Guest Post by Elizabeth Robin
“On the last morning of my first life,” are the words that haunt the second chapter of Katherine E. Standefer’s debut memoir, Lightning Flowers: My Journey to Uncover the Cost of Saving a Life. In her early twenties, Standefer is confronted with the ghosts of her past — a genetic heart defect hidden within her bloodline for generations (called Long QT syndrome) — and must now learn to navigate young adulthood while simultaneously trying to reconnect with her body which, she states, has “become a stranger.” This book is as much about the grief of a life-changing diagnosis as it is a biting criticism of the broken medical system housed under capitalism, which holds “inordinate power” over a vulnerable population. Standefer, who begins her Long QT journey uninsured, finds that she’s unable to afford the life-saving care that she needs without significant help from her family, friends, and charitable doctors; she writes that she “was paying in other ways” as by having to rearrange her life around her symptoms and medical appointments. As an activist, Standefer feels hesitant about getting a doctor-recommended defibrillator, which could be made from conflict metals. She is then forced to question if her life is worth more than those who work to mine the metal. Standefer’s work portrays the intense and complex feelings of having a chronic illness, and the desperation of an American bound to a broken system. However, there is hope and love found within these pages, too. Through this journey, Standefer grows closer with her family and her own sense of self. It serves as a reminder that there is “hard work that lies before us,” and it is our responsibility to change a broken system.
Lightning Flowers by Katherine E. Standefer. Little, Brown Spark, November 2020.
Reviewer bio: Elizabeth Robin is a student at Bridgewater State University and a teacher. She live in the Boston area with her partner and their two cats.