Review of Ask Me About My Uterus, by Abby Norman
“Hi, I’m Abby Norman. I am not a doctor — but I might have been.” That is not how Abby begins her book — that introduction does not show up until Chapter 7, when she uses it for a presentation she is making to an endometriosis conference — but it should begin any discussion of Abby Norman’s book, because you need to understand that Abby has a brilliant mind that should have been in use for the medical benefit of humanity. Instead she has spent her entire adult life — and she is not yet thirty — fighting the medical establishment to prove that she is not a hypochondriac, nor a hysteric, nor a fanciful delusional woman who likes to read medical descriptions online. She is a young woman who is very sick, and would like doctors to fix her. Or if they can’t fix her, correctly diagnose her condition. Or if they cannot diagnose her, at least shut up and listen to what she has to say about her own symptoms, and what she’s learned about the disease that’s killing her.
Ask Me About My Uterus (AMAMU) is not precisely a page-turner, but it drew me in and got me hooked. I bought Abby’s book in hardcover, so to save weight I did not bring it on a trip. At the airport, I bought the electronic version for iBooks, because I didn’t want to wait three days to finish it.
This will not be a comfortable read for many men, and some women. Abby’s descriptions of her conditions and treatments are graphic (albeit smoothed with self-deprecating humor) and concern the “icky parts” of a woman’s system. [Suggestion for men who get uncomfortable hearing about “women’s problem” — get over yourselves. Half the people on the planet are female, so learn what most of them go through on a monthly basis. If you’re heterosexual, your partner could use some support. If you’re gay, your mother or female friends need occasional empathy. If you’re an orphaned monk in a remote monastery, get off the Internet before I tattle to your abbot.]
Many people, when they get close to the end of their life, feel a need to leave a legacy, or a remembrance, or some token that they made a difference in this world. Abby Norman is a woman in her 20s who is learning as much about the disease of endometriosis as she can so that she can leave behind something that others can build on; so that she can help advance knowledge about a “woman’s disease” that has been noted but mostly ignored for centuries simply because it is a “woman’s disease” (although, it turns out, it actually isn’t; it’s just more rare and manifests differently in males—see Chapter 6).
AMAMU follows different tracks and timelines, switching between the personal and the clinical. The Prologue is almost a teaser, as Abby tells us about a very bad day when she was in college, with physical symptoms she had never experienced before and didn’t understand. From there she takes us through the history of medicine (spoiler: a lot of things we think we know about the human body were not actually researched as well as we’ve been lead to believe); through her personal history (God, if You’re reading this, a child who has been through what Abby lived through when she was growing up should not have had to endure what she encountered as an adult — just a comment from a customer); into her determination that she has endometriosis, and her struggle with the medical establishment to get them to take action.
“Inexplicable coincidences, connections, and an overdosing of pure luck has described my life thus far. I’m not sure if the connections are abundant or if I’m just unusually good at seeing them, but those breaths of splendid fortuity have saved my life on more than one occasion. Certainly they are always welcome, always enchanting.” — AMAMU, Chapter 7
Abby is dying. Of course, everyone is dying, but Abby is going a little bit faster some days than most of us are. Is her book self-pitying? No, although she mentions days she feels sorry for herself. Is her book sad? How could a book about a brilliant young woman who is condemned to soul-crushing pain and loss of career and collection agencies hounding her for hospital bills she will never, ever be able to pay… how could a book like that NOT be sad? And yet it isn’t. I hesitate to use the word “inspiring,” because it’s gotten trite, but “informative” would be an understatement. Ask Me About My Uterus has made me glad that people like Abby Norman are in the world.
I plan to give AMAMU to my niece, who is a physicians assistant working in gynecology. I hope that Abby’s research and life, and examples of what women patients go through in GYN offices, will help her become a better health care provider.