CAVAN HOGUE. Let those who are without sin cast the first stone. | John Menadue – Pearls and Irritations

The USA is a complex place with its vices, virtues and differences. Despite its noble ideals and democratic institutions, it has a long history of aggression and of overthrowing democracies in the …

Source: CAVAN HOGUE. Let those who are without sin cast the first stone. | John Menadue – Pearls and Irritations

Dear Quentin by Quentin Bryce


Dear Quentin by Quentin Bryce

‘Yes, mine is a generation of letter writers.’

Do you remember the joy of writing and receiving handwritten letters?   I do.  When I moved away from home some 43 years ago, when ‘phone calls were expensive and the internet had not yet been invented, letters were the way I kept in touch with family and friends.  Such memories.

These memories, of handwritten letters, are one of the reasons I wanted to read this book.  I was curious, too, about the kind of letters our first female Governor-General received and wrote.  Quentin Bryce’s letter-writing skills were no doubt further developed as a consequence of boarding school, where writing home was a weekly occupation.  But some people are natural letter writers, with a gift for connection and communication.  Quentin Bryce seems to be one of these people.

‘I like to think that as my hand holds my pen and moves across the paper, concentration and affection shape the letters, heart and mind blending in an art form as old as time.’

As I read each of the letters included in this collection, I was taken across Australia and around the world.  Quentin Bryce handwrote more than fifty letters a week during her six-year term as Governor-General.  There are letters to prime ministers Rudd and Gillard, letters to and from friends including Wendy McCarthy and Anne Summers, letters to and from war veterans, Indigenous elders, girl guides and Corporal Mark Donaldson, VC.

The letters I enjoyed most were the ones between Quentin Bryce and various children.  In each letter, she seemed to strike just the right (or should that be write?) note.  Each response is clearly personal, each observation offered, each question asked is warm but never intrusive. There are lovely colour photographs as well, documenting different aspects of the life of a Governor-General.

This is a lovely book.  A keepsake for both those who love letters as well as for those wanting to see a more personal side of our 25th Governor-General.

Royalties from this book will be donated to the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute.

Note: My thanks to Melbourne University Publishing and NetGalley for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith


JOHN MENADUE. The unfairness and waste of private health insurance and the threat to Medicare. | John Menadue – Pearls and Irritations

History is repeating itself. Medicare was created by the Whitlam government because of the abject failure of private health insurance or, as it was then called voluntary health insurance.  As a res…

Source: JOHN MENADUE. The unfairness and waste of private health insurance and the threat to Medicare. | John Menadue – Pearls and Irritations

The Prince at the Ruined Tower by Michael D. Lockshin, M.D.

I recommend this book to anyone who lives with chronic illness, or who knows someone living with chronic illness.  It’s about the role of uncertainty in chronic illness, about the evolution of knowledge and the difficulty (sometimes) making choices.

The Prince at the Ruined Tower by Michael D. Lockshin, M.D.

‘Uncertainty is just another tool that we can learn to use.’

Dr Michael Lockshin is Director of the Barbara Volcker Center for Women and Rheumatic Disease, Hospital for Special Surgery, and Professor of Medicine and Obstetrics-Gynecology at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York.  He is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Medical School.

Dr Lockshin is the kind of doctor I wish we had more of.


Because as he points out so eloquently in this book, medicine especially medicine in relation to the management of chronic illness, is often more about ambiguity and uncertainty than unambiguity and certainty.  Choices are not always binary.  And yet, and perhaps particularly in the USA, the adoption of codes, of exact diagnoses of illness for insurance purposes makes uncertainty difficult to accept and explore.

‘A name is only a simple description, invented by humans, that describes an appearance that may not reflect the core.’

In this book Dr Lockshin writes of the challenges for both physicians and patients where an exact diagnosis cannot be given.  We all wish for a degree of certainty in relation to health.  Those of us who live with chronic illness learn a measure of flexibility.  (I am the third of four generations in my family to have one or more autoimmune diseases.  We’ve learned quite a bit about uncertainty.)

Dr Lockshin also writes about change, about the possibility that we may know more, have different options in the future.  In my own family I’ve seen how treatment options have evolved for Type One Diabetes.  The insulin my grandmother had access to in the 1930s is very different from what is available to my son in 2016.  Delivery mechanisms are evolving as well.

The main message I’ve drawn from my first reading of Dr Lockshin’s book is that uncertainty is not the same as incompetence.  Not all medical conditions can be easily diagnosed and treated.  Sometimes there are paradoxes, sometimes an illness changes, sometimes there are no clear answers.  I think that there are political and ethical dimensions to this as well.  For example, if insurance requirements drive physicians to identify particular codes to enable patient claims to be paid then this may result in incorrect treatment.  It will certainly result in important medical statistics being incomplete and possibly incorrect.  And, it seems to me, that if research funding is allocated on the basis of need, on instances of recorded illness then research opportunities may be missed.

But that’s me, musing about the future.  In the present, this is a book for both patients and medical professionals.  Both need reassurance that uncertainty has a place in medicine.

Note: I was offered, and accepted, a free copy of this book for review purposes.  I am glad that I did.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith