Book Review | What Lurks In The Woods by Nicole Bell

Medical memoirs aren’t a sub-genre that’s high on my must-read list. That’s why I’d only read a couple of them (I think) in the past six years. These were written by patients who chronicled their descent into a life-threatening illness, their search for treatments, and their eventual recovery. Sadly, one of them didn’t live to finish his book, much less to see it published. I remember this book vividly because the story was a heart-wrenching one.

So what made me go for Nicole Bell’s What Lurks In The Woods, another medical memoir? Well, two reasons really. Firstly, it’s written by someone with a different perspective – that of a caregiver. Secondly, it deals with a kind of illness and its underlying causes that I knew so little about. On both counts, I appreciate the awareness that this book has brought about to advance my understanding.

That said, as always with any book review, I shall begin with a synopsis (no spoilers I hope).

Nicole’s life as a loving wife to husband Russ, a doting mom to two lovely kids and a successful engineer/executive in a medical device company couldn’t be better. They lived in a big house in the woods with lush greens. Russ often went hunting in the woods.

One day that cushy life was thrown into a downward spiral when she started noticing that something wasn’t quite right with Russ. He started forgetting and misplacing things, like where he placed the car keys, how to deactivate the home alarm, when to pick up the kids after school. He got lost on the freeway once. His wife and kids often became the targets of his unexplained rage. It seemed that they were constantly walking on eggshells.

After seeing doctor after doctor to try to figure out what’s wrong with Russ, Nicole had to face the stark truth: her husband had early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, a chronic and devastating illness. But she found it baffling that her husband had this illness at such a young age – it just didn’t make sense. Disappointed with the doctors’ answers she decided to search for the root causes for Russ’ illness and treatments to try to arrest his progressive cognitive decline. So with her engineering mindset, she embarked on an arduous journey, researching and reading up anything she could find that could shed some light on the illness.

She finally got a breakthrough when she spoke with her elder brother Scott on the phone one day, a rare occurrence. He told her that his wife had ongoing hormonal issues. After seeing several doctors he had finally figured out the cause for her illness: Lyme disease, a tick-borne illness. And he revealed something based on his own research: Lyme could also attack the brain tissues and cause damage. That’s the link to Alzheimer’s that Nicole was looking for. PCR tests (sounds familiar?) done on Russ’ urine confirmed the presence of the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, which wasn’t detected with antibody tests previously. Russ got bitten by deer ticks found in the woods over a period of time but did not seek treatment.

Nicole began in earnest to seek treatments to cure the Lyme infection in Russ. But by then he already had advanced stage Alzheimer’s. Would the treatments make a difference in effecting a recovery?

Nicole’s memoir allows readers to experience up close the pain and heartache of having to deal with a loved one in the throes of cognitive decline brought on by Alzheimer’s. The narrative is beautifully crafted and captivating, permeated with heartfelt emotions of angst, frustrations, sadness, grief but also joy and hope. The daily struggles that she as a caregiver have had to go through are described in vivid detail. Amid these struggles, she was able to experience poignant and intimate moments with Russ and her kids.

In the book, Nicole shared that she’d always enjoyed writing – a gift that she developed when she wrote real-life stories in her high-school years. Little did she know that she would put this to good use years later when she began keeping journal entries on her husband’s sickness and the chaos that it created in her own and her family’s life. She decided to turn these entries into a book, initially as a project for herself and her loved ones. Then she realized that her story should be shared with a wider audience, especially those who are suffering from chronic illnesses and caregivers, so they can learn from her mistakes and successes. A noble effort indeed, and I’m sure many readers will benefit from the wealth of her experience, as I have. A very compelling read for me. For this, I say, “Well done.”

My thanks to Booksirens and the publisher for the free ARC e-copy. My review is given voluntarily.

Book Information:

Title: What Lurks In The Woods

Genres: Nonfiction, Memoir, Family Drama, Medicine, Tragedy

Author: Nicole Bell

Publisher: Stonebrook Publishing

Publication Date: 23 October 2021

My rating: 5 Stars

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