The diagnosis was bad. The aftermath was calamitous. My new life as a medical train wreck

This title was previously available on NetGalley and is now archived.
Buy on Buy on
*This page contains affiliate links, so we may earn a small commission when you make a purchase through links on our site at no additional cost to you.
Send NetGalley books directly to your Kindle or Kindle app

To read on a Kindle or Kindle app, please add as an approved email address to receive files in your Amazon account. Click here for step-by-step instructions.
Also find your Kindle email address within your Amazon account, and enter it here.
Pub Date Jul 21 2020 | Archive Date Oct 06 2020
Scribd | Scribd Originals

Talking about this book? Use #Complications #NetGalley. More hashtag tips!


His story begins as cliché: an aging jock with nagging lower-back pain. For the better part of a year, he ignores it, convinced he has a slipped or herniated disk. It’s only when he can no longer ride a bike, a lifelong passion, that he makes the doctor appointment. The problem isn’t a disk; it’s a tumor on his spine the size of a softball.

In the summer of 2014, Todd Balf, author of the acclaimed adventure tales The Darkest Jungle and The Last River, was diagnosed with a rare spinal cancer called chordoma. Only three hundred cases are diagnosed in the United States each year, meaning that Balf was literally one in a million. During two long and risky surgeries, a team of specialists removed the tumor and buttressed his damaged spine with a scaffolding of metal rods. Having survived the surgery, itself a minor miracle, Balf was told that, with some rehab and follow-up radiation, he would soon be back to his former athletic self. He wasn’t. The surgery had resulted in a spinal-cord injury that left one of his legs partially paralyzed. Give it time, his doctors advised. The nerves might heal.

Thus began Balf’s membership in a tribe. The disabled. He imagined his own disability would be temporary, a short visit to a foreign land. He spent years test-piloting remedies that might spark his spinal nerves back to life. With the same gusto and good humor that he brought to his work as a writer, he searched for the perfect treatment: anti-gravity treadmills, adaptive bikes, endless rehab and trips to the gym, and—why not?—a few long-distance cycling events. His wife and children, long accustomed to Balf’s kinetic energy and sometimes harebrained schemes, cheered him on and hoped for the best.

Then came unexpected surgery to repair broken rods in Balf’s spine, followed by yet another complication: a stroke that jeopardized not only his recovery but his professional career. Balf wasn’t just one in a million. Thanks to his unresolved spine injury, topped off with a stroke, he was now an “n of 1”—a single case study. Before his long medical misadventure, Balf had always relished being one of the healthiest and fittest people around. Now he was unique for all the wrong reasons.

Complications recounts Balf’s journey from cancer diagnosis to his present-day reality as a man caught between two worlds. Both moving and irrepressibly joyful, Complications is a forthright account of what it’s like to suffer a physical catastrophe and manage the uncertainty that comes with it. What’s the right balance between striving to recover and accepting limitations? Was he still just visiting the land of the disabled, or there for good? Who was Todd Balf now?

“I was still just a normal guy,” he writes. “Or a normal abnormal guy, I don’t know. But I’d learned one thing for sure over the past five years: With a disability, being normal is all you think about.”

Scribd Originals is a publishing program featuring ambitious, original fiction and nonfiction by some of the best storytellers of our time. These vivid, compelling stories live mainly in the space between magazines and books and span a range of genres.

Scribd is the unlimited reading subscription that offers access to the best books, audiobooks, news and magazine articles, documents, and more. Scribd is available across iOS and Android devices, as well as web browsers, and hosts more than 100 million readers across the globe every month. For more, visit and follow @Scribd on Twitter and Instagram. 

His story begins as cliché: an aging jock with nagging lower-back pain. For the better part of a year, he ignores it, convinced he has a slipped or herniated disk. It’s only when he can no longer...

Available Editions

ISBN 9781094408194

Available on NetGalley

NetGalley Shelf App (PDF)
Send to Kindle (PDF)

Average rating from 2 members