Ross Douthat’s Self-Doctoring Was “Intensely Empirical”

(p. 12) The early chapters of “The Deep Places” unfold like the first act of a horror movie. Feeling the pull of home and burned out by life on Capitol Hill, Ross Douthat (a New York Times columnist) and his wife buy a 1790s farmhouse on three acres of Connecticut pasture.

. . .

Something is lurking in those woods. Back in D.C., Douthat has a swollen lymph node, a stiff neck and strange vibrations in his head and mouth. The urgent care doctor he sees first diagnoses him with a harmless boil. A few weeks later, he is in an emergency room at dawn with an alarming full-body shutdown, “as if someone had twisted dials randomly in all my systems.” The E.R. doctor suggests stress as the culprit — as do, in subsequent visits, an internist, neurologist, rheumatologist and gastroenterologist. A psychiatrist, his 11th doctor in 10 weeks, disagrees.

Only after Douthat completes his move north to Connecticut, namesake of Lyme disease, does it seem obvious to local doctors that he is suffering from something tick-borne.

. . .

He makes his case that tick-borne disease needs more research and its sufferers deserve more respect.

The trouble is that Douthat also wants to present his reckless journey as a road map. His revelation: “Given a stockpile of antibiotics, the array of over-the-counter medications available on Amazon and crowdsourced data from hundreds and thousands of Lyme sufferers sharing their experiences online, I could effectively become my own doctor, mixing and matching to gauge my body’s reaction to different combinations, like a Lyme researcher working on a study with a sample size, an ‘N,’ of only 1.”

This self-doctoring, he adds, “was in its own way intensely empirical and materially grounded — the most empirical work, in fact, that I have ever attempted in my life.” (Comparing this approach to Khakpour’s introspective memoir, I kept thinking of the couples-therapy trope that women prefer to talk through their problems while men leap to solve them.)

. . .

A subsequent bout of undiagnosed Covid-19, and scientists’ stumbles as they’ve worked to understand the new virus, have only hardened Douthat’s distrust of institutions like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration. “From the beginning of the pandemic to its still unfinished end,” he writes, “there were weirdos on the internet who were more reliable guides to what was happening, what was possible, and what should actually be done than Anthony Fauci or any other official information source.”

For the full review, see:

Sara Austin. “Darkness Invisible.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, November 28, 2021): 12.

(Note: ellipses, added; italics, in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the Updated Oct. 30, 2021, and has the title “A Transporting and Cozy Biography of a Pottery Pioneer.”)

The book under review is:

Douthat, Ross. The Deep Places: A Memoir of Illness and Discovery. New York: Convergent Books, 2021.

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