About 100 people gathered at the third-floor cafe of Virgin
Megastore in San Francisco Wednesday night (April 9) to hear musician Ben Watt
read from his new book, Patient: The True Story of a Rare Illness (Grove
Press). Watt, who is one-half of the British group, Everything But the Girl,
initially wrote the book as a sort of therapy to help him cope with the
aftermath of an illness that would forever change his life.
said Watt, as he walked to his table at the back of the cafe. "In some ways, I
shouldn't be. But here I am."
Even though Watt has overcome the illness,
his body is bone-thin and his cheeks sag a little as he stands at the table,
book in one hand, chin in the other. He reads a bit from the beginning of the
book, pausing occasionally to look up. The story he talks about is a
frustrating and painful one: One day, after months of chest pains that were
thought to be associated with Watt's asthma, he was told by doctors that he was
having a slow heart-attack. Tests were done. It wasn't a heart-attack. The
doctors decided that he may have AIDS. More tests. Negative.
decided to cut me open and find out what was going on," said Watt, reading
aloud from the book. "What they found was that 75 percent of my small intestine
had rotted away. They stitched me back up so they could have time to think
about what to do."
Watt had contracted a rare illness that causes the body's
immune system to overreact. In laymen's terms, his body was attacking itself,
causing his intestines to shut down and rot away. The interesting thing about
the ordeal is Watt's perspective; through the surgeries and three-month long
hospital stay, he maintained a sense of humor that comes out in the book and in
"All I could think of was how it resembled grilled Cumberland
sausage," said Watt of the pictures he had seen of rotted intestines.
Between reading excerpts, Watt explained to the audience his attitudes and
feelings about his experience. He spoke warmly of how his girlfriend,
Everything But the Girl singer Tracey Thorn, had stayed by his side day in and
day out. He talked about how his father was paralyzed by the thought of his son
dying, and how his mother was the strong one, always trying to keep everything
and everyone together. But Watt shed humor on even the most serious of stories.
Just a few days before his release, Watt's food tube caused an infection in his
chest that nearly killed him.
"It sucked. I just wanted to get out and now
I get this potentially-fatal infection," said Watt, snickering. "What a
After the reading, I asked Watt if the experience of facing death
has changed his attitudes toward success in his career. Rubbing his fingers on
his chin, he sat back, thought for a minute, then a smile came across his thin
"No. I still want to be number one," he said, laughing. "Even when I
was in the hospital, bedridden and in severe pain, the sheer rarity of my
illness was somewhat glamorous to me. When a group of ten doctors stood around
my bed to observe, it was exciting."
It is this whimsical outlook on life
and death that makes it impossible to feel sorry for Watt. With Patient, Watt
has achieved quite a feat: a book about severe pain and illness that makes you