Maya Dusenberry compiles and analyzes a boat load of important information in Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick. Now you know her theme—the way women suffer because of misogyny and prejudicial thinking by medical professionals.
If you are a woman reading this review, I heard you. You just said, “Duh.” Because a woman of practically any age can tell you at least one (and more likely several) stories about this fact of female life. Dusenberry may not tell us anything we don’t know. But she does compile the good work of many authors and researchers. And she tells the story of several real-life women too. Anything we do to bring the issue to light makes women feel less alone. That’s invaluable.
Almost all of her topics, which she often divides by disease, are familiar to me. They range from ovarian cancer to heart disease to vulvodynia to Lyme disease and migraine. This is just a small cross-section. Dusenberry discusses these diseases, and the general misogynistic approach to women’s health in terms of current day as well as history. Both aspects are interesting.
As a massage therapist who specializes in pain management, I hear stories like the ones in this book. All. The. Damn. Time. I am honored to take my clients seriously, and to do everything I can (within the scope of my practice) to help them. And if I had an extra dollar for every time someone’s eyes filled with tears (including my own), I’d donate it to research these so-called “women’s conditions.”
Dusenberry is a writer with a chronic, painful autoimmune condition that primarily affects women. It was that diagnosis that started her journey with this book. She’s very empathetic, but never lets it get in the way of her journalistic integrity. She’s clearly angry, but keeps it toned down enough to still be effective.
Even though I’ve been reading books on this topic for about 10 years, Dusenberry taught me things I didn’t know. And she enlightened me to some intersectional medical difficulties as well. As a white, middle-class (mostly), cis-gendered woman, I have experienced privilege in my medical life. On the other hand, since that first diagnosis 10 years ago, I’ve been diagnosed with more pain-related conditions. This book hits close to home for me.
I will say that I didn’t care for the style, tone, or delivery of the audiobook narrator. She’s just too wooden and distant in her narration. So, if you are intrigued, give the print or ebook versions a try first.
That said, if you are a woman or love any women, this is an important read. I encourage you to read it, and then to continue to use it as a reference tool in years to come.
Book Pairing Suggestions
Dusenberry name checks practically all of my favorite authors on this topic, including one whose book is sitting unread on my shelf. Here’s a list of possible pairs, based on the author’s suggestions.
A Nation in Pain by Judy Foreman
Battle for Grace by Cynthia Touissant
In the Kingdom of the Sick by Laurie Edwards
The Autoimmune Epidemic by Donna Jackson Nakazawa
Cure Unknown by Pamela Weintraub
All in My Head by Paula Kamen
Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan