Author: Susan MacLeod
Publish Date: October 2021
Publisher: Conundrum Press
Catalog ID: ISBN: 978-1772620610
Author website: https://www.susanmacleod.ca/
by Ameena Batada
Susan MacLeod’s Dying for Attention: A Graphic Memoir of Nursing Home Care takes readers on a personal-professional odyssey that only someone with MacLeod’s combination of experience and expertise could know and share in this way. MacLeod, an artist since she was young, intertwines her personal family journey with professional knowledge about institutional public health and communication in this playful and comic memoir.
MacLeod focuses on her challenges as the primary caregiver obtaining quality nursing home care for her mother in Canada, an increasingly common scenario for adults in the “sandwich” (between parents and children) generation. According to Statistics Canada, approximately 8% of people 65 years and older live in collective dwellings, such as residences for senior citizens or health care and related facilities, and the proportion of people who are 65 years and older continues to rise, from about 18% in 2021 to 23% in 2043. MacLeod’s memoir is relatable, revealing deep insecurities, problematic parental and sibling history and dynamics, and work-life tensions that influence how she manages her current situation.
Not only is MacLeod’s story personally touching and illustrative, her commentary on the systems that contribute to overworked nursing home employees and that undermine care in nursing homes is illuminating. This is where, as a reader who is a public health professional, I realized the wide appeal of this memoir; institutional and governmental decision makers also may relate, and gain insight from the mirror she holds.
MacLeod engages the reader with straight-forward line drawings and text that often highlight the dismay and the humor of painful situations. And then there are her occasional full-page illustrations, which are revelatory; take for example one entitled “Solar Systems of Soiled Underwear Denial [page 68].” Even professional expert information is adeptly integrated in the form of “pop-up” advisors who impart dream-like wisdom just when she seems to need it.
When I picked up this book at our public library I couldn’t have imagined a better way to capture such a complex and important issue in a storytelling format. As my own parents enter the age of my wondering about their care, and as the number of Canadians requiring long-term care continues to increase (by 60% from 2021 to 2031, according to a study commissioned by the Canadian Medical Association), reading this graphic memoir could be just what we all need.
Ameena Batada is a professor of public health at the University of North Carolina Asheville.