leave a comment --Ken Fox
If there's a strong sense of urgency behind director Kim A. Snyder's enlightening film about the mysterious illness commonly known as chronic fatigue syndrome, there's a very good reason. In 1994, the 33-year-old Snyder was busy going about her life as an assistant producer when she suddenly fell ill with what she assumed was the flu. The symptoms were familiar fever, swollen glands, dizziness, exhaustion but their persistence and unusual resistance to antibiotics was unusual. After a few miserable months, Snyder collapsed and was rushed to the emergency room with a 104 degree fever and no idea what was wrong with her. Her doctors suspected everything from pneumonia to hypochondria, but it wasn't until a year later that a physician at Johns Hopkins University Hospital finally came up with a diagnosis that made some sense: Chronic Fatigue Immune Dysfunction Syndrome, a condition that has medical experts divided over whether it's a true physiological pathology or a psychosomatic illness. Snyder's film is both a diary of the personal journey she undertook to better understand the elusive condition that so altered the course of her life (Snyder has spent months at a time confined to her bed) and a look at how her fellow sufferers cope with the debilitating symptoms and the stigma that comes with an illness many people don't believe exists. Snyder first travels to Lake Tahoe, Nev., where a highly visible cluster outbreak in the 1980s affected nearly 300 residents and alerted the public to the possibility of a new, heretofore unknown virus. She then goes to Lyndonville, N.Y., where a similar outbreak was given a once-over by the New York State Health Department and dismissed as a psychosomatic condition. Snyder's interviews with family practitioners and virologists offer considerable insight into the nature of the illness, but it's the sufferers themselves who range from a Connecticut teenager who's spent two years confined to his bed to director Blake Edwards and a group of Florida women who survived what now appears to have been a 1956 outbreak that make the film so interesting. They discuss everything from their despair and thoughts of suicide to how the name of the disease only helps perpetuate the notion that it's nothing more than an advanced case of laziness or terminal boredom, all the while holding out hope for an eventual recovery.