American cemeteries differ from those in Germany, why you shouldn’t drink the water near a Civil War cemetery, and how you can become a plastic corpse in a traveling exhibit. And then take a seat.

People die in homes all the time, “more homes than you probably realize.” One of them could be yours…

The very first thing you need to know about “Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs?” is that the sub-title could be misleading: it’s absolutely not a book for anyone “tiny.”

From tiny mortals, not for. It would be easy to think otherwise: the questions are kiddish, author Caitlin Doughty’s answers are nudge-and-wink funny, and lighthearted drawings accompany each chapter. Read a little, though, and you’ll see that this book is really more for young adults, at least, and grown-ups, for sure, especially those who love dark laughs. Yes, there’s serious science here, but also cultural lessons in death and dying, a little history, and a touch of gruesomeness wrapped in that shroud of sharp, witty humor.

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Readers who wonder what’ll happen to their mortal remains will find this book dead-on. If you’ve got a streak of Goth in you, you can’t miss it. When you want something different, read “Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs?” and get food for thought.

“How to Treat People: A Nurse’s Notes”

  • By Molly Case
  • c. 2019, Norton
  • $25.95, $34.95 Canada; 279 pages

Of all the things you ever learned, one lesson unlocked nearly everything else. You probably don’t even remember when it happened, when you realized that squiggles and angles could help you to know all there is to know. Indeed, the A-B-Cs were just the beginning. And in the new book “How to Treat People” by Molly Case, the A-B-Cs help stave off an end.

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When a nurse begins the training needed to save lives, one of the first things he or she learns is one of the first things learned as a toddler: ABCDE. Five simple letters that, in order, stand for the things that nurse will look for when faced with someone who needs critical care.  

“How to Treat People: A Nurse’s Notes” author Molly Case.

“A” stands for airway which, says Case “is always where we start,” and it’s where she starts her story: her father was considerably older than her mother, and other children teased Case for it. She told him it didn’t bother to have a grandpa-age dad but it did. Still, she adored her father and, while in nursing school, she remembered his hugs and the feel of his breath on her cheek.

Cheek-to-lips is one way for a nurse to check for an open airway.

“B” is for breathing, the next step in the assessment: is the patient doing it?  Case tells of witnessing last breaths then, hours later, going upstairs to the “birth centre,” where she heard the wail of someone taking their first.

Her father always on her mind, Case says his story fits in with “C” for circulation: his was poor, and he had several operations on his leg. He almost lost that leg, and his life.

“D” is for disability, she says, which is the “neurological assessment of the patient.” Is the brain functioning correctly? Are they conscious, or seizing or, as with one of her more memorable patients, forever unable to communicate?

“How to Treat People: A Nurse’s Notes” by Molly Case.

The final letter merely asks a nurse to note the patient’s overall condition. Is he bleeding, injured, rashy, or pale? Should she start the alphabet over? “E” is for exposure but “it does not represent the end.”

Filled with Britishisms – author and cardiac nurse Molly Case works in London – “How to Treat People” really is a genuine treat, even despite its quirks.

There’s a good amount of biography in her story, which will instantly capture readers; Case’s memories of her early career are wrapped up with recollections of her family, vividly and affectionately, hand-in-hand. This leads to tales about unforgettable patients, and accounts of the care they needed, relevant to ABCDE.

The quirk comes in the too-frequent passages in which Case muses on ancient medical practices. They’re interesting – at least, at first – but after awhile, their presence begins to feel like filler. You’d be forgiven for jumping past them.

But don’t jump too far. The overall atmosphere inside “How to Treat People” is too good to miss, especially if you’re a nurse, love one, or are beholden to one. For anyone who’s ever needed care, or will, this book is a worthwhile “A.”

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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.