The Deepest Well begins at a terrifying moment in the life of a healthy 43-year-old father the author calls Evan. As he wakes up one morning, he realizes his arm has gone numb—and then his leg, and then his face. Why is Evan, a man with no apparent risk factors, having a stroke?
As pioneering pediatrician and public health advocate Dr. Nadine Burke Harris reveals, millions of adults like Evan are at risk from a silent, invisible threat: the long-term impact of ACE, adverse childhood experiences.
Harris’ exploration of childhood adversity was launched when she met a little boy named Diego in her practice at Bayview Child Health Center in a low-income area of San Francisco. Although he was 7 years old, he was only as tall as a 4 year old. His mother indicated that Diego had experienced sexual abuse at age 4, leading Harris to begin questioning the connections between trauma and illness later in life. She notes that, “with every Diego that I saw, the gnawing in my stomach got worse.”
Harris is a compelling storyteller as she recounts her search for strategies to help patients like Diego. But The Deepest Well is not only a medical narrative but also a very personal one. The stroke victim that opens this book is her brother, who, thankfully, recovered. But like Harris, he spent a childhood living with a mother with mental illness. Harris notes, “My experience dealing with both sides of the ACEs coin is in part what drives my work.”
Childhood adversity takes many forms, and its impact can last a lifetime. Readers curious to learn more about how they may have been affected can find an ACE questionnaire in the appendix. The Deepest Well is more than a riveting medical story—it’s a must-read guide for recognizing, understanding and treating a condition that many will find in our own homes.