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  • Sick: A Memoir by Porochista Khakpour
  • Maggie Bridger (bio)
Porochista Khakpour,Sick: A Memoir. New York: HarperCollins, 2018. Paperback.
ISBN 978-0-06-242873-8. $15.99. 258 pp.

Sick: A Memoir opens with a brief author’s note foreshadowing one of the primary themes of the book: the unknowns of living with Lyme disease. Author Porochista Khakpour outlines the basic medical facts, if they can indeed be called facts, of Lyme, which she still does not know for sure when she contracted. She describes the stages of Lyme, the tests one takes to determine whether they have it, associated tick-transmitted bacteria that might indicate Lyme disease, and other contributing, complicating factors (1–3). With this introduction to her memoir about her years spent in search of a diagnosis, Khakpour examines how the unknowns of disease play out medically, financially, interpersonally, and in her body, saying, “The hardest part of living with Lyme disease for me has always been the lack of concrete ‘knowns’ and how much they tend to morph and blur over the years, with the medical community and public perception and even within my own body” (1).

Khakpour continues this focus on her body and its unknowns throughout Sick, which is her third published book and her first work of non-fiction. Her story begins at the end with her survival of a head-on collision on her way home to Harlem from teaching at Bard College in upstate New York in 2016. Out of commission with injuries from the accident, on top of symptoms that indicate a relapse of Lyme disease, we get the first glimpses of how the unknowability of Lyme results in unpredictable reactions from medical professionals and the people she encounters on a daily basis, and how her other identities as an Iranian refugee who self-identifies as a drug addict interact with her status as a person with Lyme (8–26).

Khakpour explains the various factors that led to her driving that day instead of taking the train/cab combination that had become her usual routine as the psychiatric symptoms, which often signal the onset of a Lyme relapse for Khakpour, worsened in the wake of the 2016 Paris attacks and heightened cultural anxiety and tension around Muslim people in the United States. She identifies multiple factors as reasons for preferring a solitary drive with just the company of her dog, Cosmo. Two of these are strange encounters during her [End Page 263] last commute, one with the train station ticket desk worker who begins to cry after Khakpour discloses that Lyme is the reason she walks with a cane, and the second with her usual cab driver who tells her that he is using drugs again and offers her some, knowing that she is a recovering addict (12–16).

Khakpour details the accident and her long wait for an ambulance that she then did not take because they refused to take Cosmo, suggesting that she release him into the nearby woods. Refusing to do this, Khakpour says she will call a tow truck and the police make her promise to get checked out when she gets back to the city. After a racially charged drive with the tow truck driver back to her home—he does her the favor of dropping her off right at home, saying, “you’re a good rep for your people, we need more of that. Especially after what just happened in France, you know?” (19–20)—Khakpour falls asleep on her couch, rather than going straight to the emergency room, in denial about both how badly she was injured and the severity of her Lyme relapse.

The writing in this section makes it unclear which symptoms are the result of her injuries from the accident and which indicate the onset of a Lyme relapse, a choice that Khakpour makes throughout the book. Are the bodily tremors that she experienced as a child, for instance, a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder from her early experiences as a refugee, the result of growing up in a tense household with parents often fighting loudly in the other room, or, as her mother suggests, the result...

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