Quill and Quire

Canada's magazine of book news and reviews

My Leaky Body: Tales from the Gurney

by Julie Devaney

Part memoir, part manifesto, Julie Devaney’s profoundly honest new book should be required reading for anyone who may ever have to visit a hospital – which means, in effect, everyone. The book details Devaney’s painful experiences negotiating the Canadian health-care system before and after being diagnosed with two serious gastrointestinal conditions. While she starts her journey feeling deeply victimized, Devaney’s experiences inspire her to take action to help others, including the very health-care professionals at whose hands she has suffered.

As the book opens, the author finds herself in a Vancouver emergency room after having 12 bloody bowel movements over the previous 16 hours. Instead of receiving assistance and understanding, she is introduced to a medical establishment that is not only insensitive and unsympathetic, but overworked, understaffed, and trained to treat illness and health as if they involve disembodied organs rather than whole people.

In her early twenties at the time, Devaney struggled to put herself through grad school and get answers about her condition despite years of near-constant, debilitating pain and repeated dehumanizing treatments, which she describes in great detail. She is diagnosed with ulcerative colitis (an inflammatory bowel disease), undergoes elaborate but frequently ineffective regimens of pills and enemas, has her entire large intestine removed, and is eventually re-diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, which has no known cure.

The author portrays herself as neither martyr nor saint. Devaney spent years submitting to countless doctors roughly probing her anus, often appearing not to care how much they hurt her. It’s no wonder she frequently became angry, neurotic, insecure, and paranoid – in other words, vulnerable and human. Indeed, she argues, mutual respect and consideration are key components that often go missing from many doctor/patient exchanges. And that’s something she now works to change through a series of workshops with health-care professionals and a one-woman stage show.

Ultimately, My Leaky Body is a story of transformation. Devaney initially experiences her illness and recovery as deeply isolating, pitting her against uncontrollable institutional forces. As she learns the various ways she can exercise greater self-determination, her desire and capacity to empower others is heightened. The result is moving and genuinely inspirational.