The Barnes & Noble Review
The follow-up to an award-winning audio diary recorded for NPR, Breathing for a Living chronicles two and half stressful years in the life of cystic fibrosis patient Laura Rothenberg -- from her agonizing decision to undergo a risky double-lung transplant through ten perilous post-op months filled with frightening complications and heartbreaking setbacks.
In writing that is straightforward, emotionally honest, and utterly unsentimental, Rothenberg describes the details of her interrupted life: a college career (at Brown University) sidetracked by long hospitalizations; activities derailed by unpleasant medical procedures; and debilitating bouts of nausea, tremors, depression, and self-pity. Through it all, she remains doggedly determined to maintain some semblance of normalcy. She composes emails from her hospital bed, she makes plans between bronchoscopies -- and when her "numbers" are good and she's felling well, she skates, goes to school, watches Law & Order reruns, gorges on pudding cups, and hangs with her friends.
What shines through in this extraordinary memoir is Rothenberg's unflinching self-awareness. She rides the roller coaster of her emotions unapologetically, careening from the willfulness of a pouting child to the stoicism of the professional patient. Having said goodbye to so many friends with CF, she has hope, but no illusions.
Breathing for a Living opens with these two arresting sentences: "I am having a midlife crisis. Tomorrow I will be nineteen." Sadly, these mathematical calculations were far off the mark. On March 21, 2003, almost two years after her transplant, Laura Rothenberg died from chronic organ rejection. She was 22 years old.
Completely original … a crash course in the history of twentieth century culture . . . leaving us shaking with laughter.
The New York Times
"I'm a typical college student, if there is such a thing," she writes. "Except that I won't be able to look back on my life from an old age." An awareness of that immutable fact colors everything about Ms. Rothenberg's story, and yet her book is much more scrappy, tenacious and vibrant than it is sad. She succeeded resoundingly in turning those proverbial lemons into lemonade. Janet Maslin
The Washington Post
Breathing for a Living tells the story of Rothenberg's fears and hopes as she waits for new lungs, and her discouragement, suffering and flashes of joy once she has received them. Woven among the descriptions of medical procedures and the inspiring, imperfect love of friends and family, an immense courage is on display here, a marvelous and rare courage. Laura Rothenberg
San Francisco Chronicle
It provokes a rush of feeling . . .
Through the patient and painstaking detail of her plight, Rothenberg manages to convey a sense of who she was.
San Diego Tribune
The Laura Rothenberg that lingers in the mind is a . . . witty and precocious New Yorker.
"I'm a typical college student, if there is such a thing," writes Rothenberg in this far from typical work. "Except that I won't be able to look back on my life from an old age." Rothenberg, who died in March at the age of 22, originally wrote these calm, devastating lines in an essay as a freshman at Brown University. During her sophomore year, after Rothenberg became so ill from cystic fibrosis that she had to leave school, she decided to weave this essay into a much longer account. Starting early in 2001, as she waited in Boston for a double lung transplant, and continuing until her death, Rothenberg collected her personal diary entries, poems and copies of the e-mails she wrote to her many friends-dispatches from the battlefield of her own body. Shining through every report, every raw or bittersweet detail, is a fierce dedication to honesty and an immense desire to connect to friends and to life. "We have lungs," one of her doctors calls to tell her early one morning. Rothenberg describes repeating the phrase into the phone to her still-sleeping parents; they were on their feet and packing by the time she repeated the joyous phrase to other friends, who repeated it like a mantra into mobile phones until the waiting room at Boston's Children's Hospital was overflowing with people who loved her-"Team Laura." Too soon, however, the joy of the transplant and her return to Brown gives way to descriptions of one setback after another, culminating in rejection of the lungs. Refusing to indulge in even a wisp of false hope or consolation, Rothenberg reminds us that there is a power in us that is greater than even the greatest suffering. This slim book will help anyone whose life has been touched by cystic fibrosis, and countless others as well. It is an unforgettably real testament of the strength of one human spirit, and of our common human wish to know and say and be the truth. First serial to Glamour magazine. (July) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
"It provokes a rush of feeling . . . " (San Francisco Chronicle)
A posthumously published account of the 21-year-old cystic fibrosis sufferer's decision to undergo a lung transplant offers a memorable testament to her resilient spirit. This finely wrought chronicle about choosing to live to the full in the face of death admirably balances the author's fears and hopes. NPR Radio Diaries contributor Rothenberg is neither mawkishly self-pitying nor unrealistically optimistic as she reviews her life and the choices she faces. After she was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis and underwent surgery when she was three days old, she experienced countless operations, hospital stays, and ER visits. She saw fellow sufferers die young, and had no illusions about the disease; statistically, her midlife expectancy was 28. But at 19, the year the memoir begins, she is contemplating a lung transplant. A student at Brown, she swims, loves writing, and has numerous friends, but, as she notes, "here I am at college, and I can't write about the future." Her pancreas doesn't function, she must take insulin, her lungs are congested, and she can't have children. She'd be happy to have vacations that didn't involve hospitalizations. As she mulls over whether she should undergo the 12-hour operation that will deter the disease's progression, she admits fearing that it won't work. Once decided on surgery, she writes in diary entries and e-mails about her feelings, activities, friends, and family as she waits for a suitable tissue match. The operation in July 2001 is brutal, and so is her recovery; she suffers bowel obstructions, pneumonia, and lymphoma as her body rejects the lungs. But despite the hospital stays, Rothenberg sees friends, goes back briefly to Brown, and isdetermined not to let "my health rule my life." An epilogue written shortly before her death in March 2003 acknowledges that she's experiencing acute rejection, and doesn't know whether it is easier to live or die. Moving for all the right reasons.