Ever since I read Lisa Genova's saga of an Alzheimer's victim, "Still Alice", I've been anxious to get to this one. Although written as fiction, the story of this more common than we realize neurological condition known as "Left Neglect" is compelling, frightening, encouraging, discouraging, depressing, and uplifting all at once.
The main character, Sara Nickerson, is portrayed as an over-achieving, multi-tasking, high powered executive, mother of three who thinks she can have it all--and almost does, until a momentary lapse of judgement (trying to dial a cell-phone while barreling along a crowded turnpike at 70mph) results in a horrific accident, and a traumatic brain injury. When she awakes in the hospital, she is confronted with the fact that the entire left side of her experience is missing. She can't see on her left, she can't use her left arm or leg, she can't hear on her left--in essence, she is missing half her reality. She can't dress, bath or toilet herself, she can't read, she can't use a computer, she can't walk, she can't feed herself, and the outlook is less than optimistic for a full recovery.
For about 60% of this book, I wanted to smack this woman. She is obnoxious, arrogant, demanding, selfish, and totally unlikable. But..............she is suffering an incredible challenge, and an almost impossible obstacle course to recover her previous life, so I continued reading, praying for a change of heart. On top of the physical issues she had to deal with, she is confronted with having her mother moving in to her household to help out with day to day chores, with her daughter's physical needs (dressing, bathing, moving etc) and with childcare - particularly for the toddler. Apparently, Sara has not been on speaking terms with her mother for most of her adult life, and the psychic energy she must expend on re-building (or tearing down) that relationship is an additional trauma to her system. On top of everything, the family has to face a precipitous drop in its very affluent life-style if Sara is unable to return to work.
Genova has given us a powerful portrayal of the physical, mental, psychological and spiritual challenges of this type of injury --not just to the victim, but to the family and friends who also are impacted by its devastation. In the end, it is a story of the power of the human spirit to rise above adversity and get on with life. It is a story that will stick with the reader for years.
And I promise, I'll never use a hands-on cell-phone while driving.
Author: Lisa Genova
Publisher-Format: Gallery Books (2011), Paperback, 352 pages
audio by Simon and Schuster, 9 hr, 15 min
Narrator: Sarah Paulson
Subject: neurological damage from traumatic brain injury
Setting: Massachusetts, Vermont
Source: public library