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Prognosis: A Memoir of My Brain by Sarah…
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Prognosis: A Memoir of My Brain

by Sarah Vallance

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351488,563 (3.5)4
The searing, wry memoir about a woman's fight for a new life after a devastating brain injury. When Sarah Vallance is thrown from a horse and suffers a jarring blow to the head, she believes she's walked away unscathed. The next morning, things take a sharp turn as she's led from work to the emergency room. By the end of the week, a neurologist delivers a devastating prognosis: Sarah suffered a traumatic brain injury that has caused her IQ to plummet, with no hope of recovery. Her brain has irrevocably changed. Afraid of judgment and deemed no longer fit for work, Sarah isolates herself from the outside world. She spends months at home, with her dogs as her only source of companionship, battling a personality she no longer recognizes and her shock and rage over losing simple functions she'd taken for granted. Her life is consumed by fear and shame until a chance encounter gives Sarah hope that her brain can heal. That conversation lights a small flame of determination, and Sarah begins to push back, painstakingly reteaching herself to read and write, and eventually reentering the workforce and a new, if unpredictable, life. In this highly intimate account of devastation and renewal, Sarah pulls back the curtain on life with traumatic brain injury, an affliction where the wounds are invisible and the lasting effects are often misunderstood. Over years of frustrating setbacks and uncertain triumphs, Sarah comes to terms with her disability and finds love with a woman who helps her embrace a new, accepting sense of self.… (more)

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(Read the original on my blog: https://wordcauldron.blog)

I received this as a Kindle First Reads book for July 2019.

Once again, when I got my selections for July Kindle First Reads, there was nothing that interested me (more of the same boring themes) until I got to the end of the list and saw this book. I read the description and decided to grab it because, though I've read several biographies and memoirs, the story behind this one was different from anything I've read before.

The first 30% of this book was not easy or quick for me to read because much of the beginning of the book has, if you'll forgive the pun, a lot to do with what's in the author's head before her accident and during her initial survival mode afterward. It took me a while (almost two months) to wade through that necessary-but-painful journey of self-discovery because I could only handle reading little bits at a time.

I couldn't help but put myself in her place and image the anxiety, fear, and utter loneliness and despair she must have felt. It was emotionally exhausting. This was particularly so because it was her own recklessness that landed her in this position, and so you feel empathy for her on this level, as well. Many of us feel invincible until we are proven wrong, and there are plenty of people who never take risks and still have terrible accidents. You just never know what will happen to you, and no one asks for something like this happen to them, even if it may seem like they "deserved" it through their actions. And, as we come to see, the author does learn through the experience, which in my opinion is more important than the circumstances surrounding how and why it happened in the first place.

Once the author starts to try to lead a normal life again, it moves more quickly, and I really could not put it down. I think I finished the last 70% yesterday, even staying up a bit late to do so.

It is well-written (which is astonishing once you understand what the author went through) and carefully thought out.

It has medical and scientific terminology, but it's nothing over-the-top, just enough so that you understand what is necessary for that point in time.

As I alluded to earlier, it is emotional, but not because the writing itself is emotionally charged (the tone is very matter-of-fact—emotional things happen but they are not written emotionally, if that makes sense). It is due to the intensity of how the injury affected her mentally and all of the personal growth that engendered. While you're reading, you know that, clearly, the author is going to be okay because she wrote the book you are reading, but the exploration and trials required to get to that point are excruciating to read on her behalf.

Not only is she dealing with new mental limitations that make the space in her own head feel completely foreign and unnavigable, she is also forced to examine her past self quite heavily to find the way forward and function in society. So many things come to light for her about the person she used to be, particularly in her interactions with other people.

“It took brain damage to make me realize how arrogant I had been.”

So many things her brain used to do that she took for granted were no longer possible. Some of these she does not discover until many years later, and each time she encounters one, it spirals her back to the beginning and makes her feel like she really has not progressed at all, no matter how much she has accomplished in the interim.

In essence, the accident gave her one massive identity crisis inside a brain that no longer functioned through familiar pathways.

Along with all of this self-discovery, it explores areas in which we can find (often unexpectedly) help, inspiration, and hope.

From the healing connections we can have with animals...

“The dogs are the reason I am still here.”

To serendipitous meetings with kind strangers...

“I walked away and never saw her again, but it didn't matter. Without knowing it, she had changed my life. ”

It also reminded me a bit of the Spoon Theory, which is a blog post written by a woman with Lupus. People do not believe it when the blogger tells them she is sick or too tired or doesn't have the energy to even brush her teeth. Finally, when a friend says to her during lunch, "But you don't look sick!", the blogger lays some spoons out on the table. The blogger then asks her friend to describe her day in minute detail, and with each activity the friend mentions, the blogger removes a spoon. Getting out of bed, getting dressed, brushing her teeth, preparing breakfast, eating breakfast, all of these "cost" one spoon. In the end, the blogger "has no more spoons" and the friend hasn't even gotten to work yet in the description of her day. The blogger's friend begins to realize how the blogger has to be choosy in "spending" her spoons each day to ensure that she has the energy to do what is needful.

The author of this book went through something similar, particularly toward the end when she felt that her memory and other skills were getting worse (reverting back to the way things were when she first had her accident) and making it difficult for her to function, both mentally and emotionally. No one close to her believed it and they all thought she was either pretending (for attention, for sympathy, for excuses in bad behavior, for whatever reason) or delusional. This fallacy that illness is only real or "counts" when the physical toll of it can be witnessed is a valid frustration for many people, and I was happy to see the author address it.

In the end, this woman who was told she would never have a full and successful life did just that. She retaught herself how to read, comprehend what she wrote, write coherently, and spell. She held several high-level jobs, wrote several research papers, had relationships (the final being successful after meeting the right person and undergoing so much personal growth), got her PhD, traveled the world, repaired a broken family relationship, and more.

I found this unusual book inspiring, it has good life lessons in it, and I learned a lot about brain injuries which was a topic I had never explored before. ( )
  wordcauldron | Aug 29, 2019 |
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