Gloria Parkinson decided
not to attend the American Medical Writers Association’s
annual convention in Louisville, Ky., this week, even though
she was to receive an award for a book on back pain she wrote
with a Boston rheumatologist.
She figured they’d send
the award in the mail as a rolled-up diploma-like item in a
tube. So she was a bit taken aback when a large white box
arrived at her Haskell Avenue home a few weeks ago. Inside was
the award — already mounted and framed.
64, and her co-author, Dr. Jeffrey N. Katz, won honorable
mention in the health care consumer category. There was one
first-place winner, the author of a book about vaccinations.
The association, formed in 1940, has more than 5,400 members
worldwide, including reporters, professors, and researchers.
Book awards are given each year in three categories, and an
award one year was given to well-known medical novelist and
filmmaker Michael Crichton.“I feel slightly humbled, because
like an Oscar (Academy Award) it’s from a jury of your peers,”
Ms. Parkinson said.Now her problem is where to hang the
plaque. She is a native of Liverpool, England, and her home is
very “British.” Books line the walls from floor to ceiling in
her front room — there are no televisions, radios or
computers, just big stuffed chairs and a few small tables.
Whatever wall space is left is covered with paintings and
antique photographs, two depicting people from Clinton.
The book, “Heal Your Aching
Back,” was published last February 2007 by McGraw-Hill. Dr.
Katz, an associate professor of medicine and orthopedic
surgery at Harvard Medical School, was paired with Ms.
Parkinson, a Harvard graduate and science writer, by the
director of Harvard’s Health Publications. Ms. Parkinson, who
has written several medical articles for Harvard, most
recently on allergies, said such collaborations between a
doctor or scientist and a professional writer are common in
medical writing. She worked with Dr. Katz previously on a
lengthy article on back pain, so the book was a natural
Mr. Parkinson said she was surprised to
learn that 80 percent of the U.S. population suffers back pain
at some point. And when she developed sciatica, a painful back
and leg condition probably triggered by roughhousing with a
new puppy, she was able to flip through her own book to find
out what to do.
“I found the exercises, and I was able
to know the timeline it would take,” she said.
245-page paperback deals with everything from the causes of
back pain, to treatment and pain relievers, to diagnoses and
anatomy of the spine, a chapter Ms. Parkinson said was
difficult to write for an average reader.
the one chapter everyone goes to look at,” she said. “I ended
up using a metaphor of an elevator system in a big top-notch
hotel. If anything is off, the whole system will be messed
The book, which has plenty of diagrams, charts
and exercise tips, devotes a chapter to complementary
therapies such as yoga, magnets, tai chi, acupuncture and
meditation. It also delivers a warning about some pitfalls and
dangers of chiropractic manipulation.
who, besides leading the recent effort for the town’s purchase
of the 60-acre Rauscher Farm for open space, is an elected
library trustee, said it took nine months to do the writing.
She would record talks with Dr. Katz, who is the
co-director of the Brigham Spine Center in Boston, about
information for the book, and write drafts that he would edit,
and Ms. Parkinson would rewrite in a way that would not sound
like a textbook.
“The doctor’s first job is to
educate. I’m the average reader in the beginning,” she said.
A thorough outline is always her first step, she said,
to keep a book flowing. Then she tries to weed out myths,
although she acknowledged that some are worth mentioning.
Describing herself as a “gregarious hermit,” Ms.
Parkinson said she deals with all of her activities — writing,
raising money for the farm, the library trustee post, and
performing in theater, another love — all in the same way.
“I like collaborating, but I have to be on my own at
some point. I am creative at something I believe will be
beneficial, that people will have the option to visit, or
read, or see the play. But it has to be something I believe
in,” she said.
In the book’s introduction, Dr. Katz
describes a back sprain he got in 1984, during a basketball
game. At the time, he hobbled around slowly for weeks because
of pain. He has since found out, and it’s in the book, that
the type of “garden variety back pain” he suffered responds
better to activity, and eventually takes care of itself in a
matter of weeks.
Dr. Katz also praises Ms. Parkinson
as an “exceptionally talented writer.”
“Permit me to
tell you that she is also dedicated, kind, witty, and
wonderfully good company,” he said in the acknowledgements.