Book Review: The Deep Places – A Memoir of Chronic Illness & Discovery by Ross Douthat

On the day his wife announced she was pregnant with their third child, Ross Douthat found a swelling on his neck, six inches down from his left ear. Ross and Abby were in the prime of their lives, a happy couple with established careers and a couple of kids. And to put icing on their cake they had just purchased their forever home. They had grown tired of the hustle of Washington DC and would be moving to Connecticut, to a bigger home with a large plot of land.

Connecticut, the state where modern Lyme disease was first encountered. And the state where they had both grown up and were excited to be returning to.

While Abby dealt with work, morning sickness and two children under six, Ross’s attention was diverted to a round of doctors, specialists, hospital visits, tests, and scans. “It’s a boil,” the first doctor said. “Drink some Gatorade…. For the electrolytes,” one neurologist said. “Stress,” was the most common response when test after test showed nothing wrong. Meanwhile, Ross’s symptoms grew more varied, painful, and alarming.

And so, it began.

“The Deep Places” is a modern-day tale of one man’s clash with Lyme disease, articulated with vulnerability and just the right amount of wit. But it is more than an account of his own health journey. The book is particularly insightful, but also intelligent and well-written (as it should be, given Douthat is a writer by trade). His history as a sceptic of “alternative” medicine and childhood with a mother debilitated by chronic illness, has given him an interesting lens through which to view his new situation.

“If I had crossed the border into illness, it had to be temporary, it was a mistake, an accident, a passport problem. And I simply had to find the quickest way back out.”

Ross reflects on the history of Lyme disease, the controversy and “conspiracy” theories that surround it, but also on life with chronic illness and his feelings around being a Lyme diseased dad. As the family’s new life in Connecticut moves forward, he shares with the reader his experiences with a multitude of doctors, treatments, healing modalities, and his new best friend, the Rife machine. Try as he might to maintain his sanity and keep up a level of “normal,” cracks eventually begin to appear in Ross’s romantic vision for his life and family’s future.

This book is so contemporary that it includes a discussion around the Covid-19 pandemic and the lack of reliable information available about it, particularly in its initial stages. And he is qualified to comment, having spent time in Wuhan in late 2019 and having suffered the virus himself, along with his wife and other members of his family. Plus, Douthat is not just an author, he is a political analyst.

“If you take all these Covid-era tendencies, and imagined them applied to debate over a more shadowy disease, one that incapacitates but rarely kills, whose spread has happened slowly without glaring headlines and immense political pressure to do something in response, well, then you’ve imagined the flawed medical system, the institutional science that has helped the Lyme epidemic keep burning to this day.”

If you have ever wondered what it might be like to have Lyme when you live in Connecticut, where Lyme is commonly diagnosed and treated, this is a book for you. And if you want to find out how it all turned out, if Ross triumphed over Lyme, kept his career afloat and was able to sustain his Connecticut dream life, you will have to read the book!

The Deep Places is available for purchase at all the usual outlets, or ask for it at your local library.