Katherine E. Standefer had a problem. A device implanted in her heart was giving her massive shocks when it wasn’t supposed to. She was due for heart surgery, but she didn’t have health insurance. She was forced to give up the life she had loved as a rugged outdoorswoman, due to a genetic heart condition. But her main problem, above and beyond all of that turmoil, was that she had a burning question. What was the human and ecological cost of the device, planted inside her chest, that was made up of precious metals only found in rare locations around the world, usually places with small villages and untouched ecosystems?

Might it be that the device meant to save her life actually caused human deaths during its long and tortuous assembly process?

Standefer has written a thrilling memoir about her personal experiences and her struggles to answer her burning question. The book is called Lightning Flowers. The story takes the reader from the backwoods of Wyoming, to U.S. hospitals and our incomprehensible health care system, to villages and mines in Madagascar. As a sufferer of various severe health ailments myself, I could relate to Standefer’s frustration at having to give up the lifestyle she loved to focus on her health and the inanities of the U.S. health care system. I could also relate to her fierce focus on existential questions that are not easy to answer.

Here is one experience Standefer had while researching her book:

“There were these big ideas, these white papers and books I’d read, these analyses. And then there were the people sitting on the mahampy mat before me in the clear sweet winter sunlight.”

(She means, she is sitting with villagers who live near a mine in Madagascar and are suffering in various ways. She means, her prior readings did not prepare her for the realities of visiting the locations she had read about.)

Standefer takes a horrifically sad life journey and turns it into something beautiful, exposing savage realities along the way. You won’t regret picking up this book.