Disability Studies Quarterly
Spring 2006, Volume 26, No. 2
Copyright 2006 by the Society
for Disability Studies


Cohen, Richard M. Blindsided. Lifting a Life Above Illness. A Reluctant Memoir. New York: Perennial Press, 2005. 242 pgs. Paperback 0-06-001410-5.

Reviewed by C. Brid Nicholson, Stevens Institute of Technology

Richard Cohen's Blindsided is a response to the harsh reality of an ever changing disability, inflicted on him through MS, two bouts of colon cancer, and the fact of being well-known, in his own right as a television producer/reporter, and more recently through his marriage to The View's Meredith Vieira. The book expresses his range of emotions to the illnesses and to the necessary but sometimes apparently futile medical procedures: how they wrought havoc with his body, mind and with his relationships, with his wife, children, and parents. His repulsion and frustration with medicine and doctors are documented not because of the pain or embarrassment they caused Cohen, but more out of the disappointment that he knows they ultimately will not help.

The book is organized into thirteen chapters with a new afterward available in the Perennial edition. The beginning is the story of the young and indestructible, the rebel, philosopher, and doer. The end is a sketch of an older family man, still determined and still doing things in his own way but without the great physicality of youth. Where Cohen's story differs from others is that MS is part of his family: his grandmother and father were both diagnosed with the disease giving him a unique insight into what was happening, what was probably going to happen, and a certain fear about what the future might hold. The uncertainty of certainty is best illustrated by Cohen when his middle child, Gabe, simply announced one day that he too would have MS one day; however he told his father in the next breath not to worry, that he would be okay (182).

Being struck by MS and later cancer, Cohen insists, is not just a medical story but rather an emotional one. To survive and deal rather than to attempt heroics was his initial response. His preferred method?–silence, with lying as a much used second option. The frustration of the physical changes brought about by MS–sudden blindness, an inability to hike and to respond to his surroundings–eventually gave way to anger, resentment, humiliation, and helplessness. Whether he wanted to deal with these issues or not was irrelevant; they became a major part of his story. For Cohen the key became "coping". Through learning to deal, he realized he was "in a long war" (59) which became a "long march" (116). His new battle plan involved including his family, being more honest and open, answering questions, and explaining; though the physical battle was always there, coping became possible and so did dealing with anger. He found a new role, being part of but apart from the daily activities of his family, watching as his wife drove the children around and agreeing with her when she wished he could drive (212). This way is easier he insists. He is the problem, he insists (213).

Perhaps ironically this is where Cohen seems neither to cope nor to accept, but is instead resigned. His nearing blindness and general clumsiness mean he stays at home with a "bottle and a book" (213) both of which he would happily give up for the freedom associated with a car. In this chapter it is difficult to see this "acceptance" as a form of "coping." There does not seem to be any choice. Cohen seems not to know this. Vieira's philosophy of "it is what it is" (213) seems more real, and it is this reason that perhaps Cohen's final chapter begins with the title "A Resilient Man."

Ultimately for Cohen, his illnesses and his coping in this war involve setting up "a command post" (xvii). Thus the "ambush" (1) fought initially by denial (20), silence (43), and the belief that "honesty is not the best policy" (54) has been replaced by "the race" (148) to "run with MS, not away from it" (148). Responsibility, taking control, making decisions and listening to honest, blunt, and at times what may seem cruel statements from his family, have finally given Cohen a new fort from which he can wage war. He still enjoys the dare devil attempts at walking through New York City aided only by his cane and taking a chance, but resilience is where he now finds strength. Hope and dreams are now not a futile exercise but a pathway to possibilities.

Blindsided is not a book of a once taken journey, but instead it illustrates the need for continuous change and constantly adjusted support. Cohen is candid about his own emotional defects and physical impairments and how he still struggles, sometimes succeeds, and often fails. The value of this book is in Cohen's coping mechanism—how it changes and how he realizes he must accept change as meaning he can do less, and depend on others more. Stubbornness and willpower play a part; at the end, though, his body can do less, and his mindset is the only thing that must develop and change.

Copyright (c) 2006 C. Brid Nicholson

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ISSN: 2159-8371 (Online); 1041-5718 (Print)