Review: Chocolate & Vicodin: My Quest For Relief From The Headache That Wouldn’t Go Away by Jennette Fulda

After finishing this book, I did the one thing I never do before writing a review – I read other people’s reviews. I hate doing that, because I don’t want my review to be influenced by their’s. But in this case, I had suspicions about the people who were reading Chocolate & Vicodin that turned out to be correct – it’s usually those who are in chronic pain themselves.

Amazon – Jennette Fulda went to bed on February 17, 2008, with a headache, and more than three years later, it still hasn’t gone away. Yes, she’s tried everything: intravenous drugs, chiropractic adjustments, acupuncture, subliminal messaging, marijuana (for medical purposes only), heavy drinking (which just made it hurt more), and lots and lots of chocolate. A pint of ice cream makes her feel better, but her insurance doesn’t cover mint chocolate chip. As she visits countless doctors, indulges all manner of unsolicited advice from the Internet, and investigates every possible cause, from a brain tumor to a dead twin living in her brain, Jennette considers what it means to suffer, how to live with pain, and why the best treatment might be the simplest: laughter. 
While I was correct about the people who were reading this book, I was wrong about their resulting opinions. Don’t get me wrong, I read it for the same reason – I have Lupus and CFS/ME and have lived in constant pain and exhaustion for over two years (yes, I had to say it, I’m one of those people), but while most of those other reviewers completely emapthised with Ms Fulda, I really didn’t.

She has a headache. To be fair to her, one of the points she makes is how the majority of people dismiss her illness as nothing because headaches are so common, and I’m kind of doing just that. I accept how dehabiliting headaches must be and I can’t imagine how horrible it must be to have one constantly for that length of time. But the fact is… she’s not dying, she doesn’t need any huge, complicated operation and she has complete physical use of her body. It’s not the same as every other sufferer out there.
Jennette does accept that there are others suffering from chronic pain out there, but subtley implies that her pain is just as bad. Doctors have frequently told her that her condition is not not life-threatening, she’ll never need an organ donation and her ability to have children isn’t impaired… and yet she won’t stop whining. She comes across as smug that she belongs to the Pain Club and you couldn’t possibly understand because you aren’t in pain and she is.

Most readers responded to tell me they were glad I was feeling good, but several people asked the same question, “Did they ever figure out what was wrong?”
I sighed. I felt like a mother with a talkative todler who kept asking why. Why is the sky blue? Why don’t snakes have legs? Why does Jennette have a headache? There was no answer to this particular why, or if there was, we weren’t going to know it anytime soon.

Oh shut up. If your readers are offering their support, it’s not fair to compare them to irritating toddlers. She constantly attacks everybody who tries to suggest treatment or even offers sympathy, be it her family, co-workers or just readers of her blog, but then complains when people don’t acknowledge how much pain she’s in. You just can’t win with this woman. It wouldn’t be too bad (I’ve certainly snapped at a few people during bad days), but she’s actually nasty to them.

However, roughly 5/6 of the way through the book, her attitude changes. She finally, finally accepts that pain is a part of her life and starts to moves on. I actually felt happy for her that her headache had begun to lessen because she became a much more likeable author.

At certain points, I did empathise with her and I’m sure that’s why so many people with chronic pain adored her book. Holier-than-thou attitude aside, she obviously does have a serious problem with pain and some of her expressions about dealing with a disease that nobody else can see are very apt.

It also amazed me that a force so overbearingly destructive and constantly present in my life could be invisible to others. I was stuck in some twisted version of The Emperor’s New Clothes in which I really did have some invisible clothes, only they were woven out of steel wool.

I enjoyed the book as a whole because she can write very, very well. There are parts where I actually giggled out loud, and that’s not normal with a pain memoir. I’m even tempted to take a look at her weight-loss memoir, just because I like the way she writes.

“All right, you were twenty-one. You were pulled over by the cops. You took Inderal. Six years later you were designing your webs. The headache returns. What changed?” He was talking more to himself than me, looking at the wall in front of him. His ponderings reminded me of a detective in a murder mystery. By the end of the appointment I expected to learn that the butler had caused my headache.

Her reports of the various treatments she tried are very thorough and very accessible to those who don’t have experience with medical treatments. She was went to accupuncturists, chiropractors, sinus-specialists and everything else you could think of, always promptly reporting back on her accompanying hopes and irritations. It never gets repetetive or boring and those parts make great reading.
I’ve done that thing again, where I slated a book I actually enjoyed. I’m sorry Jennette. I did like your book. I think my own perceptions and situation affecting my reading in a negative light, and that’s my own fault.

Note to self: do not read non-fiction due to argumentative nature.


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