The Lady’s Handbook for Her Mysterious Illness: A Memoir by Sarah Ramey - review by Mia Levitin

Mia Levitin

What Ails?

The Lady’s Handbook for Her Mysterious Illness: A Memoir


Fleet 432pp £18.99 order from our bookshop

‘Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick,’ wrote Susan Sontag in Illness as Metaphor. While each of us will visit the kingdom of the sick, some will unfortunately endure extended stays.

Sarah Ramey, a musician who performs under the name of Wolf Larsen, suffered a decade-long saga of illness, beginning with a urinary tract infection, caught in Walden Pond, in her last year at university. When the infection did not respond to antibiotics, Ramey was launched into a mindboggling succession of misdiagnoses and mistreatments. The first intervention, billed as a simple in-patient procedure by a pre-eminent urologist, sent Ramey to A&E with sepsis a few hours later. Her health deteriorated following this traumatic episode, which left her with debilitating spinal, abdominal, ovarian, vaginal and bladder pain.

The book follows Ramey’s rollercoaster ride, as rising hopes at each diagnosis rapidly give way to despair. She is repeatedly told by doctors that her symptoms are ‘all in her head’ and prescribed antidepressants. It’s no comfort that she’s in good company. ‘At a very low estimate’, writes Ramey, one

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