Patient, the true story of a rare illness – An amazing book by Ben Watt
(Grove Press, New York ISBN 0-8021-3583-8)
In the summer of 1992, on the eve of an American tour, Ben Watt, one half of the Billboard-topping pop duo Everything But The Girl, was taken to a London hospital complaining of chest pain. He was told: “You are either in the middle of a long, slow heart attack, or you are about to have a massive one”. But it wasn’t a heart attack and his doctors were puzzled. His eosinophil count was raised and the pain changed to abdominal cramps. He didn’t leave the hospital for two and a half months. Watt had developed Churg-Strauss Syndrome. He was 29 years old at the time.
By the time he was allowed home, his ravaged body was forty-six pounds lighter and he was missing most of his small intestine. He wrote a book about his experiences: “Patient, the true story of a rare illness, that was first published in 1996. It’s written in a lyrical style without self-pity and is never sentimental. It contains his observations about what severe illness really is and about his struggle with both the mental as well as the physical difficulties of recovery. Watt injects pathos and humour into his medical nightmare, writing about his childhood, reflecting on his family and on his shared life with band member and partner Tracey Horn. The result is a provocative and affecting memoir about life, illness and survival. The most powerful images in the book are the descriptions of the things that go on around him in the hospital and how he and his family and friends deal with the illness.
His recovery took a long time and as Watt wrote “to paraphrase Joseph Heller: You know it’s something serious when they name it after two guys”…
In interviews Watt pointed out that writing the book was a way of dealing with his illness. It helped him to explain the emotional trauma that he was going through at the time and how turning his thoughts into words was crucial to his recovery. One of the new additions to his post-illness life was an interest in and an engagement with technology. This affected the band’s music and he began to work more with sequencers and computers in his compositions. Their music changed from jazz-pop to techno deep house and Watt made a successful transition into the world of techno-club music, working as an international DJ. In 1998 he established the deep house Sunday Club Lazy Dog in London and in 2003 he started an independent record label Buzzin’ Fly. He lives with his family (Tracey Horn and their three children) in London.
His book provides an insight into the life of patients, relatives, hospital life and how trauma can force a person to change. What kept me reading was mostly his view of himself going through all this. You will be touched by his story.