My Leaky Body / Julie Devaney
Frederiction, NB: Goose Lane, c2013.
This read was something I hadn't really considered picking up when I first heard of it, but I had a copy handy so started browsing it. Then I quickly found myself turning to page 1 and reading without ceasing.
It's a combination of memoir/social commentary on illness and the experience of chronic patients in the Canadian health care system. And it is powerful. Devaney relates how she was seriously ill for a long time until finally being diagnosed with colitis. She reveals the condescension and attitude she experienced as a young woman who dared to challenge the opinions of doctors and nurses, and the way that her own experience of pain was ignored or minimized by the "system".
During all of the initial flare ups of her illness, she was also a grad student and a social activist. Through her story she also shares the ways in which academia dismissed her illness as laziness, a stress response, or simply attention seeking. There were no accommodations made to allow for her physical limitations, despite the fact that her academic work was still excellent.
But rather than simply complaining, Devaney decided to do something about it. She created a play and a workshop to sensitize health workers to the needs of patients, to really personalize the individual who is being treated. She's written this book to bring the lived experience of chronic, serious illness and its accompanying pain to a wider audience. I think she's been successful at sharing the facts of illness and how it shapes a life, a lesson that many of us have not had to suffer through.
This book is very well-written, with humour and pathos and extremely open and graphic descriptions of her "leaky body". Not for the squeamish... She is sharing a critical time in her very full life, as a student, as a wife, a daughter, an activist, and a patient. Remembering that patients are more than just patients is a key message -- they are people with a full life of concerns and relationships which also affect their experience of illness and healing.
Anyone who is interested or involved in health care must read this. For me, it was reading out of my usual purview but was eye-opening and compelling.