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A Memoir Of Chronic Fatigue Illustrates The Failures Of Medical Research

Tuesday 11 July 2017


From The New Yorker:


In “Through the Shadowlands,” Julie Rehmeyer explores
an illness that, in her words, “science doesn’t understand.”
(Photograph by Richard Baker / Pictures Ltd. / Corbis / Getty)

A Memoir of Chronic Fatigue Illustrates the Failures of Medical Research

By Andrew Gelman
July 9, 2017
© 2017 Condé Nast. All rights reserved.

Fifteen years ago, Julie Rehmeyer was a science journalist leading an active, outdoorsy life in New Mexico. She ran marathons, biked regularly, and taught mathematics and classics at St. John’s College. Just outside Santa Fe, on a parcel of streamside land, she had even built her own house—a straw-bale construction shaded by ponderosas, meant for the family she hoped to have one day. Then, over a period of a few years, Rehmeyer lost most of her strength, endurance, and confidence, along with the ability to live a normal life. A bike ride left her bedridden. A trip to the grocery store found her using the shopping cart as a walker. At home, she could make it to her bedroom only by climbing the stairs backwards, scooting herself up a step at a time. By 2006, she was no longer able to exercise, and needed to rest whenever she wasn’t working.

Through the Shadowlands,” Rehmeyer’s new book, chronicles her struggles since then. She attempted years of conventional and alternative medicine, moved to a different state, broke up with her partner, and, finally, cobbled together a functional life. Her condition, which affects an estimated million other Americans, goes by various names—chronic fatigue syndrome, myalgic encephalomyelitis, and systemic exertion intolerance disease (S.E.I.D.), among others. (S.E.I.D. seems to me the most descriptive term, so I’ll use it here.) The Mayo Clinic defines it as “a complicated disorder characterized by extreme fatigue that can’t be explained by any underlying medical condition.”


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