“I Remember Me”: Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Documentary Reviewed by Roger Ebert

I REMEMBER ME / *** (Not rated)

Featuring: Kim A. Snyder, Michelle Akers, Blake

Edwards and Stephen Paganetti. A documentary written

and directed by Kim A. Snyder. No MPAA rating

(unobjectionable for all). Running time: 74 minutes.

I now believe in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I was one

of many who somehow absorbed the notion that it was an

imaginary illness. I am ashamed of myself. At the

Hamptons Film Festival, I met Kim A. Snyder, who was

working as an assistant producer on a Jodie Foster

film when she contracted CFS in 1995. For the last

five years, while still battling the disease, she

directed “I Remember Me,” a documentary which does

what the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta

shamefully failed to do: connects the dots.

Snyder begins in Lake Tahoe, where the disease struck

hundreds of people. She talks to Dr. Daniel L.

Peterson, who first started treating CFS patients

there in 1984, has had seven who committed suicide

because of the disease, and has no doubt it is real.

She also talks to a spokesperson for the nearby

Incline Village Visitors’ Bureau, who says CFS is

promoted by “quack doctors and mostly overweight

women.” This person succeeds in becoming the living

embodiment of the real estate brokers in “Jaws,” who

don’t want anyone to believe there’s a shark.

Yes, Dr. Petersen sighs, investigators from the CDC in

Atlanta looked into the Lake Tahoe outbreak: “They

came out here and skied and looked at a few charts.”

The conclusion was that Chronic Fatigue Syndrome was

psychosomatic, or hysterical, or misdiagnosed. We are

reminded that until the 1950s, multiple sclerosis was

also considered a hysterical condition.

Snyder is an investigative journalist who does her own

detective work. She identifies many earlier outbreaks

with the same symptoms as CFS and goes to Punta Gorda,

Fla., to visit five women who had the disease 40 years

ago. Investigators visiting their community at the

time concluded it was a real disease and not an

imaginary condition, and said so in a report–which

the women never saw. Snyder shows one woman the report

on camera. She expresses her anger; this report would

have informed her she was not, as many assured her,

going crazy.

Snyder interviews two famous CFS sufferers: the film

director Blake Edwards, who has continued to work

during remissions in a 15-year struggle with the

disease, and the Olympic gold medalist soccer player

Michelle Akers, who walked off a field one day and

collapsed. But Snyder’s most touching [interview

is]the depressing visit to the bedside of Stephen

Paganetti, a high school senior in Connecticut. He has

been on his back in bed for years. The slightest

exercise exhausts him. He is fed through tubes.

Determined to attend his high school graduation, he’s

taken there by ambulance and wheeled in on a gurney.

Few of his classmates had come to see him imprisoned

in his bedroom; one says “you get better–and we’ll

talk!” They give him a quilt they have all contributed

patches to. Just what a high school kid wants for his


By the end of filming, Stephen is still suffering, and

indeed less than 20 percent of CFS sufferers get

better, Snyder says. The disease strikes as many women

as HIV. There has been recent progress. Robert J.

Suhadolnik, a biochemist at Temple University, has

identified a blood enzyme that acts as a marker of

CFS, after many doctors claimed it had no physical

symptoms. A whistle blower at the Centers for Disease

Control has revealed to government accountants that

$13 million was illegally diverted from CFS study to

other diseases. Yet TV comics still joke about the

disease as a form of laziness. Ironic, isn’t it, that

Kim Snyder wasn’t too lazy to make this film–while

the CDC and the medical establishment are only now

stirring into action.

Note: For more on Paganetti’s story, visit

http://www.cfids-me.org/cfscc/bass0498.html .

Copyright © Chicago Sun-Times Inc.

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