Writer Meghan O'Rourke discusses the invisibility of chronic illness

A woman posed next to her book
Meghan O'Rourke is the author of the New York Times bestseller “The Invisible Kingdom: Reimagining Chronic Illness.” She is also the author of “The Long Goodbye” and a frequent contributor to The Atlantic, The New York and the New York Times.
Photo by David Surowiecki. Courtesy Penguin Random House.

It’s an astonishing number: Six out of ten Americans live with at least one chronic illness, many of which are poorly understood and difficult to diagnose. Now, with long COVID emerging, even more people are grappling with what it means to live with a condition that isn’t easily cured and often doesn’t go away.

Meghan O’Rourke lived this journey. She started experiencing random symptoms in college that didn’t garner a simple diagnosis. Doctors didn’t know how to help her, and as she writes in her book, “The Invisible Kingdom,” American health care doesn’t have a clear path for people like her.

So she set out to be her own medical detective, keeping files and finding new doctors in an attempt to get someone to see her suffering.

“Above all, I wanted recognition of the reality of my experience,” she writes, “a sense that others saw it.”

On this week’s Big Book and Bold Ideas, MPR News host Kerri Miller talked with O’Rourke about what she learned as she fought to get a diagnosis and how America needs to change its practice of medicine and its view of chronic illness so that those struggling with this kind of sickness don’t feel invisible.

Guest:

Use the audio player above to hear a slightly longer version of today’s show.

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