This month's Rolling Stone cover story details the circumstances of David Foster Wallace's death. That article was written before Wallace's autopsy report was publicly released, and new details have emerged that can't help but color our understanding of his last days. Click to find out what's new.The most striking new detail in the autopsy report is that Wallace bound his wrists together with duct tape to prevent an aborted attempt. Yes, this note is on the macabre side, but the Rolling Stone portrait makes Wallace's act all the more considered choice, one echoed by Wallace years earlier when he said after a friend's suicide attempt, "I just, just - I knew that if anybody was fated to screw up a suicide attempt, it was me." To prevent that, he went all the way.
We already knew from David Lipsky's Rolling Stone article that Wallace had undergone twelve electroshock treatments, and there was mention of other drugs Wallace had been taking in an attempt to balance his neurochemistry. At the time of his death, the autopsy report says that the other other drugs working actively in his system besides Nardil were Clonazepam and Temazepam, neither of which is in the same class as Nardil. Whatever treatment Dr. Jodi Rawles had Wallace on, it appears she was reluctant to stray from Nardil, which was reconfigured to be less strong by Pfizer in 2003, and eventually discontinued by the company in that form before another pharmaceutical company picked it up. More investigation into the properties of this drug is badly needed. Then there's a detail that friends of David Foster Wallace might have known, but most of us didn't:
Why is all this important — why obsess over the details of what exactly happened? It seems inescapable that Wallace's battle with Nardil, which he took for decades, was the principal cause of his death. In that fight, Wallace had every treatment available to him and still succumbed. Maybe it was going off Nardil in the first place that doomed him, and maybe staying on the drug wouldn't have changed anything, either. But whatever did occur, whatever medical and therapeutic treatment he received, could conceivably tell us how to save another depressed genius. This one we already lost.