A debut author delivers a detailed account of her mysterious illness.
As a 23-year-old Peace Corps volunteer sent to a small village in northern Zambia in 1994, Kephart wanted more than anything to help. She learned to speak Bemba, lived in the small hut of a native family, and helped to dig a communal latrine. Hailing from Southern California, she had never been exposed to poverty and disease at such a high level; the bell of the local church tolled almost daily for someone’s death. She had also not been exposed to malaria. Medevacked to Lusaka, the capital, she receives that ominous diagnosis. “I understood then that I would forever carry with me my own personalized African souvenir,” she writes. Finding her dreams dashed and enduring a bout of temporary deafness and blindness, she wished for death as the symptoms worsened into uncontrollable muscle spasms. “What a colossal understatement,” she says of the Peace Corps training booklet, A Few Minor Adjustments, from which she takes the title of her memoir. Everything in her life had changed. But this is only the beginning of a rich and complicated story, told on each page with clear dialogue and memorable anecdotes. Even after returning to the U.S., fatigue and intense pain nearly stop the normal patterns of a young life—work, relationships, hope for the future. She completes a master’s degree during this time, but a glimpse into her journal, excerpted occasionally in the book, reveals her suffering: “I feel trapped in a life, a mind, a vision of confusion and isolation. My heart is drenched with black.” Once an active athlete, she struggled with staying comfortable when standing. Fifteen years of specialists (she names them Dr. Agreeable, Dr. Arrogant, Dr. Blank-Stare, Dr. Cookie-Cutter, Dr. Curt, Dr. Zoologically Inclined, etc.) and different treatment plans follow. Long after her time in Africa, the final chapters chart a surprising new diagnosis. Ultimately, this memoir chronicling her persistence should inspire readers and engender sympathy.
A tone of humility and a great concern for others mark this well-paced work about an individual’s most important asset—health.