'Man Who Couldn't Eat' recounts battle with Crohn's disease


Can you imagine what it would be like to not be able to eat or drink? No sweet chocolate goodness. No salty fried deliciousness. Not even the OK tastiness of fruits or vegetables.

This was the life of Jon Reiner, who suffers from Crohn’s disease, a debilitating condition that leaves him helpless to his body’s attacks on his own digestive tract. He documents the pain and suffering he has experienced battling this disease in his memoir, “The Man Who Couldn’t Eat.”

Reiner begins his story with his recollection of an excruciating episode that resulted in a botched surgery. He was forced to go NPO, a medical term from Latin meaning nil per os, or nothing by mouth. He was ordered not to eat or drink anything for a prescribed period of three months.

As Reiner deals with the pain of recovery and the agony of not being able to eat regular foods, he reminisces about his life as a self-professed “foodie” and how food had always been central in his life despite his disease.

His memories of childhood revolve around food, and he based much of his adult identity on his Jewish culture and the ties to food that he has had throughout his life. Therefore, discovering that he has a disease that robs him of the ability to eat any food or drink that would aggravate his condition, is akin to saying that he wouldn’t be able to breathe again. It is as if his identity is taken away during the months in which he was prohibited from having anything other than the prescribed medical supplements that were taken intravenously.

Reiner describes savoring the smells of the foods his wife and sons were eating, how it would be overwhelming, and he would have to sit in another room while they had dinner. In one instance, he just wanted to lick a french fry — to remember the texture of the food — when his youngest son came into the kitchen and caught him as he lifted the potato to his lips.

When finally given the OK to begin to slowly eat again, Reiner was aghast to find that his taste buds had vanished. His tongue could no longer “taste” the foods he longed for. It would take several weeks before he would regain his sense of taste.

Reiner’s memoir is a powerful look at how devastating Crohn’s disease can be and how the condition not only affects the patient, but the entire family. Reiner’s sharp wit and slightly caustic style of writing lends an air of authenticity to this book, and readers will find themselves sympathizing with Reiner at one turn, and his long-suffering and exquisitely patient wife at the next.