Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Left Neglected and A Lucky Life Interrupted

The library book group recently read Left Neglected by Lisa Genova (author of Still Alice),  a fictional account of a woman with traumatic brain injury who suffers from left neglect. After a car accident, Sarah Nickerson is completely unaware of the left side of her own body because of damage to the right side of her brain. After her hospitalization, she is sent to a rehabilitation clinic so she can eventually return to her life as a wife and mother of young children. The book tells of her struggles to regain her strength and to accommodate her left neglect. She learns to be patient, to appreciate her family and friends who help her in her recovery. Ultimately, her journey from whole and healthy to injured to recovery leads her to re-evaluate what is truly important in life. This hard-driving Harvard MBA must decide whether to pursue her time-consuming career at the expense of her health and family or to try to achieve some kind of balance in her life that will allow her to heal and to nurture her family. The book group did enjoy the book and had a lively discussion of the mysteries of  this brain disorder.

TV journalist Tom Brokaw wrote A Lucky Life Interrupted,  a Memoir of Hope after a diagnosis of cancer. Mr. Brokaw describes his personal and professional life as very lucky until he began to have back pain that was eventually diagnosed as multiple myeloma, a serious blood cancer. This memoir is based on the journal he kept of the first year of his illness. Like the fictional Sarah Nickerson in Left Neglected, Mr. Brokaw went from being a successful, high-achieving professional in perfect health to a very sick patient literally overnight from diagnosis to treatment.

What both these books share is a glimpse into the lives of the very sick and how they cope with their new normal. Mr. Brokaw recommends that all patients should have an advocate, preferably a doctor in the family, to help navigate this new world. One of his daughters is a doctor, and realizing that is not an option for everyone, he does suggest that patients find someone who can be their spokesperson. Lisa Genova, a neuroscientist, seems to be saying that family and friends are ultimately what get us through the tough times in life. She also list resources for traumatic brain injury in her book.

These books might interest anyone who has ever been diagnosed with a serious illness or anyone  who knows someone who has. Which is really almost everyone, isn't it? It turned out that my lucky life was interrupted this winter by a rare illness. I fell down the rabbit hole, like Alice, into the world of hospitals and the health care universe where even the language is different. I did not come across anyone playing croquet with flamingos, but I did find the world of hospitals is just as weird as Wonderland and just as frustrating to the layman/patient.  But that is a post for another day. The struggles of Mr. Brokaw and the fictional Sarah helped me feel that the journey of illness is not easy, but if you are lucky, you can come out stronger and smarter than you started out.

Related websites:
From MedlinePlus.gov results for a search for Multiple Myeloma

LA Times review of A Lucky Life Interrupted 

Hemispatial Neglect from Wikipedia

Reading Discussion Guide for Left Neglected 

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