Against Medical Advice: One Family's Struggle With an Agonizing Medical Mystery
One of the greatest torments that a parent can go through is to
have a child with significant medical difficulties. AGAINST MEDICAL
ADVICE is the story of one such youngster, Cory Friedman.
James Patterson met Hal Friedman when both worked at an
advertising agency in the 1970s and stayed in touch as Patterson
went on to become one of the world’s most popular authors.
Patterson heard Friedman’s accounts of his son’s
battles with what is diagnosed as a particularly severe onset of
Tourette’s syndrome, a condition manifested by uncontrollable
tics and verbal miscues, and aggravated by other factors. AGAINST
MEDICAL ADVICE is a unique collaboration, told in Cory’s
voice by Patterson, based upon the accounts of Hal Friedman, as
corroborated by Cory.
It all starts when five-year-old Cory’s sudden twitching
becomes so extreme and violent that he’s in danger of doing
himself harm. He begins a regimen of pharmaceutical treatment that
literally turns into a salad of medications, prescribed and
administered with the best of intentions yet ultimately doing
little or no good (and, in some instances, doing grievous harm). As
the book progresses, we watch Cory spiral downward, physically and
socially, experiencing significant problems at school and at home.
At times his jerking is so volatile that it results in damage to
the family home --- the floorboards, the walls, the doors --- and,
more significantly, to Cory himself. He is regarded as an oddity at
school, to the extent that he becomes the class clown, simply to
get some measure of acceptance. Even his most understanding
teachers occasionally reach the limits of their patience.
There are high spots: Cory climbs a tree, an accomplishment that
is not done without great difficulty; he excels in two different
sports, meeting episodic challenges and conquering them; and after
a particularly violent episode, he writes his parents a poignant
letter that comes straight from the heart. Yet he begins
gravitating toward other social outcasts while falling behind in
his schoolwork and creating potentially devastating situations at
home. As medication after medication is tried and fails, Cory
begins self-medicating with alcohol, a foolish act born out of
It is when all seems lost that Cory’s parents initiate a
treatment method that actually puts him on the road to recovery. At
the same time, the narrative uncovers a startling revelation, one
presented as Cory’s mother begins a last-ditch advocacy for
him during his senior year of high school that results in an almost
total resolution of Cory’s problems.
Patterson’s stark, bare-boned narrative in AGAINST MEDICAL
ADVICE is compelling. It reads somewhat like a diary where the
recorder does not write every day, but instead hits the high and
low points with great effectiveness. What is not and cannot be
determined is the reason for the sudden onset of this condition.
While an anxiety disorder is considered, it seems to be a bit of a
stretch. Patterson’s description of Cory’s symptoms are
not dissimilar from those associated with demonic possession --- an
etiology not mentioned here, though a brief and secondary analogy
is made at one point --- and certainly the most effective treatment
regimen utilized by Cory’s parents could be equated with a
symbolic purging. Whatever the reason, however, AGAINST MEDICAL
ADVICE is a frightening, sympathetic and at times heartwarming
testimony to the triumph of the human will over adversity.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on December 22, 2010