Monday, November 17, 2014

Crimson Angel by Barbara Hambly

Barbara Hambly has been one of my favorite authors since the 1980s.  I discovered her in the Fantasy realm and devoured all of those novels.  In 1998, she wrote a historical mystery called A Free Man of Color, about a free black man living in New Orleans during the early 1830s.  I read it and was immediately hooked – she started my interest in mystery novels.  Crimson Angel is her 13th novel about Benjamin January, a skilled pianist and a Paris-trained physician who solves mysteries in his spare time.

This novel focuses on a secret in his wife’s family, one for which someone is willing to kill.  One of Rose’s two white half-brothers comes seeking Benjamin’s help in searching for a secret treasure in Haiti, left behind when the slaves rose up in rebellion and killed or drove out all the white planters.  Although Benjamin initially declines to help him because of the dangers involved in traveling to Haiti, the brother is murdered, and someone attempts to kill Rose.  It becomes obvious that in order to protect Rose and their son, Benjamin must find the mysterious treasure before the killer does. 

Hambly excels in her vibrant descriptions and the minute details that she puts into her works.  The language is lyrical and almost poetic.  In addition, the historical minutiae that she includes are evidence of the intense research Hambly must have done.  I wish that high school history classes would teach from these types of books rather than the boring texts that I remember.  During the course of the novel, Hambly describes some of the casual atrocities of slavery as well as the relationships that exist between races and within families; however, she does so simply through the telling of her tale, rather than addressing it directly.

Although this is the continuation of a lengthy series, anyone could pick this novel up without having read any of the preceding ones.  Hambly does an excellent job of giving enough background information without setting it aside in a prologue or explaining it through dialogue.  One simply starts the novel and is immediately immersed into the politics of the French Orleans and the American Orleans, the interactions between masters and slaves, and lastly the everyday life of traveling during the first part of the 19th century. 

At the end of the novel, Benjamin is faced with a horrific moral dilemma – to say more would spoil the story.  The decision he is forced to make was extremely difficult, and I am not sure that I would have been able to do the same.  I came away from the book questioning my own values, and I am still amazed at how Hambly was able to invoke such thoughtfulness so obliquely.  Needless to say, I cannot wait for her next novel.  I eagerly search her website for short story scraps that continue the adventures of characters that she wrote about over 30 years ago.  I cannot recommend her writing enough.  

Thursday, September 4, 2014


I've struggled with health issues for a long time. In fact, I had to quit working before I ever got my sarcoid diagnoses and start fighting for disability. I finally got the sarcoid diagnosis in 2012, and while it helps to have a name for it and realize that it's a valid, serious illness, my sarcoid is not under control and I keep having flares. I've seen lots of posts talking about the frustration when people make comments about "but you don't look sick" and I've dealt with that myself.
You need to understand that sarcoid is one of the "invisible" diseases - most of the symptoms are not obvious at first glance. In addition, lots of people get it and get over it and move on with their lives without any major problems. In fact, they have determined that some people have it and never knew it - it only shows up after they die from something else or they receive a biopsy to check for something else; they never experience any symptoms.
But some of us are massively affected, and 5% of those who get it, actually die from it. For some, it is a wonderful feeling to finally have a diagnosis of something "serious" - but most of the public don't recognize that sarcoid can be just as "bad" as cancer, ALS (which is very visible right now due to the ice bucket challenge), MS, lupus, etc., etc., etc.
For me, a diagnosis of sarcoid validated that the feelings of pain, fatigue, and neuropathy were not "all in my head" as many doctors made me feel over the years. There is a valid reason behind how bad I am feeling - the sweating and the shaking and the exhaustion without being able to sleep. There is a reason why I am short of breath without the wheezing that is typical with asthma.
HOWEVER, even with prednisone and all the other medications I take (over 20), there is no cure. I have periods of time when I am stable, when I only need oxygen at night, but I never feel "well." I am one of those for whom this is a chronic disease. It may not kill me, but it probably will make me miserable for the rest of my life.
For years, cancer used to be a death sentence. It is common enough that nearly everyone knows someone who has died from it. I'm the first person I know with sarcoidosis. Even my mother who is a nurse had to look it up to find out about it.
Recently, I've seen "sarkies" complain that we need to do more to make sarcoid as well known as ALS. No one is saying that they'd rather have ALS than sarcoid, but they are frustrated because it seems that everyone knows about ALS and right now tons of money is being donated to research a cure. Where is "our" ice bucket challenge? How much money is being donated to "our" cure? I'll lay odds that more money is donated to research a cure for cancer than ALS, even with all the recent attention.
There is no way to compare serious diseases. I certainly don't want to receive a diagnosis of cancer, MS, or ALS, but I also don't want the diagnosis that I currently have. The reality is that research is driven by money and money is driven by the number of those affected. Pharmacy companies look at the number of people with a diagnosis and steer their research accordingly. Unfortunately, we just happened to draw the short stick when we were given our sarcoid diagnosis. It doesn't make us any better or worse than anyone with Lupus, AIDs, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, or any number of alphabet diseases. It just means we are sick. Seriously sick. That should be enough for anyone.

Friday, January 24, 2014


Several years ago, I broke my ankle – shattered it, really – while gardening.  Thinking it was simply sprained as usual, I walked on it for three days before going to see a doctor.  It is never a good thing when they bring a wheelchair to the x-ray machine for you.  I tell this not to boast, but to point out that I recognize true pain, because I live with chronic pain. 

In the mornings, I lie there for a few minutes doing a mental check of my body, much like you use your tongue to probe your teeth for sore spots.  I start with my head and base my headache on a scale of 1 to 10 – 3 is usually a pretty good start to the day.  Then I check my neck, shoulder, and scapula, cracking my neck if at all possible.  Next I breathe in as deeply as I can, because I also have a lung disorder, and some mornings, it is more difficult to breathe than other days.  Once I determine how much lung capacity I have, I move on to my flank, where I have abdominal adhesions, and rate my pain – there is never a time when I do not hurt in my side.  Finally, I scan my arms, legs, and feet. 

After I perform this daily check, I roll to my side and push myself up on the side of the bed.  I typically stretch my arms and legs before rising to my feet and stretching my calves and hamstrings.  Then I begin the torture march to the bathroom.  I have neuropathy in my feet – a fancy way to explain the burning, stinging, and oddly enough, numbness that I feel in my toes and the soles of my feet.  I run myself a hot bath, checking my blood sugar and recording it, and taking the first of several doses of medicine for the day. 

I carefully climb into the bath, water as hot as I can stand it, and wait for my joints and muscles to loosen up.  Without this daily heat treatment, I would spend most of the day shivering and aching.  I do more gentle stretches in the water, bending each of my joints as best I can and tightening and loosening the long muscles of my body.  After 30 or 40 minutes, I carefully rise to my feet, step out, and begin my morning ablutions. 

I have a number of disorders that contribute to my daily pain – polymyalgic rheumatica, fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, cervical spondylosis.  I take numerous prescriptions for these and my other diseases, including anti-inflammatories, muscle relaxants, and plain-old pain medications.  I take about 20+ different pills in the morning and a few less in the evening.  I live a life of routines I have developed to better cope with my friend, pain.  These include the hot bath in the morning, the stretching, massages every other week, and the meds.  

Nothing seems to relieve all the pain at once; one or two things help one or two pains for a short time. 

There is a fine line between drugged and over-drugged – I have crossed that line before.  In order to be truly comfortable, I must be drugged enough that I cannot stay awake; but this is no life.  So I suffer a little so that I can function a lot – not as much as most people, but more than is comfortable for me.  Again, I ask not for pity, but rather understanding.  So many are critical of the number and types of drugs that I take -- I know that they mean the best, but they do not understand what it is like to live in this body of mine, to walk on a foot that is both numb and screaming with pain at the same time.  Some think that the pain is all in my head, but I remember the broken ankle and the pain associated with that and know the truth.  I hurt all the time.