Did you know I am an avid reader? I’ve been escaping into dystopian and sci-fi type novels, but suddenly I was in the mood for a book with a chronically ill protagonist. I’ve been in a bit of a funk and I thought a narrator who voices my thoughts, who lives life the way I do (rather than protagonists who take down evil leaders of dystopian societies with their seemingly boundless energy, good health, and endurance), would be comforting. I looked through lists on Goodreads and didn’t find a book quite fitting my mood. Through dumb luck, I came across a book called The Moonlight Sonata at the Mayo Clinic by Nora Gallagher on my library’s website for physical books (versus e-book versions) which I rarely visit. I read the synopsis of the memoir — a woman with a mystery illness goes to doctor after doctor looking for answers (!!) — read a few reviews, read the first few preview pages, and promptly became unsure if I would survive standing by for a physical copy of this book. An executive decision was made; the Kindle version of this book was worth my precious “treat yo self” birthday money. I do not take purchasing a book rather than using the library lightly.
Her descriptions so far are perfect. I had to stop reading, plug in my Kindle, and load the marked excerpts here to share with everyone. Given what a day I have had, this amount of effort is telling of how profound I found these excerpts.
I dropped out of the world I lived in, where I thought I knew about disease and vulnerability and death and all that, and entered another country. It was a spookily familiar world, same streets, same buildings, same people—a sci-fi version of my streets, my buildings, my people—but it was as if the furniture were slightly rearranged, the people not quite right. It was not like another place; it was another country. It was like falling into Oz. I walked right over the border without knowing I was crossing it. It had no border patrol. I did no planning. I had no map. Dr. Lowe handed me the passport. I had it in my hands before I knew what it was.
When I read the above, I actually said, “Yes!” Everything is just as it always was, but it is all slightly skewed and different. I totally recognize this life I am living as my own… yet it is still unfamiliar after all these years of illness.
I crossed Bath Street, parallel to Santa Barbara’s hospital, and headed toward Castillo Street. I was careful to use the crosswalk. I felt the nearness of my own life, its centrality, its concreteness. Even then, early in my sojourn, in what I hoped was only a visit, not my destination, what was brought home to me was that I had taken my life for granted. A group of doctors in white coats was coming toward me, one eating a sandwich, another carrying a folder; a middle-aged woman was talking on her cell phone—all of them just walking dully along as if their lives were not fragile. As if their lives were balloons … not a huge raft that had to be lugged along the sidewalk, a large body not possible to ignore because it … had … something … wrong … with … it. The raft is me. I am it. They are all walking around, nurses, doctors, visitors, on this block, and all over the world, as if their bodies were clothes or whatever, … They are—here is the right word—oblivious.
When you become ill, you notice aspects of life healthy people do not think about. People stand and talk as long as they’d like, not once squatting down during the conversation or glancing around desperately for a chair. People eat huge meals, stuffing themselves to the point of uncomfortable fullness, but afterwards, there is no fainting due to the extra blood our stomachs require after eating and there is no doubt their stomach will digest said food. People are busy, busy, busy all day long on a Saturday, not even realizing how astounding it is they will wake up the next day fairly reinvigorated, and by Monday, it’ll be like it never happened.
I had been there, not knowing that this was my creed, until ten minutes ago. The sick? Not me. The dying? Never. I had thought I knew. I’d had the flu. I’d had a cold. But these were not enough to dump me into Oz. Because I knew that eventually I’d get well. My time in the land of the sick had always been so short, it was like a layover. I saw Thailand but only from the airport. To pass into this place, you have to not know whether you are going to get out.
Comforting doesn’t even begin to describe how it feels to have a perfect stranger articulately voice thoughts I’ve had so often myself. It immediately cheered me up. I hope my sharing these excerpts provides someone else with this feeling of connection and validation, or maybe if you aren’t sick, it will provide insight.
Since originally writing this post, I have finished the book. I still love it. I found the author’s journey to identify the “mystery disease” absolutely riveting because I could relate to so many of the hoops she had to jump through. Would I have found it riveting if I wasn’t going through something similar? I can’t answer since I don’t know what that feels like! The narrative wasn’t all doom and gloom, but it wasn’t all sunshine and butterflies either; it was real. I found the parts of the book devoted to history of religion a bit confusing at first, but they do get tied in beautifully. As someone who wouldn’t call herself religious, I didn’t find the parts about religion off-putting or difficult to relate to.
I would definitely recommend this book if the subject matter is of interest to the reader!