On Sonya Huber’s ‘Pain Woman Takes Your Keys and Other Essays from a Nervous System’

Huber’s essays are necessary and important for the current health care system and political times.

Sonya Huber
Nonfiction | Essays
204 pages
5.5” x 8.5”
Perfectbound Trade Paperback
Also available in eBook formats
Review Format: Paperback
ISBN 978–0803299917
First Edition
University of Nebraska Press
Lincoln, Nebraska, USA
Available HERE

How is pain measured? Quantified? Synonymized? Justified? Treated? In Pain Woman Takes Your Keys and Other Essays from a Nervous System, Sonya Huber delves deep into the shadowy darkness caused by living with chronic, yet often invisible, pain. The essays are organized into thematically connected sections, each revealing a previously unconsidered limitation, frustration, and cost associated with pain.

This isn’t a book that just describes pain or just seeks out the best treatment or just provides commentary about the bureaucratic health care system or just questions why women’s pain is overlooked or downplayed by physicians. This book does all of those things and more.

In “The Alphabet of Pain,” Huber negotiates a health care system that starts with an ongoing debate with her employer regarding those who use what they consider to be too much coverage. There is an underlying tone of guilt and vulnerability in this essay that is met with health care research and how women’s pain is perceived by the public-at-large.

“The majority of chronic pain patients are women, and the medical establishments seem to have a hard time hearing or treating them. Instead many of these patients inhabit a spectrum of desperation. They have nervous systems that have been turned on in a very bad way, and they can’t find the off switch. Our health-care system is very bad at treating chronic pain, and that affects everyone.”
(p 21)

Huber acknowledges the invisibility of her disability as not just a physical limitation but the impact it has on her emotional and mental state, as well. Pain patients who are perceived as erratic or “crazy” are turned away and left screaming out their frustrations in the parking lot. Colleagues who need to pull out the sticker-covered cane from the back of the closet every few months are given a wide berth at building entrances, met with well-meaning but rushed inquiries, or entirely ignored.

The title essay, “Pain Woman Takes Your Keys,” reveals the persona who has emerged after more than five years of living with chronic, and often debilitating, pain.

“Pain Woman has a different voice. She has a kind messianic confidence that I do have in my normal writing or even in my normal living, and this is the most shocking thing. The ‘me’ I know or have inhabited most of my life is so ready to apologize for my point of view. I come at my writing sidelong, Midwestern, nerd-female, postbullying, still gun-shy of ever saying something directly.
Pain Woman gives no shits.”
(p 101)

It becomes apparent in this collection that Pain Woman’s and Huber’s voices intertwine, mingle, and dance on the page to the tune of inquisitive and poetic prose, empathy for self and others, and gumption. Pain Woman Takes Your Keys is a necessary and important book for the current health care system and political times, with a projected longevity that will endure, much as Huber herself has endured.