Imagine being a tall, Swedish redheaded mother of two young girls―the apparent picture of health―but for years living with constant chest pressure, severe fatigue and difficulty breathing. In Beautiful Affliction, Lene Fogelberg explains how, for much of her life, she feared she was about to die because of what she called "the monster" pounding against her ribs.
Early on, a specialist reassured Fogelberg's family that a congenital heart murmur was nothing to worry about. Nonetheless, she could never do things like mow lawns or walk long distances, prompting others to think her lazy. Once she became a mother, simple tasks made her feel faint, prompting her to slump over a chair in front of the stove to summon the energy to simply flip pancakes.
At the time, the Swedish healthcare system didn't allow for wellness checkups, and other types of appointments required months of waiting. When Fogelberg did seek help, she was told she had pneumonia, or perhaps a fungal infection, or that she was a hypochondriac. Eventually, she flirted with the idea of suicide.
"My girls are still small," she mused, "and my life has barely begun, and I have been miserable for so long, I cannot even remember what it feels like to be happy."
Thankfully, when her devoted husband Anders is transferred to the Philadelphia area, doctors quickly realize that her aortic valve is nearly blocked and needs replacing.
Fogelberg, a poet, structures her saga well, writing in alternating chapters about growing up with her "monster," and arriving in the United States, where her condition is diagnosed and she has corrective open-heart surgery. Beautiful Affliction is an unusual, riveting medical drama crafted with deep emotion and exquisite detail.