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My Ablation Procedure for Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome

Here is the story of my Electrophysiology Study and Ablation.

After seeing the Cardiologist at my local hospital in March 2015 and getting on the waiting list by the end of that month, I received a letter informing me that my Electrophysiology Study, plus or minus ablation, would occur 16 September 2015. I was advised I needed to be at the Big Hospital for a pre-op check the day before. I was then to stay the night in a motel and check into the hospital the following morning. I was expected to stay the next night in the motel also, so I would be close to the hospital in case something went wrong. I was also advised to bring someone with me. I phoned my mother, and she was happy to rearrange things so she could come. She’s been my hospital buddy my whole life, except that one time when I was four and she had another baby to look after.

The pre-op appointment featured a blood test and blood pressure check, pretty much. I don’t take meds, so they didn’t have to review my medication management for the procedure. A nurse explained that I would have four ports in my groin. I avoided all other knowledge of the procedure because I thought I would freak out if I thought about it too much (not a fan of blood). This was the first time they checked the form I sent in ahead and discussed the fact I don’t tolerate aspirin.

I woke before 6 am the next morning, because that was when I was allowed my last drink. I don’t tolerate dehydration well, so I was a little concerned about that part of things. I wasn’t allowed breakfast, of course. I had my kindle and my ipod with me, and was grateful for both before the day was out. I also took my own shawl, for warmth. It’s just nicer to have your own blanket in hospital and on aeroplanes.

Of course they wanted to put my line in right away but my left arm defeated the nurse and she had to get the anaethetist to come and put it in. Once that was done, I settled in and read a book on my kindle. I could see the whiteboard from my bed, and I could see that I was second on the list for my team, but I had no idea how long the first guy would take. I was 75% done with my book by the time it 1pm and my turn.

It always surprises me how many people are necessary in an operating theatre. There was the electrophysiologist that would be doing the procedure and two nurses to give me drugs- one seemed to give them and the other write them down. There was a second electrophysiologist monitoring me behind a glass wall, and at least two more people back there with her. I had stickies all the usual places on my chest, and stickies in case they had to use a defibrilator, and a massive big stickie on my back for monitoring purposes.

They put a drape with groin-framing cut-outs in the appropriate position and I thought: OK. They tried to tuck the spare end under my chin and my heart rate spiked over 100 as I freaked out about SOMETHING TOUCHING MY NECK. Phobias are fun. They folded the offending drapery over. Crisis Averted.

They gave me a drug called midazolam, which is a sedative that is supposed to make you relax and not care about things, and is also supposed to make you forget what happens while you are under its influence. The report, which I have a copy of, states ‘it took a long time to get her sufficiently sedated.’ I can’t remember what I was doing, but I remember them ordering midazolam, fentanyl, midazolam, midazolam seemingly one after another. It didn’t actually happen like that, as I learned when I read my chart later. It did work in that I didn’t freak out when I felt copious amounts of blood pouring out as the guy was putting the ports in. I just said to myself: That’s blood. Part way through the procedure I *woke up* and started keeping an eye on the clock. I turned my head to look at it right when the guy was about to do one of his frying jobs and he said, clearly frustrated, ‘Would you stay still!’ I’m not supposed to remember that…

Due to being awake and aware, I can report that an ablation feels like burning in your chest. There was pain relief in the equation, so I wasn’t in agony, but I could definitely feel it. At one point the fentanyl wore off and the groin ports activity inspired me to start saying f*ck a lot, so I got another dose. It definitely worked.

They had quite a lot of trouble getting the right spot to do the radiofrequency ablation. My heart has a natural hole in the wall between the left and right atrium called a PFO, which many of us have. That allowed them to into the left side of my heart without having to make a hole. They suspect there were two rogue pathways, very close together. They were located below and to one side of the mitral annulus, so they had to go down through the mitral valve to get to the right spot. According to the report, they applied RF 18 times over 635 seconds. I remember at least 4 of them. I remember the electrophysiologist asking someone to get another guy because he was having so much trouble. Then, just as he walked in, my guy said, ‘O. Never mind. Got it.’

The electocardiologist then retreated behind the glass and they started talking about skiing. Nobody said a word to me. After ten minutes, I heaved a dramatic adolescent-esque sigh. Apparently in midazolam aftermath I am emotional, with the dominant emotion being Supremely Pissy. The nurse asked me what was wrong. I informed her I was bored. She explained that they were leaving things for half an hour, after which they would try to trigger my heart again, to see if it was really fixed. Each time they had thought they had got it up til then, tachycardia had just started again when they had triggered it. After that I watched the clock- I knew I had 20 minutes to go.

Once they were satisfied that the connections were well fried, the electrophysiologist yanked the ports out and applied pressure.Which, OUCH, because the fentanyl had worn off sometime earlier. I cried.

Straight after that, one of the nurses touched my arm by the port. She got a screech of, ‘What the f*ck are you doing!’ O dear. I never would say that, normally. I know how to use my words. After that they were Very Careful to ask me before they did anything. No, I didn’t want to hold my own pressure on my groin. No, I didn’t want them to clean up the copious amounts of blood that had come out as the ports went in. Yes, I could transfer back onto the bed to go back to the waiting place.

When I got back I got out the ipod and put my earphones on and ignored everyone, trying desperately to get my shit together. I’m pretty sure the earphones made my ear temp spike to just over 38degC. Ears get hot with earphones. I had to have paracetamol to bring my ‘fever’ down.

They elected to keep me in the ward over night, on a heart monitor. My room was handily close to the toilet as I had to pee numerous times due to the fluid they put in through my port during the procedure.

Next morning, after a practically sleepless night, the electrophysiologist came to see me. He informed me I would be taking aspirin for a month. ‘No, I won’t.’ I countered. I had discussed it with two different nurses.

He looked shocked. ‘But you have to,’ he said.

‘I don’t tolerate it: it makes me throw up.’

‘Couldn’t you just try it?’

‘No. Can’t you give me something else?’

‘Uh…’

‘Well, what about Pradaxa?’ (A blood thinner that lasts 12 hours.)

‘Oh,’ (evident relief) ‘That would do. It’s quite hard on the stomach, though.’

‘Well, you could give me omeprazole for the duration. That should help.’

‘Oh, yes. That should work…’

Save Me. What do people do who don’t know enough to suggest alternatives, I wonder?

It was a generally positive experience, though. That last exchange reinforced my belief in the need to be your own (and others’) fierce advocate within the health system, though. Get copies of everything. Read your chart. Ask questions. Check everything. I have great respect for Medical Professionals, but they all work far too much and far too much is expected of them. We need to be the back stop.

I needed quite a bit longer off work that was indicated, as I got a haematoma in my groin. It was localised and not that unexpected, due to the heparin used during the procedure to prevent blood clots, and the Pradaxa afterwards. I couldn’t sit upright and had to wear boyshort knickers and couldn’t tie my shoes for a few days. I had the most glorious bruising.

I am happy to report that I have since been fully discharged from the care of both cardiologists.

I’m thankful that it’s all over.

 

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Wolff Parkinson White Syndrome- Diagnosis

I had a catheter ablation for Wolff Parkinson White (WPW) Syndrome a week ago today. This is the story of my diagnosis.

NOTE: I am in New Zealand, so my experience is framed within the Public Health System here. It will be a little different around the world, no doubt.

I first started noticing heart palpitations when I was about twelve years old. My mother took me to the doctor, who didn’t believe I could have been counting correctly to come up with a heart beat of more than 200 bpm. I took her at her word and never bothered to count my heartbeat again! She did send me for an ECG, but we were supposed to ring up for the results and forgot to, so that was the end of that.

Down through the next 25 years, I would have palpitations from time to time. Many people say that they feel panicked; some people even think they are having panic attacks, when they are actually in Supraventricular Tachycardia (SVT)(Which is defined as a resting heart rate of more than 100 bpm). This was never the case for me. I would just have a massive head-rush and have to crouch down, or I thought I might faint, and then my heart would just take off. Once my head cleared, I could stand up and carry on with what I was doing, and the STV would  stop within a few minutes. As I aged, I noticed it would go on for longer, and it was harder to get it to stop. I worked out that taking a big breath and holding it helped sometimes, as did lying down flat. Of course there are lots of instructions online about how to get your heart out of SVT if you have WPW, but I didn’t have a diagnosis, so I didn’t know that.

I didn’t have many episodes at all, over the last few years. Then, on January 2nd this year, I was out walking in the bush with my sister, and working quite hard to climb a hill, when I realised I could feel my heart racing. I stopped and lay down; I held by breath. I got up and tried to ignore it. I lay down again; I tried to relax; I held my breath. Nothing worked. I decided we should head back to the car, as the middle of the bush is not a good place to have a Heart Event, if that was what I was heading for. My sister (bless her) does not drive, so I began to drive back to town. I only did so because I felt fine. I could see fine; my fingernails weren’t blue; I was not sweating; I could breathe fine. I was, for the first time, a little freaked-out, because I couldn’t get it to stop, and I could feel pressure in the right side of my neck and the underside of my right upper arm. For that reason, I decided it would be best to go to the Emergency and Medical Centre to be checked out.

After having to check ALL my details and fluff around for what felt like far too long, a nurse finally put the pulse and oxygen metre on my finger. The pulse rate jumped straight to 227 bpm. It was all on after that! I had an ECG, which recorded the speed of the STV, but didn’t give them any useful information, as it was going so fast. The doctor rang an ambulance, and as it arrived, a senior nurse told me I should try raising my knees while lying flat. I just put my legs in the air and that worked, straight away! My heart had been racing for over an hour at that point, so it was a bit stressed-out, so it was still going over 100 bpm, so the doctor elected to still send me to the hospital.

Once at the hospital, they did another ECG. Once the registrar had a chance to look at it, he came and told me that he could see from my ECG that I had Wolff Parkinson White Syndrome. He explained that people with WPW have at least one rogue electrical connection in their heart, which lets electrical signals through to the ventricles, which makes each heart beat look wrong, and makes the heart race sometimes. He explained that it was usually treated by catheter ablation, where they go in through the groin, trigger the SVT, find the rogue connection and fry it. He wrote a referral to the Cardiology Department at the hospital and then sent me home.

HEART PIXEL RED

My heartbeat, showing the ‘delta wave’ on the upstroke- a clear indicator of WPW

A few months later, I got my appointment to see the Cardiologist at the hospital. Before the appointment I had to have a blood test, where they tested all sorts of things, from liver function to electrolytes to blood sugar to cholesterol. All my results were in the normal range. I also had an Echocardiogram, where they look at your heart in three dimensions using an untrasound-type wand and make sure it is healthy and there are no other issues. My heart was found to be in good health- no wonky valves or thin bits or inflexible bits. Right before the appointment, I had another ECG, also. The cardiologist was a really depressed American who seemed to be missing his own health system quite a lot, as all he could focus on was how different things would be if I was in America. He is not my favourite Health Professional. He said he would refer me to the Big Hospital for an Electrophysiology Precedure and Ablation.

Because I didn’t quite ‘connect’ with the cardiologist, I soon made an appointment with my own doctor, so we could discuss things. I got copies of all my result and all the letters (because I have enough experience to know that you have to be your own advocate in the health system, and Knowledge is Power) and asked him to check that I had, indeed, been referred to the Big Hospital for the Ablation. He had his assistant check and they had never heard of me. They re-sent the letter my American had sent my doctor a copy of.

I soon received a copy of the letter from the Big Hospital, and an appointment to have a treadmill stress test at my local hospital. The reason for this is that, if you have WPW and the delta wave switches off suddenly when exercising, you have a low-risk form of WPW, and the Health Budget could be spent elsewhere, rather than on an ablation procedure. I was pretty sure it wouldn’t disappear, as it had happened while exercising a couple of times, and thought they could have saved more Health Budget if they just called me and asked some intelligent questions, but I am not the boss of them, so I turned up at the appointed time and had my treadmill test.

The letter had said that it was a walking test and that I could stop at any time. I gathered that these tests are usually administered to older people who have heart disease, so the ladies who did my test were not quite sure what to make of someone who is relatively fit and very healthy and not that old. I ended up jumping off the treadmill when it went faster than my legs could walk. I could have run, but I don’t run unless something is chasing me and that NEVER happens 🙂 The results were that my heart kept its delta wave, no matter what. No surprises, there.

After that, I was put on the waiting list at the Big Hospital for an Electrophysiology Precedure and Ablation.

In the next post, I will share the story of my successful ablation procedure.

Hope for Migraineurs

I’m 37 and I’ve had migraines for my entire life. When I was a child, I couldn’t swallow pills and I couldn’t take soluble aspirin, so I used to get light sensitive and vomit and have to sleep it off on a regular basis. I missed a lot of quarter or half days of school. I remember that I used to stay home until I felt better, then go to school for the rest of the day.

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Me at 5 in the dress at the Fancy Dress. The migraine hadn’t started yet.

I had a beautiful red velvet dress when I was five. I liked to wear it and I dreaded wearing it- I noticed that I got a headache every time I wore it. I got a headache every time we had a fancy dress folk-dance event (A yearly occurrence.), or other events in crowded, stuffy, overheated rooms. I got a headache when I stayed over at my friend’s house, where they always cranked the fireplace up and cooked us all. Looking back, there was a theme, but I didn’t see it for many years. We went to a chiropractor for a time. He had an holistic approach to migraine management and had us cut out sugar and trans fats and used to get grumpy if I jumped on a trampoline. We stopped having ‘cordial’, or any flavoured sugary ‘juice’ mixes (mostly because my brother was a very energetic kid and my mother was trying to preserve some sanity.) I did not like going to the chiropractor– it used to give me the hiccups, which made my head ache, and I didn’t like the manipulations, and eventually refused to go back. Sugar crept back in. Eventually, I learned to swallow pills and used over the counter (OTC) meds to manage my pain. I could never get rid of a migraine, but I could stop it progressing to the vomiting stage. I think I have a pretty good tolerance for pain and usually manage to soldier on. I don’t know if this is why I’ve never had a doctor display any helpfulness regarding migraines but it could be. Apart from a brain scan when I was sort of middle-sized and a prescription for paracetamol once that included an anti-emetic, doctors have not been helpful at all. Consequently, I have always managed my pain myself and have often felt completely hopeless and helpless in the face of debilitating, crushing pain. I tried different things over the years. I discovered that I was pretty well if I had a sugar-free and relatively low-carbohydrate diet. If I fell off the wagon and indulged in a slice or a muffin, I would, mysteriously and inevitably, get a migraine two days later. I knew it couldn’t be directly related to blood sugar as the lag was too great, but I couldn’t work out what was going on. I gradually stopped eating a sugar-free diet, as I found that if I ate a little consistently I was kind of managing it, especially with adequate protein to balance it, and plenty of water. I learned what my other triggers were– Synthetic smells (like in body spray and similar); bright lights; many preservatives and food colourings; getting too hot or too tired; too many apples or oranges; fizzy drink; too much chocolate; not drinking enough water; stress. I don’t like sliced bread. It is squishy and doughy. I hate the texture. I stopped eating it, except for when I went to a friend’s house and we would have salad sandwiches for lunch. Twenty minutes later I would feel as if someone had smacked me in the head with a board (ie serious brain fog) and then I would end my Sunday with a migraine. I eventually worked out what was happening and stopped eating the bread. It turns out that they use a preservative to stop the bread going moldy in the bag. That was what I was reacting to. I started having more pain-free weekends. When I was 18 my mother, frustrated by my morning migraines, went to town and got me a pretty expensive pillow. It was like sleeping on a cloud. I woke up with less migraines. When it wore out I imported another one from America because I could no longer source one locally. My pillow has been to Europe and it comes everywhere with me, even on seat-only flights. Luckily it is highly squashable. I never sleep without it.

ComforelPillow

Invista Comforel pillow. Might not suit everyone, but I love it

After years of studying and paying no attention to my posture, I noticed more and more of my migraines were beginning as neck pain. My sister commented that her migraines appeared to be very intense muscle knots in her neck and on the outside of her head- the muscle that moved on the side of her head when she chewed would get sore to the touch. I started paying attention to the location of my pain and found that I was experiencing the same thing. I found this very confusing, as everyone speaks of migraines as ‘pounding’. I would describe my pain as ‘crushing’. It never pounds, except when I get out of bed, when it might throb a couple of times before getting the crush back on. My neck pain worsened. Osteopath treatments helped, but I kept having to go back. I came across the McKenzie Method, which is used by some physiotherapists. I found a local physio who was trained in the technique and she helped my get my neck pain under control. I started sitting up straight absolutely all the time and doing exercises to relieve the pressure in my neck. If I had a migraine that started in my neck, however, the exercises didn’t take it away. I wondered if I could find relief from the crushing pain by concocting a salve with essential oils in it that might help with inflammation and muscle cramps. I researched that and eventually settled on a blend that I didn’t mind the smell of. I then discovered, through a facebook friend, that magnesium chloride could be purchased in a spray form and applied to skin. I started applying it every night before bed. I also made my salve with magnesuim chloride in it, in an effort to boost its muscle cramp fighting properties. These things all helped me to a certain extent. They were also useful as they made me feel a little less helpless in the face of the pain. I had things I could try to help me cope. salve I tackled the nausea with ginger pills and motion-sickness wrist bands, with moderate success. I emerged from one trip to the emergency doctor a few years ago with a prescription for an anti-emetic. That was the first time ever that a doctor had prescribed something for me to have at home to help with the nausea, (except for one time when I was 12). I found that my neck pain and migraines were worse at certain times of the month. When I asked my doctor why this might be, he couldn’t tell me. However, we live in the Information Age, and I love to research and learn, so I started googling and reading anything I could find. Now, there is a lot of what I call *phooey* on the internet, and there are a lot of people who just want to whinge about their awful life and how much worse their pain is than everyone else’s. It was a lot to trawl through. However, I am a born skeptic, which is an essential quality in Internet-Land, and I’m also very curious. When I came across a couple of posts via facebook which claimed one could cure migraines by simply having a glass of water with lemon juice and either one or two whole teaspoons of salt stirred in, my bs detector went off, as I was certain that that much salt would simply induce vomiting, curing nothing. Also, no matter how many things I read that say everyone should drink lemon in water every day, I will never do that because lemons make me feel weird. I am also familiar with the chinese-whispers effect on the internet, so I wondered if there was a grain of truth to the salt-for-migraines idea. I typed ‘salt and migraines’ into google and found my grain of truth. I found a neuro-scientist named Angela Stanton who helps migraine sufferers, whom she calls ‘migraineurs’, to manage their hydration using regular table salt and adequate water consumption, along with dietary changes like cutting tea and coffee down to one per day, and eliminating sugar and sugar substitutes. I bought her book and discovered that the cause of most migraines is when our potassium:sodium ratio gets out of balance and causes dehydration. There is sciencey stuff about how fluid moves in and out of our cells that I read and could understand but am not quite up to explaining. When we get in this state, we drink and drink but stay thirsty and have clear urine and get migraines. She recommends adding salt until there is colour in the urine and paying attention to how much potassuim we are eating. Ideally, our potassium:sodium ratio should be 2:1. An unprocessed, fruit and veg and nut driven diet (like mine) is pretty high in potassium and low in sodium, which means our cells get dehydrated because the pumps that control the movement of fluid in and out of our cells can’t work well with inadequate sodium. Dr Stanton runs a very interactive facebook page where she answers questions and tries to get people in the path to a pain-free life. It is a place to go if you’re serous about doing what it takes to get off meds and take control of your migraines. It is not a place to go to get a magic solution that will fix you without making lifestyle changes. I connected with her there and got stuck in. She had me drop all the sugar from my diet in an effort to get my hydration sorted. Sugar dehydrates our cells, so it’s very counterproductive for someone like me who battles to stay adequately hydrated. She also had me begin to add more salt in pinches and sprinkles throughout the day. I have low-ish blood-pressure and it is apparently extremely common for migraineus to have very low blood pressure, as we are inadequately hydrated. Extra salt is exactly what we need. It is fairly early days, yet. I am old enough and cynical enough and have lived with pain for long enough to not believe in panaceas, no matter what the internet says. However, I’ve just romped through a week that should have been liberally peppered with migraines and, apart from the side effects of dropping sugar from my diet, I’ve been remarkably well. I am thinking that this might be the last piece of the migraine puzzle for me, which is an amazing thought.

In the Kitchen– DIY Knife Block

I LOVE my knife block. I came across this idea somewhere on the internet and decided I absolutely had to have one.

First I found a plastic pasta storage container in a second-hand shop for a couple of dollars. Then I spent about $14 on fourteen packets of long kebab skewers:

knifeblock1

As you can see, it doesn’t matter if the skewers are taller than the container. It does matter if the skewers are shorter than your knives, though… You also need to fill it, but not tightly. The knives and things will take up room in there: if the skewers are packed too tight, you’ll never get the knives to slot in.

Then I dug out an old map and covered it with clear contact stuff, made it the right circumference and slipped it over the outside like so:

knifeblock2

It isn’t perfectly smooth, as the map was pretty beaten-up, but I like it.

Then add knives and choppers and pizza cutters and scissors and meat forks etc. The first few will sink, so make sure you start with the long ones, so you can pull them up once the knife block is loaded up a bit.

I love that it fits all my sharp things!

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The only problem I have is where I have multiple knives with similar handles– it can be difficult to find the one you want. I get around this by storing the one I am always needing in the same place in the knife block, so I can find it.

This is truly my favourite kitchen DIY solution- so easy, and so useful!!

Ten Books To Carry To The End Of The World

I am a somewhat irregular blogger, but I’ve been thinking about which ten books are my favourites in the whole world; which have stayed with me through the years; which books I would pack in a trunk and ship with me to the End Of The World, if I could only have ten. So, Blog Post Time!!

Here they are, in no particular order:

1 The Ragamuffin Gospel, by Brennan Manning. My favourite Christian book. It’s about how God loves each of us, just the way we are. Simple, yet effective truth.

2. Orthodoxy by GK Chesterton. Those who have spent any time around me know that I greatly admire Chesterton. He was an English journalist who lived a hundred years ago and he was a great thinker who had a way of cutting to the heart of a thing with a neatly turned phrase, and a flair for paradox. I have to read Orthodoxy aloud, or I can’t understand it. It is about his spiritual journey and I love it.

3. The Half Men of O/ The Priests of Ferris/ The Motherstone by Maurice Gee. These are three books, but they are short, being aimed at children. They could be published in one volume, or Gee could rewrite and expand them. (Please do, Maurice Gee.) They are about a young girl and a portal to another world and good and evil and destiny and prophecy and whatnot. A favourite nostalgia read, and it is set in NZ. And O, of course…

4. The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver. This was my first Kingsolver book, first read when I was a teenager and never forgotten. It is about a girl who is determined to avoid motherhood and tyres (as she once saw a tractor tyre explode and send someone flying), who leaves her small town and ends up raising a child and working in a tyre repair shop. Kingsolver is a master storyteller. I’ve read Pigs in Heaven, which continues The Bean Trees (and fixes a few problems that became apparent after the original story was published) and The Poisonwood Bible, and Prodigal Summer. They’re all really good reads, but The Bean Trees would be my pick, still.

5. Christy by Catherine Marshall. This is set in the Appalachian Mountains, and is a fictionalised account of how Marshall’s parents met. It’s a great story, and a little window into Mountain culture and mission stations in the old days. It IS a romance, but it’s mostly about the community and the typhoid epidemic and things like that. It ends rather suddenly.

6. The Cure For Death By Lightning by Gail Anderson-Dargatz. This is an interesting book because it contains recipes, which all feature in the main character’s mother’s scrap-book. The book includes instructions for how to cure someone who had died by lightning strike, hence the book’s name. It’s a pretty gritty read, and deals with mental illness and incest, but it’s one I return to every now and again.

7. Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman. This one is about a young girl (most of my list features young women overcoming obstacles and finding their place in the world, you may notice) who has a mentally ill mother, and what happens before and after her mother dies. I am not a great crier when reading, but I had a bit of a howl over this one.

8. The Bone People by Keri Hulme. I include this one because it is beautifully written and definitely stayed with me, but I don’t know if I could, truthfully, ever read it again. It deals with child abuse. It is a beautiful, terrible, confronting book. It is set in New Zealand, and won the Booker Prize in 1984.

9. Poison Study by Maria V Snyder. This is a fantasy novel, set in a world run by a military government, where everyone wears a uniform according to their assigned job, and there is no mercy and no second chances for criminals- except when they need a new food taster for the Commander. Again, a young girl must find her place in this world and fight for her life against the Big Bad. I enjoyed the ride. The next in the series is OK, but the last one felt a bit too improbably tied-with-a-bow at the end for my taste. When I find myself rolling my eyes, it is never a good sign. That doesn’t stop me from enjoying Poison Study for its own merits, though.

10. The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare by GK Chesterton. This is probably the weirdest book I have ever read. Chesterton had a very vivid imagination and was a great fiction writer, as well as a journalist and a philosopher and a poet and a cartoonist. It’s about a secret society, and it has more twists than an up-do. He called it ‘a nightmare’ so he could be as random as he pleased, I am sure. It’s a good one for turning your brain into a pretzel.

So. There are my books for The End Of The World. What would be on your list?

Book Review– Faith Unraveled By Rachael Held Evans

I am pretty late to the party with this book– it was first published as Evolving in Monkeytown in 2010. The one thing that happened with the whole World Vision USA fiasco of deciding employees could be in same-sex marriages and then taking it back is that I was introduced to a whole raft of American Christian thinkers and writers while following various game-trails on the internet. I decided to order some of their books to have a read and a think and to see what I might learn.

Faith Unraveled is subtitled How a girl who knew all the answers learned to ask questions, and in it, Held Evans begins by outlining the kind of girl she was, growing up in her small town in the Bible Belt. (aside: the more I read, the more I realise that the culture of American Christians is far, far different from anything I’ve encountered anywhere I’ve lived in NZ.) She implies she was one of those insufferably pious little people who was always trying steer the conversation towards God with the view to ‘saving’ people (who were surely headed for Hell), and who was educated in an environment where she was taught how to defeat All The Arguments of All The False Religions and Thereby Save People from Hell. My only problem with this book is that I think she goes on about that for too long. I get why she does, but I found myself thinking: Yes, you were annoying, we get it; let’s move on, Rachael!

Her main spiritual conundrum, as she grew and thought and was exposed to the varied and awful injustices of the world, was centred upon the idea of a God who could and would send people to Hell, just because they happened, through no fault of their own, to live in a time and/or place where they were either raised to be faithful to another religious system, or where nobody had ever heard of Jesus.

(I think the main difference between her life and mine at that point, apart from the fact she’s an extrovert and I am not, was that she thought God was angry and couldn’t look at our horrid, awful, sinful selves, and that He was fine with sending people to Hell. I was always pretty convinced that God loves everyone and is kind. Besides which, I had read CS Lewis’ The Last Battle in which he states that Aslan counts good, faithful service of other gods as service to himself, which kind of gave God an ‘out’ on the whole Hell thing for decent people, in my mind.)

Held Evans does a very articulate job of outlining both her struggle with the Big Questions, and her conclusions. I very much like the fact that she is not claiming to have all this stuff sorted out. She doesn’t know how one balances all the contradictions in the Bible. She doesn’t know how God decides who goes to Heaven. She doesn’t know why God allows evil to prosper.

I like that this is a book that is, essentially, unfinished. Held Evans has posed most of the Questions, but her thoughts about the answers continue to evolve. Her point is that Christianity must continue to evolve, if it is to remain relevant and life-giving, rather than antiquated and stifling. She points to the examples of Galileo, who was excommunicated for contradicting the Church’s belief at the time that the sun moved around the earth; and American Civil War (which, for those of us who might be a bit foggy, was about slavery, with both sides able to produce Bible verses that seemed to back their positions), as examples of how the Church has adapted in the past.

I think this book is  good, solid, readable food-for-thought for people who like to think and are wondering how to reconcile Christian values and beliefs with the modern world of scientific discovery, the ongoing suffering of innocents and the trite answers that are supposed to explain everything (but don’t).

I don’t have a star-system but, if I did, it would get All The Stars 🙂

 

 

Book Review– Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey

Jesus Feminist

When I think of feminism, I think of two things, primarily. I should have a whole lot more in my head, only university was Long Ago as well as Far Away, and I have forgotten nearly everything from my Heroines in History paper, though I enjoyed it at the time.

The first of the two things is that my mum was (allegedly) a Feminist when I was little. She stayed home with the babies and kept house and didn’t have her own income and expressed her Feminist whatevers by refusing to cook dinner. I’m not sure what that was, but it doesn’t really fit any of the ‘waves’.

The other was, during my last year of high school, we had a student teacher in my Art History class who was of the buzz-cut and combat-boot militant Feminism, with the lesbian part of the deal for that lady fairly self-evident. We were in class one day and the groundskeeper was mowing the lawns outside. You know, doing his job. She marched out there and yelled at him til he took the lawn mower away, then came back looking pleased with herself, saying, ‘There you go, girls: Challenge the Patriarchy!’

So, when I come across a book named Jesus Feminist, I don’t necessarily think Good Things. I ordered it, having found and enjoyed reading Sarah Bessey’s blog and, after watching it on my desk for a week or so and detecting no outward signs of trouble, I got stuck in.

It turns out that Sarah Bessey comes from a church background similar to my own. There was no huge issue made of gender, and theology was simple. Or simplistic. The jaded cynicism came later, with exposure to different ways of seeing in the wider church community. She has moved past that, however. Bessey says in her introduction:

‘I won’t desecrate beauty with cynicism anymore. I won’t confuse critical thinking with a critical spirit, and I will practice, painfully, over and over, patience and peace until my gentle answers turn away even my own wrath.’

What I like about this book is the graciousness and open arms that Bessey displays. I especially like her chapter about women’s ministry (because O Dear Lord deliver me from traditional women’s ministry, forever and always, Amen). She shows that being a Jesus Feminist is simply recognising, ‘that women are people, too. Feminism only means we champion the dignity, rights, responsibilities, and glories of women as equal in importance –not greater than, but certainly not less than– to those of men, and we refuse discrimination against women.’

The book is bursting with examples of how operating from this worldview might look in everyday life and everyday social justice. It is about looking outward, about seeing what is happening in our communities and in places like Haiti and the brothels of Southeast Asia and saying, ‘What can I do? How can I help?’ and then finding something you can do, a way you can help, and simply doing it.

So, thanks to Sarah Bessey and her book Jesus Feminist, I can say that, by her definition, I’ve always been a Feminist, and that is OK with me. I recommend this well-written, thought-provoking read to anyone who is interested in women’s issues in a modern world.