Thursday, July 15, 2010

Book review: Jan's Story, by Barry Petersen

CBS News correspondent Barry Petersen had an idyllic marriage to one-time local TV news anchor Jan Chorlton. They were the couple known as "Darling and Darling." They spent many happy years traveling the world together, as CBS News sent Petersen on assignments in such places as Tokyo, Moscow, and London.

Yet over time, subtle changes occurred with Jan. First there was the depression, the unwillingness to leave the apartment. Then came the memory lapses and the strange behavior, ranging from leaving the stove on to wearing street clothes to bed instead of pajamas. Finally, Petersen contacted a neurologist back in the States (he and Jan were living in Tokyo at the time), and after a phone consultation, Jan was diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer's. She was 55 years old.

At first, Petersen was Jan's sole caregiver, but the role soon became physically, emotionally, and mentally taxing, as Jan's behavior and emotions became more difficult to handle. He then hired a live-in nurse to become Jan's caregiver, but her emotional outbursts became more difficult to handle, especially in public. Finally, after much painful debate, and careful consultation with Jan's friends and family, Petersen made the difficult decision to place Jan in assisted living. At the time, the Petersens were still living in Tokyo, and Jan was sent to a nursing home in Bellevue, Washington. Even after Jan was placed in assisted living, Petersen was still unprepared for the continued taxation that this decision took on his mental and physical state.

Jan's Story is an incredibly honest, candid look at the repercussions that friends and family face when dealing with Alzheimer's. This is one of those books where you really experience the emotions along with the storyteller; I found myself feeling angry, sad, and pained as Petersen wrote about losing his beloved wife. He refers to Alzheimer's as "The Disease," something that has taken his Jan from him--even though her physical presence is still there. At one point he writes that it is like going to the same funeral, over and over again.

This book is a quick read, something that most readers may be able to finish in one sitting, because the storytelling is very engaging. However, the emotions are so raw and strong that I had to put the book down after a few chapters before I felt ready to read it again.

I was inspired to read Jan's Story after watching this segment on CBS News Sunday Morning, where Petersen serves as a correspondent. As painful as it was to watch, and as painful as the book could be to read, it is still a moving testament to the struggles that Alzheimer's families face every day.

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