A few months ago, my aunt passed away after a long battle with chronic back problems. When I was cleaning out her house, I found a paperback copy of Amy Silverstein's memoir, Sick Girl, on her nightstand. I'm not sure if the book was a gift or something that she purchased as a way to help her through her own health issues. It may have come her way, because like Silverstein, my uncle spent most of his life battling heart failure. She may have wanted to read it to connect to him. She may have just bought it because Oprah said so. My aunt was a sucker for all things recommended by Oprah.
Amy Silverstein was in her early twenties, attending a prestigious law school, when her life was turned upside down. Silverstein was diagnosed with congestive heart failure, initially thought to be related to a virus, but later doctors discovered that she had been born with a heart defect. Silverstein's memoir details her heart transplant and the day-to-day struggles of living as an organ donor recipient.
Silverstein is candid with her wish to die and her outbursts at doctors. It's a tough read. I wish that I had read this book, while I was caring for my aunt. I felt like it gave me a great insight to what it would be like to live with a chronic illness and I could see a lot of the more difficult and ugly moments that I had with my aunt, parallel in Silverstein's story. This made for an often emotional read. I think if I had read this book while my aunt was still alive, I may not have engaged her in so many arguments and I may have been more understanding when she needed to vent or have emotional break-downs.
On the flip side, seeing so many parallels with my aunt, made me feel a bit of resentment towards Silverstein, especially when her stubbornness made life more difficult on her family and doctors. I understand that the willfulness comes from a loss of control, but it's still really irritating and stressful to read those scenes and know that my aunt exhibited a lot of the same behavior.
Silverstein was simply not likable, even though I had compassion for her situation. I think that her willingness to write her memoir honestly, even though it made her difficult to like, is something to admire. She could have very easily left out the parts that showed her in an unfavorable light.
Sick Girl is a must read if you have family or friends going through an illness. I gained a great deal of perspective, that I only wish I had gained sooner.