It Won’t Kill You
A search for the boundaries of my shrinking world
A razor-sharp depiction of a man in decline
Henk Blanken is fifty-one years old when he notices that something’s wrong. He starts stumbling over uneven tiles, drooling, shaking; his muscles regularly seize up. The diagnosis is Parkinson’s disease. When his doctor tells him, ‘It won’t kill you,’ Blanken wants to add: ‘But it won’t end well.’ This book is the account of his progressive deterioration as well as a personal exploration of the paradoxes and dilemmas that surround euthanasia.
Thanks to modern medication we now live in an age in which serious diseases are more often chronic than deadly. Many patients face a slow though inevitable decline. A journalist and storyteller at heart, Blanken can’t help thinking, ‘Well it is a good story’ when he gets his diagnosis. Ultimately, the writing process helps him deal with his disease: as long as he can write about it, he thinks he’ll manage.
In what follows, Blanken details the frontiers, the uncharted depths that he is forced to enter and the decisions he must make. He interweaves his attempts to understand his condition, and the reactions of those around him, with memories of his parents, his son and from his child- hood. He reflects on friendship, loyalty and what it means to say goodbye to a fast-paced working life. All the while, Blanken’s style dazzles. Dubbed a ‘non-fiction novel’ by the press, the book is rich with beautiful dialogues. Faced with all that unbearable loss he writes: ‘You get used to it, but getting used to it simply means waiting for the decline.’
His condition leads him to the question of euthanasia and the dilemmas that surround it. Expanding on the arguments he addressed in his article in The Guardian this summer, Blanken asks: How can you avoid an end you do not want? Can you even choose your own end, and how do you do that when you have not finished living yet?
More than a story of living with the disease, this book is an orbiting search, a first-hand account and moving meditation on losing and forgetting, on the fragile and ephemeral quality of human experience and, as such, a confronting examination of our relationship with death today.