Dr. Thomas Graboys is an eminent Boston cardiologist who developed Parkinson's disease in his late 50s. Shortly after his wife died in 1998, Graboys noticed unusual fatigue and mental sluggishness. He attributed these symptoms to grief, but they continued and he later experienced episodes of stumbling, falling, and syncope. During 2003 Graboys confided to his diary that it was "increasingly difficult to express concepts." ( p. 30) He also noticed tremor, problems with dictation, and frequent loss of his train of thought, symptoms "typical of Parkinson's." (p. 24)

While Graboys recorded these concerns in his diary, outwardly he denied that anything was wrong, even to family and close friends.  In fact, his denial continued until the day in 2003 when a neurologist friend accosted him in the parking lot and pointedly asked, "Tom, who is taking care of your Parkinson's?" (p. 27) Dr. Graboys faced an even more difficult challenge in 2004 when he developed the vivid, violent dreams and memory lapses that led to a diagnosis of Lewy body dementia, a form of progressive dementia sometimes associated with Parkinson's disease. With the cat out of the bag at last, the author finally began to confront the issue of professional impairment. In mid-2005 Graboys's colleagues seized the initiative and told him that "it was the unanimous opinion of my colleagues that I was no longer fit to practice medicine." (p. 36)

Writing now with the assistance of journalist Peter Zheutlin, Graboys reviews these events with unblinking honesty. He confronts his anger and denial, but also reveals the thoughtful, generous and passionate side of his character. "What will become of me?' This is the question that now lies at the center of Dr. Graboys' personal world. He knows that his loss of mental and physical control will worsen. With almost superhuman effort and his family's strong support, the author has been able to adapt to his limitations and maintain a sense of meaning in his life. Will that continue? In a chapter entitled "End Game," he addresses the question of suicide. Reflecting on his condition, especially the dementia, Graboys asks, "Will I lose myself, my very essence, to this disease?" (p. 161)

In the last chapter, Graboys acknowledges that he has no "simple prescription that will help you or someone you love live a life beyond illness, or tell you how to tap the hope that lives within." (p. 181)  However, he then goes on to make several suggestions of the advice-manual variety: "Use your family and friends as motivation to live life with as much grace as you can muster." "Find a safe place... to unburden yourself of anger." "Acceptance is key to defusing anger, stress, and self-pity."  "Use your faith in God, if you believe in God."  (pp. 181-182)


This is a sober and candid story, particularly wrenching since Graboys speaks as both patient and doctor. Perhaps my major complaint about Life in the Balance is the disconnect between the engaging personal story that occupies most of the book and the advice manual format of the last chapter. One specific point that felt dispiriting to me was the "use your faith in God" comment near the end of the book when the author had neither discussed faith nor any form of spirituality in the book itself. I guess Dr. Graboys felt that he owed his readers a summary take-home message. However, he didn't. Trust me, his story speaks eloquently for itself.



This memoir was written with the help of Peter Zheutlin, who also contributed a Foreword.


Union Square Press

Place Published

New York



Page Count