My Foreign Cities is not about inflammatory bowel disease, but it is about illness — and also love and hope. In the book, author Elizabeth Scarboro remembers her sweetheart and husband, a man who had cystic fibrosis. It is an excellent book for people struggling to love — or be loved — despite a serious disease.
The story starts in high school, when Scarboro begins dating a boy named Stephen Evans, who has cystic fibrosis. Initially, it’s not such a bad thing: he has coughing fits, and takes enzymes with his meals, but that’s about it. They graduate, go to different colleges, move in together, get married, and all the while Stephen’s CF is getting worse.
Scarboro is careful to point out that this story isn’t just about Stephen: it’s about her, Stephen, and CF, and the relationship among the three. That deliberate focus saves her from trying to make too much (or too little) of Stephen’s life. The story she tells is loving, trying, and surprisingly joyful.
As a patient with IBD, I nonetheless identify strongly with Stephen’s illness and his reactions to it. The bit about the collapsed lung, where Stephen wants to put off going to the hospital — that’s me and stomach pain. When Stephen gets a transplant, and wants to keep his old lungs, or at least see them — that’s me with my colon. Scarboro writes, “I remember the transplant support group, everyone so angry about Prednisone, blaming it for all kinds of crazy moods, including anger.” And yes, I’ve been there, too.
Scarboro also does an excellent job of conveying the horror of hospitals. At one point, Stephen gets stuck in a hospital, and she tries to make plans for when he gets out. Stephen tells her to stop. “The apartment, the park, the fucking arboretum. I can’t remember what anything outside looks like. You’re making it worse, talking about it.” Ugh — yes.
The book is not, of course, just about Stephen — but because I could identify so strongly with Stephen, My Foreign Cities helped me understand how I must look to loved ones. Scarboro spends a lot of time writing about her own struggles, her depression, and her fights with Stephen, and it is all helpful. Having had some of those same fights, her book helps me see the other side, why my caregiver sees things the way she does. Scarboro is such a fluent writer that even the bad bits have a beauty in her telling.
Scarboro has told a powerful story of life and love with illness, a book that will help patients and especially their loved ones.
Elizabeth Scarboro – My Foreign Cities. (Norton, 2013)