"Saving Meghan" by DJ Palmer
When I became pregnant with my first son, quite unintentionally, it all seemed easy.
Hypothetical, even, until he was placed into my arms, a living, breathing child that I could only believe had actually come from my body.
My second son was… quite different.
My second pregnancy was more than intentional.
It was planned with military precision.
But, almost before I could luxuriate in the green olive and chocolate milk cravings that had accompanied this pregnancy, like the last, I was met with concern.
First, a vanishing twin.
Second, a failed quad screen, suggesting that the baby I carried had a greater than 1 in 6 chance of having Down’s syndrome.
Thanks to the presence of the vanishing twin, the cell-free DNA test, a simple, uninvasive, blood test, would prove useless in ensuring the health of the embryo that I hoped to carry to term. Instead, I had to undergo an invasive and antiquated amnio.
When this test showed, to my unabashed delight, that the healthy development of the baby I carried wouldn’t be hindered by Down’s Syndrome, a new issue reared its ugly head, Intrauterine Growth Restriction (IUGR) a disorder in which the baby simply isn’t growing at the rate you would expect, resulting in a painfully significant increase in the likelihood of stillbirth.
Ready to tackle this challenge – as if I had a choice if I wanted to provide my first son with something I never had, a sibling – I underwent weekly ultrasounds in which the blood flow through the umbilical cord was measured to ensure that the baby, though small, was healthy.
And, as if this wasn’t stressful enough, I was cautioned to monitor my kick-counts rigorously, quantifying the baby’s movements multiple times a day and, if he proved sluggish or tired, prompting his kicks with orange juice or chocolate milk or any other sugary potable.
Needless to say, when my second son was welcomed into the world, falling into the waiting arms of his doting father, I was delighted that, despite being only a scrawny 4lbs 10oz at 37 weeks gestation, he was healthy.
Given this experience, I find it… difficult… to understand Munchausen’s syndrome by proxy, a disorder in which a parent induces illness in a child in a bid for attention. I probably find this… unfathomable… because, throughout my medical struggles, I kept my issues largely to myself.
I, unlike the suffers of this disorder, absolutely loathe attention.
And, while I hoped beyond hope that my seemingly dire situation would work out to my advantage, I did not believe for one minute that any amount of Facebook-based prayers would sway the balance in any meaningful way.
But I am me.
Insular, potentially to a fault.
But, as I am one to say more often than you would expect, we are the sum of our experiences.
And the numerals that make up the formula of my life differ significantly from those that, when calculated result in Becky, the protagonist of Saving Meghan, by DJ Palmer.
Becky’s primary role in life is that of mother. Though she likely aspired to something more, at one time at least, the perpetual illness of her now teenaged daughter Meghan required her almost constant attention.
Though she was healthy enough when she got her start in life – something that delighted Becky, as her first child, a son named Sammy, died of SIDS just a few weeks into his life – Meghan has since developed an as of yet undiagnosed illness.
Becky, bolstered in her determination by the memory of her first loss, will do absolutely anything to:
(1) Find out what’s wrong with Meghan
(2) Find a cure
But Meghan’s symptoms aren’t simple.
And they aren’t consistent.
Her health wanes and ebbs and she exhibits an array of varied medical issues that can’t easily be attributed to just one disorder.
But Becky is undaunted.
Though her husband, Carl, simply can’t quite understand her dogged determination to find out what’s wrong with their daughter, Becky dedicates every waking minute to this quest. She sets up Facebook pages, forms relationships with doctor after doctor, and does her own independent research into a lengthy list of medical issues that could be to blame for Meghan’s malady.
Given her singular focus on this quest and Carl’s perennial disinterest in it, Becky is surprised when he suggests a potential culprit – mitochondrial disorder.
Shocked that she didn’t discover this disorder on her own, but excited at the possibility of finally knowing why Meghan suffers as acutely as she does, Becky agrees to take Meghan to a new doctor. One who specializes in this disorder about which the medical profession currently knows little.
Having lost his own son to the disorder, Dr. Fisher is just as determined to sniff out the issue in his patients – as to allow them to begin an experimental treatment that will hopefully prolong their lives – as Becky is to receive an official, definitive diagnosis for her daughter.
Unfortunately, however, Meghan has developed a serious needle phobia – thanks in part to the years of testing to which Becky has subjected her. Because her phobia is so severe, Dr. Fisher can’t perform the best possible test for Mitochondrial disorder – or mito – and must, instead, rely on some less definitive metrics.
So, when he does diagnose Meghan with mito, it’s not with certainty, but, instead, with hope.
Becky understandably latches on to this diagnosis and, with Dr. Fisher’s support, puts her on a cocktail designed to inhibit the progress of this disease.
But, before Becky even has time to celebrate, a new issue presents itself. Meghan starts suffering severe gastrointestinal distress – an issue not known to be related to Mito.
This calls Dr. Fisher’s diagnosis into question. And, when Becky takes Meghan to yet another doctor – Dr. Amanda Nash, a gastroenterologist – something else gets called into question as well – Becky herself.
Becky, Dr. Nash proposes, suffers from Munchausen’s Syndrome by proxy and has been causing Meghan’s medical issues for years now.
Acting quickly, Dr. Nash works with the department of children and family services to have Meghan pulled from the custody of her parents and isolated from her mother as to ensure that Becky can inflict no more harm on her daughter.
This turns Becky’s world upside down. Not only has she lost her second child, she now stands accused of causing harm to Meghan. Something she insists she would never do.
Or would she?
With rich characterization and accurate medical drama – I can only assume, because the closest I have come to practicing medicine is binge-watching ER – this novel was initially engaging.
Palmer did a wonderful job of building and maintaining an unreliable narrator.
By first crafting a rich past for Becky and then shrewdly dolling out bits of it throughout the novel, he successfully planted the seeds of doubt in his readers. This left us torn. Uncertain whether we should feel sympathy for, or instead censure, Becky.
As I read, rapidly approaching the end, I wondered if he would ever provide a definitive answer as to her culpability or if he would instead, rather bravely in my opinion, leave it open to individual reader interpretation.
My issues with this book arose when this lingering question was answered – when Palmer took a stance and gave us that conclusive answer that I hoped he would eschew providing.
Ultimately, not only did he provide an answer, he wove a twisty narrative that was, in my opinion, farfetched to the point of absurdity.
As I finished the novel – and my third glass of wine – I wondered to myself whether what he had proposed would even be possible.
And, in the light of day — and with thinking no longer inhibited by alcohol — I have to say it would be possible… theoretically.
But it would be so profoundly unlikely, so improbable, so implausible, that I simply do not understand how it could sit well with any reader.
Sadly this novel, which started out strong, like so many before it – and, unfortunately, like so many likely to come – fell victim to an utterly shitty ending.
In this case, though, it wasn’t just your everyday, average level of shitty ending.
It was seriously, one of this shittiest endings I have ever encountered.
All factors considered, this one limps away with 2 out of 5 cocktails.
Am I being too harsh? If you read this one, tell me your opinion in the comments, below.
Annnnnddddddddd…. Moving on. To bigger, bright, (hopefully) better reads. Want to see what’s up next on my TBR? Follow me, here.