Red the Rose, Sharp the Thorn

By Elton and Lorene Archer
Longview, TX : Hudson Printing & Graphic Design, 1995

Reviewed by Renette Davis

This is a true story of a man who had Huntington's Disease and his wife who loved and cared for him until his death. Andy and Peggy Blake (not their real names) were married in 1950. They adored each other. When they moved into a new home after they had been married for 6 months, their friends nicknamed it "Honeymoon Cottage."

After about 5 years, they both began to suffer various ailments, which could have devastated their relationship but instead made it stronger. Peggy had to have a complete hysterectomy, and although she was disappointed that they could not have children, Andy continued to reassure her and let her know how much he cared for her.

In the mid-60's, Andy began to exhibit odd behaviors, but Peggy had no idea there was something seriously wrong. In October, 1968, Andy collapsed. They took him to the hospital, and his regular doctor sent a psychiatrist to see him. The psychiatrist recommended that they put him in a state hospital for the mentally ill, but Peggy refused. She didn't know where to go for help, so she talked to a dentist who had been a good friend, and he recommended that they see a neurologist.

The neurologist whom the dentist recommended was booked solid for three months and Peggy did not feel they could wait that long, so she selected a new medical doctor, who helped them get into the renowned Scott-White Clinic in Temple, Texas. Peggy and Andy spent two weeks at Scott-White, and when all the testing was done, the consulting physician told Peggy that Andy had Huntington's Disease.

For the next 11 years, Peggy watched her beloved Andy deteriorate, both mentally and physically. This is not a romantic story, told through rose colored glasses. It describes in excruciatingly painful detail Andy's decline and Peggy's struggles to take care of him. Through it all, however, Peggy never stopped showing her love for Andy and her faith in God. I cried when I read Peggy's description of Andy's death.

"When he died I felt that more than half of my physical body had been sliced away, and that I would never be a whole person again. I held Andy in my arms. As I watched him, the drawing of the facial muscles that had made him unrecognizable for so many years relaxed at last and I could see each muscle fall into place... In these first moments after Andy's death, God had given him back to me: young, virile, handsome, the light of my life and the cherished companion of my very being, and I thanked God with all my heart for His goodness."

This book is not for everyone. If you are at-risk, if you have tested positive for HD, or if your loved one is in the early stages, you may find it very depressing. Even caretakers of HD victims in later stages may find it hard to read. This would be a good book, however, for a caregiver to give to friends or members of the non-HD side of the family, to help them better understand what the HD victim and the caregiver are facing. It describes better than any scientific book what HD can do.

Red the Rose, Sharp the Thorn will make you cry, it will inspire you, it will give you ideas to try if you are a caregiver, it will help you to realize that you are not alone if you are suffering, and it will help you to better understand HD if you are a friend of an HD victim or caregiver. It includes in the final section some good information about Huntington's Disease and the various organizations which are involved in the HD struggle.

The authors of this book, Drs. Elton & Lorene Archer, are both retired educators. They became friends with Peggy after Andy died, and wrote this story for Peggy and for all caregivers as an expression of their faith. Red the Rose, Sharp the Thorn can be ordered at no cost from the authors, Drs. Elton & Lorene Archer, P.O. Box 8033, Longview, Texas 75607.

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Last updated: Dec. 5, 2010