Anorexia is a word that strikes fear into the hearts of parents and loved ones. Many people would be confounded and confused if they were faced with a family member with this condition. That is exactly how the author and her husband felt when they heard the diagnosis for their daughter Chloe at age twelve.
Anne, Chloe’s mother, has four children, much loved and treasured, as is her husband. Together their family is a solid unit of caring people who are all busy with life. Anne is a human rights lawyer, her husband works in publishing and the four children are at school. They live in a comfortable home in Sydney with a pool, and interesting back yard.
This story begins with the author commencing a new job, and being very excited about her abilities to change lives for people. She has a phone call from school asking if she can pick Chloe up as she is sick. For a moment Anne feels resentful, but never the less she goes to the school. When this occurs again, Chloe is taken to the GP, who checks her over and requests blood to be taken. He weighs her and asks her to come back the following week. From then on Chloe’s story spirals out of control. Once a diagnosis is made, there comes the realization that Chloe will have to eat or she will die.
As the disease reveals itself fully, her mother sees it as an entity; Chloe is asked to name it with two words. The two things she hates most are the cold, and veins. So her malady is called Cold Vein and it is truly evil. There is no way that Chloe can be reached rationally, and so she is hospitalized. The family makes the decision that they will fight this disease with everything they have. However, left alone for a minute, Chloe will get out of bed and run on the spot to burn up calories. Why can no one else see how fat she is?
The factual recording by Anne, sometimes almost taking the form of a diary, helps us follow Chloe’s journey. It is not a happy path: the ferocity and tears which Anne sheds leave the reader appalled. Eventually it appears as if Cold Vein has won, and Chloe will die. Quite by accident the author hears about a clinic in Melbourne, based on a Swedish treatment process. Anne takes her daughter to the Clinic, but they say she is too ill for them to help her. The only option is to take her to Sweden for treatment which may last several years. The family opts for this as they can see that Chloe is near death.
Her Swedish treatment was quite a different process to the path she had been following in Australia. However Anne stayed with her, during the rage, the screaming, the tantrums and accusations that occurred frequently. Just occasionally there would be a glimpse of the old Chloe, which had to be enough for Anne to cling on to. Alone in a strange city after managing her daughter for three years at home, Anne somehow was resolute enough to wait for another few years. Often Chloe would relapse.
Because this book is a recount of the day to day lives of Anne’s family, we feel the passion and terror and hopelessness that affect all the members of the family. Their courage and love is awe inspiring.