Review by Kim Loomis-Bennett
I depend on books to find answers whenever I face a tough time in my life. I find myself wishing I’d read Carla Ulbrich’s medical memoir several years ago when I began dealing with a complex of health issues. In How Can You NOT Laugh at a Time Like This? Carla, also known as The Singing Patient, outlines realistic coping strategies and supportive advice along with anecdotes of how she deals with several autoimmune diseases. Her unique approach is sincere and instructive.
The subtitle of Ulbrich’s memoir, “Reclaim Your Health with Humor, Creativity, and Grit,” promises readers that they will find ways to face up to their illnesses. Does Ulbrich’s promise hold true? Absolutely. Brief chapters with clever titles, such as, “You Can Biopsy Me When I’m Dead: My Ten Least-Favorite Medical Procedures,” and “Wax On, Wax off, Wax Philosophical,” keeps the mood light while Ulbrich details her management of Lupus, an autoimmune disease that attacks vital organs. Because the chapters are short, Ulbrich does not beleaguer her fate. She tells you what she faced, and how she dealt with it. She demonstrates for readers a way they might face the tough physical and psychological consequences of the body going a muck. Ulbrich turned to songwriting as a strategy to stave off the often demoralizing and humiliating aspects of autoimmune disorders. Her alter ego, The Singing Patient, is a woman who sings about her troubles by poking fun at them – singing, instead of wallowing in fear and pain.
Ulbrich shares advice and information with a genuine desire to help others learn from her trials and errors as a patient. Is she a Pollyanna? Is she always positive and is her health perfect? No, and she doesn’t claim to wear a perpetual smile or be cured. Ulbrich only professes that with humor and ingenuity readers in the same situation as she is can find ways to persevere and be brave; humor and music are Ulbrich’s secret weapons.
The only downside to an otherwise flawless memoir is the flatness of the song lyrics in print. The lyrics require music for their humorous effect. Included are suggestions to what well known songs the lyrics accompany, but the memoir might benefit from an accompanying CD or a stronger suggestion to visit her website, www.thesingingpatient.com, where readers can listen to the songs or see some of them performed. Carla Ulbrich earned the right to tell her story, and this authority wrapped in friendly humor makes her medical memoir that most accessible one that I have ever read.
Who should read How Can You NOT Laugh at a Time Like This? Individuals who are newly diagnosed with chronic illnesses and need guidance for dealing with a life changing diagnosis will find hope and inspiration in Ulbrich’s story and approach.
Star Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Kim Loomis Bennett is a life-long resident of Washington state, besides a detour into Oregon where she met her husband. Her poems and book reviews have appeared in The November 3rd Club, The Copperfield Review, Poet’s Quarterly and Hippocampus Magazine. Recent work is included in The Prose-Poem Project and The Far Field. She has served as poetry editor for River and South Review. Kim also teaches part-time at Centralia College. She has an MFA from Wilkes University. Her work, Soiled Doves: A Poetic Sequence, published in 2011, is available as an ebook.