To write the book, Ephron had to account for her lost year, she said, because she remembered so little of it. She pored over his emails and medical records, which the hospital gave to him at his request and which totaled 6,000 pages. She interviewed the friends who had been her support group.
“I think for anyone who’s been through an experience that’s as traumatic as I was,” Ephron said, “or even half as traumatic, if you can paint it, knit it, dance it, that’ll be better. For me, I could take this thing and I could write it down.
She was surprised and delighted to learn that she had unleashed a torrent of profanity during a first stint in intensive care, as it was completely irrelevant.
“Meredith thought it was my inner voice” – Meredith White, one of the women who rallied to help, spelling out Rutter so he could get a few hours’ sleep – “but Peter, who is a doctor, said it was an overload of steroids.”
“Left on Tenth” is rendered in fragments, a structure that mimics Ephron’s experience of her illness and treatment, which she recalled in flashes. A chapter is a short paragraph describing the exchange with the doctor who appeared at the door of Ephron’s hospital room every day to ask if she had eaten anything. No, she always replied. One day she added in despair: “It’s hard. The doctor looked at her carefully. “This is war,” he said.
Ephron had been diagnosed during a routine examination; since her sister’s illness, she had been tested for the disease twice a year. In the years following Nora Ephron’s death, treatment for leukemia had evolved, and Delia Ephron’s first chemotherapy was an experimental drug called CPX-351. It worked, for a while. When her cancer came back after six months, her only hope was a stem cell transplant. As with the chemo, treatment in this ward had progressed. But since Ephron was over 70, his chances of survival were very low.