guest review and response illustration by Northwestern medical student Erika Cornell
I began this comic memoir with the bias that it would be primarily to provide entertainment. I blame partially the combination of the quirky simple line drawings and topic ripe with potential immature excrement-related humor for giving me this false initial impression, but I think it’s also one that many of us have about the comic medium in general. Although it does have touches of humor, particularly in the annotations of the more detailed drawings, that is not principally what this book is all about. This memoir focuses on the emotional and medical journey of having a badly understood, painful, and embarrassing disease. My overall impression is that while the author appreciates the healthy role that humor can play in coping, she is more concerned with portraying the actual experience of IBS, which is primarily terrible and devastating and not very funny at all. This is a stance that people with any chronic illness, or those close to someone who has, may likely appreciate.
Readers whose live have been affected by IBS could find this book helpful and medically informative. From a practical standpoint, pages such as “My IBS journey so far: a roadmap” help break down the treatments that she has tried either via highly researched medical opinion or just pure desperation, which anyone with IBS might find useful in sparing them the more unpleasant aspects of her journey. For the friends and family, she also gives a description of “The Perfect Friend/Spouse”, although also noting “Does this person exist? Of course not!” While slightly humorous, the description of this perfect friend also gives legitimately helpful suggestions for being supportive to a loved one with IBS. Some of the most helpful things to say are listed, in addition to the possibly non-intuitive tip that spontaneous plans, rather than advanced plans that might need to be canceled, are significantly preferable.
Perhaps what this comic memoir most excels at, however, is in bringing the reader along the emotional journey of IBS. As a future doctor in particular, it was valuable to be shown exactly how humiliating, painful or discouraging some of the IBS specific treatments and tests can be, and how badly they can be handled. I also was frequently struck by how universal some of her experience could be to anyone who has had a chronic illness, particularly one that currently has no good treatments or is still not completely understood. The second half of her list of “Random stuff I learned from these experiences” includes:
- I’m more comfortable talking to practitioners – still embarrassed talking to friends/relatives.
- The deflated feeling after each new trial fails is lousy.
- A lot of people would like to help, but cannot.
- Trying new stuff can become exhausting.
Passages like these stuck with me after closing the cover, and will hopefully also stick with anyone who has IBS or a similar disease. As the author puts on the back cover, she draws her comics “in the hope that other sufferers will know they are not alone.”