Run, Don’t Walk: The Curious and Chaotic Life of a Physical Therapist Inside Walter Reed Army Medical Center, by Adele Levine *****

I loved this memoir. It came out in May, and you should get a copy. You don’t have to be even slightly interested in reading about physical therapy to enjoy this book. It is a stellar memoir, entertaining and informational in a way that everyone can access and enjoy.

I got my copy through the First Reads program on All that means these days is that I screened it before applying for a copy. I have a steady stream of free books coming in the mail, the wonderful symbiosis of retired-teacher-who-likes-free-books-and-writing versus publishing-houses-that-don’t-want-to-pay-for-a-review. I have become fairly persnickety about what I’m willing to read and review–because to my way of thinking, it is not fair to accept the free book and not finish or review it, and I don’t want to poison the well by asking for something I already suspect is not well written or that I may not be entertained or fulfilled by reading. So the publisher chose me, but first, I chose Levine’s book.

I’ve been through physical therapy for things like whiplash from car accidents (yes, some folks really do get whiplash), but nothing like the scale experienced by the veterans and soldiers that Levine treats. And so the first sign of expertise is in the title (where she wisely excluded any reference to amputations), and the fact that it was dropped into the “humor” section of the giveaways.

Ask yourself: is there a tasteful way to laugh about amputations and amputees, as well as the people who work with and/or visit them?

Amazingly, there is. She’s found it. And at first I could not accept that this was Levine’s first book, because the amount of synthesis and development of characters is not in any way rookie work, and I don’t care how brilliant the writer might be. The book says “experienced writer”. Everything clicked into place when I read that she had been writing a weekly humor column (though what kind of over-achiever can work the hours she works, maintain a relationship, indulge in extreme sorts of physical exercise, write a column, and eventually even become a parent, is beyond me).

Sometimes people write a first book and they get insecure. They pass out free copies to friends and relatives and beg them to get on various readers’ sites and post glowing reviews. So I will prove to you (assuming you are not someone who has read any of my other 500+ reviews) that I am not one of them. I FOUND A FLAW in the book! I did! Here it is:

Levine claims to own only two pieces of furniture during the time frame about which she writes. She has a futon sofa and a lamp. BUT!!! She rushes home to watch her favorite television program. AHA! If a lamp is furniture, then so is a television set.

I rest my case. I am entirely unbiased in my book reviews.

I didn’t set out to learn anything here–it’s not as if I am considering becoming a PT. And as stated, this should not be viewed as a niche book just for medical folk or military types, but for the general book-loving public. It would even make a good beach read.

But I learned some things, nevertheless. I didn’t know that anyone who loses both legs ever has a shot at walking on two prostheses, for example (and indeed, some don’t, but the possibility is strong). I didn’t know some prostheses have computers. And I groaned at the obstacles put in place by the fishbowl atmosphere: deliberately limited computer access so that anyone, celebrities, congressional staff, or John Q. Public, will see the therapists ONLY working with patients, and then they have to stay after their paycheck ends in order to enter notes about progress registered, because people who come to see the circus don’t want to see more than two people using a computer at a time. The banning of coffee for the same reason; nobody wants to see your cup! And I loved reading about the guerilla response to said ban.

There are a number of places I’d like to quote, but I read a galley, so I am not supposed to do that in case they make changes, and this review gets posted TODAY. Characters Cosmo and Major Dumont were favorites (and I will let you find out for yourself how they were developed). And I loved the Jim-quote and how it is used at a party full of insufferable assholes who think that they are really something because they went to Walter Reed and WATCHED the patients and therapists for awhile. (The punch line is awesome. Again: get the book.)

And I really loved the Miracle reference.

I was on my third day with this book (I generally read 4-6 at a time, so it was getting rotated with the others) when someone in my family died. It was a total fluke, someone younger than me whose time should not have been up yet, and it hit all of us in the solar plexus. The writer’s chapter on the bone marrow transplant proved really cathartic. It wasn’t written for that purpose; I just had the right book at the right time, and so I sat with the book in my hand and cried awhile. Thanks; I needed that.

Are you still reading my review? You have another window open too, right? Because you should buy this book, and if you get the chance to pre-order it, then you should do that so you won’t accidentally let it go by once it’s available. May is Mother’s Day; what a great gift for the mother who likes to read!

To sum up: order the book for yourself. Order another copy for at least one of the mothers in your life. I promise you won’t be sorry.

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