On My Bookshelf: Perfectly Human by Joseph Dutkowsky, MD

Is there anything better than a warm chocolate chip cookie right out of the oven? I believe we’re handed them by God all the time and too often don’t notice or can’t figure out what to do with them. I’m a firm believer that when God hands you a chocolate chip cookie take a big bite out of it! (173)

Dr. Joseph Dutkowsky, or “Dr. D” as he signed off when he emailed to tell me he’d sent me a copy of his memoir, Perfectly Human, spent his life taking big bites of the chocolate-chip cookies God handed him, and the world is better for it.


In this fascinating book, Dr. D describes his journey from engineering student to pre-med and on to a series of academic and professional opportunities that led him to dedicate his medical career to caring and advocating for persons (mostly children) with disabilities. It’s evident from the very first page that Dr. D loves his work, and that his patients have been as much a gift to him as he has been to them. Dr. D looks into the eyes of his patients and sees the eyes of Jesus looking back at him.

Dr. D has not only worked hard as an orthopedic surgeon to help his patients enjoy their lives by assisting them in overcoming mobility challenges, he has led by example in looking and listening and helping to meet the needs of his patients and their families.

Through the patients, families, and community providers whom I serve, I learned the fundamental truth that you cannot take care of a child with a disability without taking care of their family and community. (82)

Throughout the book, Dr. D shares stories of encounters with patients and acknowledges that he was changed as much as the children and adults he has treated over the years. The thread that holds all these stories together is Dr. D’s deep reverence for the gift of life, no matter how imperfect that life might be in the eyes of an unfriendly world.

Particularly timely in these days of post-Roe vitriol against those who protect the vulnerable unborn is Chapter 16, “The New Eugenics.” Many of Dr. D’s patients have been individuals with Down syndrome. He observes,

Worst of all, this new eugenics is even threatening their lives. Through medical science, new tests exist and are being developed to genetically and morphologically examine a fetus in the womb. In the greatest tradition of medicine this information would be used to make early diagnoses that could lead to prenatal treatments to enhance the life of the child in the womb and after birth. In the worst tradition of medicine this technology is being used to terminate the pregnancy of an “undesirable” child. (168)

In this powerful chapter, Dr. D decries a culture that penalizes women “economically, socially, and professionally” for having children; a culture in which easy access to abortion enables men to use women; a culture which views easy access to abortion as a “solution to poverty” (169).

Dr. D told me, when he sent me this book, that it’s not a book: it’s a movement. He’s right. This book, which I called a memoir but might better describe as a call to action disguised as a memoir, is a spiritual push to see the intrinsic value of each person: born and unborn, healthy or ill, strong or weak, ambulatory or wheelchair-bound.

It’s also a love story, dedicated to his late wife, Karen, who supported him in the adventures that took him from New England to Tennessee, from New York to Peru and back again.

And it’s a testament to the faith of a man who has come to see all of life as a gift from God, packaged as a series of chocolate-chip cookies and ready to be enjoyed in a way that, in turn, glorifies the God who created it in the first place.

Perfectly Human is a book that will make you smile and cry—sometimes within the same page. I’d particularly recommend this book to young people entering the medical field, whether as doctors, nurses, or allied professionals, and to educators as well.

Copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Image: Stencil

This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Hope Upon Impact

As a kid, I used to borrow Reader’s Digest Condensed Books from my grandmother. I skipped over the adventure novels and romances in favor of family stories, especially the family memoirs that centered on children battling serious illness or overcoming challenges due to cerebral palsy, paralysis, or other circumstances — and then there was that one particular book about the family who adopted 19 kids, most with physical challenges.

I think such books would be harder for me to read now that I’m a mom. Childish curiosity would be replaced by empathy, because I know what it’s like for moms whose children face serious illness. I am one of those moms.

I eagerly read Julie Overlease’s memoir, Hope Upon Impact, even though I knew it covered that difficult topic: a mom suffering through, praying through, and powering through her sixth-grade daughter’s traumatic brain injury (TBI) after the child was struck by a large falling tree limb.

hope upon impact

Hope Upon Impact, recently published by Paraclete Press, is a combination spiritual memoir and medical miracle story. As I read this book, the community support that the Overlease family received after Evelyn’s accident stood out to me the most. Having endured two lengthy, critical, and overlapping medical crises in my close family this fall, I recognize the little and big ways people reached out to us. The church, school, and sports communities surrounding the Overlease family definitely took care of that family in a big way, and it was uplifting to see.

At the end of the book, the author quotes a homily from a priest at her parish, Fr. Justin Hamilton:

Everything we encounter in life is exactly what God knows is best for us, no matter how disagreeable or hard it is to embrace. That’s not at all to say that some things, like losing a loved one, dealing with a chronic illness, or losing one’s job are objectively good things. Rather, God is able to take painful, challenging events like this and apply them to our lives in such a way that they are transformed into the very best thing for us, the catalyst for the deepest growth, the best way to purify our love and sharpen our faith, if only we would embrace them just like He embraced His cross. The key to this is finding God in these moments, knowing that He is always present in our lives, if only we look for Him and ask Him to reveal Himself. (181)

Hope Upon Impact is an amazing story of God’s providence, community support, and family strength.

Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

Women on Writing Book Tour: Tara Meissner’s Stress Fracture: A Memoir of Psychosis

Lately I’ve found myself reading memoir after memoir. But I’m not into the “celebrity memoir” type of book; I prefer books about real people facing real-life challenges. Tara Meissner’s book, Stress Fracture:  A Memoir of Psychosis, invites the reader into the world–and the soul–of a young woman enduring the effects of bipolar disorder.

The strength of this book lies in the author’s honest, no-holds-barred description of her psychotic break with reality and her journey toward recovery.

WOW Women on Writing logoI am privileged to introduce Tara Meissner and her book via the Women on Writing Blog Book Tour.  Here’s more about the book:

stress fracture coverStress Fracture: A Memoir of Psychosis is a moving and honest psychology memoir about the things that break us and how we heal. It offers a raw view of a 33-year-old wife and mother swallowed by psychosis. The psychotic episode includes meeting Jesus Christ, dancing with Ellen DeGeneres, and narrowly escaping eternity in the underworld.
Casually called a nervous breakdown, psychosis is an entrapment outside of self where hallucinations and delusions anchor. Family, doctors, and fellow patients witnessed a nonverbal, confused, distraught shell of a woman. In the security of a psychiatric care center, the week-long psychosis broke and spit out a bipolar patient in the cushioned place of middle class medicine.
Outpatient recovery consumed the better part of a year with psychiatric treatment and spiritual contemplation. Left scarred and damaged, health returned allowing her to tentatively embrace a grace and peace earned through acceptance of bipolar disorder.

Accepting Bipolar and Finding Grace

tara meissner author photoby Tara Meissner

I used to pray a lot. Almost like a zealot. Prayer alone was never enough to keep me at peace and allow me to live with grace. Grace to me is living with the capacity to tolerate, accommodate, and forgive people. Peace is sustaining a moment where I am dignified, elegant, and beautiful.

Christians use the word grace to mean a gift to humankind from God in the form of His infinite love, mercy and goodwill.

Disease of any sort makes us question an all knowing and all powerful God. Humans lack the capacity to understand what logic could allow disease from a loving God. Some even say the disease is the devil.

Certainly this is true in history concerning mental illness; some Christians consider mental illness spiritual warfare. This confuses people to think mental illnesses are the devil possessing someone. The cure then is prayer and fully accepting Jesus into one’s life.

In ancient times, a person with epilepsy may have appeared possessed by the devil. (Please note, that I am not discrediting with the concept of evil and that the devil can possess people; this is written on the first page of the bible.) I am only emphasizing the point that mental illness is an organic, biological condition. It is not a supernatural occurrence of evil residing in those afflicted.

I was raised Catholic, received the sacraments, attended Mass regularly, had my son in Catholic school, and habitually prayed the rosary. My transgressions, which I sought reconciliation from, did not invite the devil to take the form of a mental illness inside me. Still, I suffered from depression off and on for nearly 15 years and suffered a psychotic break from reality in 2010. This is commonly called a nervous breakdown.

Since then, I have accepted bipolar disorder as a part of my whole. It is not evil inside me; it does not make me unworthy of love. It is a disease that I can and do treat.

Without the complications of a mistreated and misunderstood mood disorder, I can wake each day with a sense of peace. I can stop pleading to God to cure me. I can stop promising to be a better Christian so that I do not have to suffer with mental illness. I can accept that bad things happen to good people.

With free will, I have chosen to treat the bad, my bipolar disorder. Because treatment for bipolar disorder can reduce and/or eliminate symptoms in up to 90 percent of people living with bipolar, I live well and have peace. I no longer deny the disease. I no longer feel guilty of having done something to deserve it.

I can pause long enough to enjoy the smile on my children’s faces, the array of colors in a sunset, my husband’s embrace, great belly laughs with girl friends, and many other pleasures of life. Living with grace doesn’t always mean the absence of bad days. I also fully experience pain, regret, and sadness. However, these emotions do not disturb the peace I have achieved by eliminating the symptoms of a mood disorder.

Maia Szalavitz, a health writer and author, said “Addiction and mental illness are not demons. Let’s stop acting as if prayer is the main answer.”

I am reminded of the serenity prayer, courage to changes the things we can and accept the things we can’t and know the difference. I must accept that I have bipolar disorder. I changed how it affected my life, by learning to understand it and treat it. Only now am I able to live gracefully.

Stress Fracture: A Memoir of Psychosis is available as an e-book and paperback at Amazon.

About the author:  Tara Meissner is a former journalist and a lifelong creative writer. She holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree and works part-time at her local library. Tara lives in Wisconsin with her husband, Mike, and their three sons. She writes longhand in composition notebooks. Stress Fracture: A Memoir of Psychosis is her first book.

You can find Tara on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads and her own blog.