Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Review: A Stitch Of Time: The Year A Brain Injury Changed My Language And Life by Lauren Marks

Dear Lit Loves,

Initially, a young woman named Lauren who is in the first year of a doctoral program in theater joins two friends, one of whom has written and stars in a play, on a trip to a theater festival in Edinburgh.  The author leaves her home in New York to travel to Paris to visit a former professor and then join her two friends for the festival and play in Edinburgh.  The three friends retreat to Priscilla's bar to relax and one friend signs both Lauren (the author) and Laura (the friend who wrote the play) to participate in a karaoke contest.  Lauren and Laura step onstage and begin to sing "Total Eclipse of the Heart" when suddenly Lauren drops to the floor and falls off stage.  She is rushed to a hospital in Edinburgh where it is determined she has experienced a brain aneurysm whereby an artery wall in the brain weakens and ruptures causing internal bleeding.  A surgeon and other doctors rush her to surgery and place coils inside the area of the aneurysm to stop the bleeding.  This is a quite dangerous surgery resulting in its own serious side effects.

Once Lauren awakes after surgery she first notices a profound quiet.  People are speaking to her and about her, but she does not really understand much of what they are saying.  She picks up a magazine and realizes it is difficult to focus and recognize words.  This is when we learn Lauren is suffering Aphasia which is the impairment of language.  Aphasia affects a person's ability to produce or comprehend speech and quite often also affects the patient's ability to read or write.  Naturally, the two friends who accompanied her on the trip to Edinburgh are at the hospital with her and realize that something is most definitely not right with Lauren's speech, recognition skills, and comprehension ability.  Her parents soon arrive from California and remain with her for weeks as she works to heal not just from surgery, but also recapture her language and comprehension skills with a speech pathologist at the hospital. Eventually, her boyfriend who is on a wilderness trip in Alaska appears in Edinburgh and she does not know what to make of him or their relationship.  She also has difficulty intuiting what others might feel or think from their words or body language when she attempts to discern how her mother feels about Jonah, her boyfriend.

Eventually, the reader sees Lauren and her mom return to New York to retrieve some of her personal items and then Lauren goes to live with her parents in Los Angeles.  She begins by going to see a speech pathologist to help with her word recall, writing, and reading skills.  Being at home with her parents and her grandmother who lives in a house behind them proves somewhat overwhelming especially when her younger brother, Mike, returns home to celebrate his twenty-first birthday.  The abundant activity inside the house makes her yearn for the first days in the hospital when it was just quiet in her mind with no real way of expressing herself or understanding others remarks to her. 

Eventually, she begins to recall a few words.  Then she attempts writing those words and then reading them.  It is a tedious but rewarding process she builds upon by writing in her journal and via conversations and interactions with others.  She slowly but surely builds her vocabulary as well as writing capacity to be able to read an entire book.  Still, she often has trouble with idioms like "Don't burn your bridges".  The reader additionally sees her work to evaluate the previous status of her relationships with others.  Was Jonah a good boyfriend?  Were they in a relationship of content?  Why does it feel like her brother is interacting awkwardly with her?  In essence, she also has to learn to "read" people once again.

Upon Lauren discovering that her father has been sending emails to her friends, acquaintances, and family about her progress following the aneurysm, the reader sees that Lauren does NOT want her father speaking for her so she has him cease writing and sending email updates.  This indicates her previous status as quite an independent woman.  Later we learn that she had an apartment, life, and friends in New York and rarely interacted or visited with her family in California.  She had been enrolled in a doctoral program that came with a teaching fellowship.  When her mother begins to inquire about disability benefits for Lauren, Lauren learns a friend in New York had signed her up for unemployment benefits without her knowledge.  Lauren then receives a bill from the state of New York along with a letter saying she has defrauded the state of New York.  She gives this information to her mother who takes care of the issues. 

Six months following the initial aneurysm surgery in Edinburgh, Lauren goes to a hospital to have an angiogram completed to ascertain how well her brain is recovering.  It is here where she learns that the brain artery that ruptured is widening once again and the coils that were utilized initially to stop the bleeding are refilling with blood and will not completely keep her from experiencing another aneurysm once again.  The neurosurgeon during this visit recommends clamping the artery closed to prevent any further rupturing of the brain artery.  Lauren's parents accompany her for this visit and then insist they will get a second opinion from another neurosurgeon at another hospital.  That second neurosurgeon keeps the family waiting for over four hours and when he does make an appearance, he is brusque with a distracted attitude.  He tells Lauren obviously she needs another surgery to prevent another aneurysm and she should just go and book the surgery with his scheduler.    This experience leaves Lauren conflicted about which neurosurgeon to choose from at two premiere medical hospitals. 

Interestingly, once she selects the surgeon to perform the next craniotomy, her surgery goes well but with some complications.  The neurosurgeon and his team not only had to clamp the injured brain artery but additionally utilize cotton balls and superglue because the artery had widened to the point where a clamp was not large enough to keep the artery closed.  We then learn that although Lauren was afraid of this surgery due to the risky nature of it, she does not lose the gains in language and comprehension she worked so hard to regain after the first surgery.

Eventually, Lauren returns to New York and realizes Jonah is not exactly truly ready to take care of her even though he insists he is.  She learns he was not always true to her when they were dating.  And she sees that the people subletting her apartment have essentially trashed it and it no longer feels like "home".  Also, she does not believe she can return to the pace of the doctoral program in which she was once involved so she and a friend box up her belongings from the apartment and ship them to her parents' residence in California.  She will leave her life that she once had in New York and go to reside with her parents in California. 

Ultimately, we see a young woman stricken with a critical medical issue most people encounter when they are much older.  We see her slowly scratch, claw, and push her way to regain much of the language and comprehension abilities she essentially lost following the aneurysm in Edinburgh.   What I liked most about what Lauren learns via this rare and ongoing medical issue is that the people who often say, "All is as it should be" or "Everything happens for a reason" to individuals who suffer a medical setback such as an aneurysm and aphasia are quite often the ones who have been spared from any form of unexpected, dire suffering.  And Lauren realizes that language became both her injury following the aneurysm as well as the treatment to recover from that injury to her brain.

I absolutely love the ending of this book, but will not give it away in this review.  I highly recommend this book as a fellow memoir writer and person who has been dealt her own fair share of unexpected and critical medical diagnoses.


Friday, October 12, 2018

And One Day You Too Shall Know My Pain - poetry

Dear Lit Loves,

It's been a difficult week as I heard from one agent that she thinks I have a gripping memoir; however, she cannot connect with my story.  Here is the point though, I did not write a memoir so you could connect with it; I wrote it so you could LEARN from it.  Maybe there is just no longer an interest on the part of literary agents and editors to promote the new "tough" living memoirs by little known authors like myself.  Maybe traditional publishing just does not like Southern writers.  I am beginning to wonder about the motivations of publishing as I have been at this endeavor for over ten years now.  Maybe traditional and small publishing contracts are decided based on an author's social media popularity.  If you are not a social media sensation then you do not get published.  That is shameful.  Maybe it is no longer about the quality of the content about which I write.  Or maybe agents and editors are after the quick buck and not the significance of an author's experience.  It is all a disappointment and frankly has caused me to be disillusioned with the publishing world entirely.  So I decided this week I will post some of my thoughts poetically.

"And One Day You Too Shall Know My Pain"

You, who have not walked in my shoes during my personal journey of medical hell,
One Day You Too Shall Know My Pain.
You, Who Dissed Me In My Time Of Pain From My Father's Death,
One Day You Too Shall Know My Pain.
You, who chose to not lend your utmost attention and medical expertise to my dying father,
One Day You Too Shall Know My Pain.
You, the medical guru who allowed my father to suffer due to your inadequacy and indifference,
One Day You Too Shall Know My Pain.
You, the hospital administrator who treated me in a cold, despicable manner while my father lay dying, One Day You Too Shall Know My Pain.

You, who avoided seeing death when it was knocking at my family's front door,
One Day You Too Shall Know My Pain.
You, who stood in the receiving line at my father's funeral but were not there for the difficulties,
One Day You Too Shall Know My Pain.
You, who never bothered to stay in touch following my great loss,
One Day You Too Shall Know My Pain.
You, who did not bother to attend my father's funeral and pay your respects,
One Day You Too Shall Know My Pain.
You, who call yourself a Christian and yet verbally condemn me for another family member's life choices following my father's death, One Day You Too Shall Know My Pain.

You, family members who are so self-involved you make decisions based on what is most easy and least stressful for you and not my widowed mom, One Day You Too Shall Know My Pain.
You, who critiqued me for "living in my own little world" and neglected to ask me why I chose to stay in "my own little world", One Day You Too Shall Know My Pain.
You, the faux Christians who claim to be so genuine yet wreak havoc with you snippy attitudes and your degrading comments, One Day You Too Shall Know My Pain.
You, who have subjected me to your ineptitude, crass behavior, and irresponsibility,
One Day You Too Shall Know My Pain.
Maybe One Day I Will Witness You Reckoning With Pain Similar To What I Have Known.
Then What Shall Be My Response?


Friday, October 5, 2018

An Emphatic "Hell No" To Kavanaugh For Supreme Court

Lit Loves,

I don't usually bring politics into my blog posting, but the behavior I am seeing exhibited recently by this country's representatives disturbs me to my core as a woman.  Brett Kavanaugh, candidate for the Supreme Court, obviously has a problem maintaining a cool composure when under fire for sexual assault allegations.  And I think he has a serious alcohol problem based on news coverage of people who went to Yale with him.  If that is the case then he has already lied under oath to a congressional committee and that should disqualify him as a potential Supreme Court Justice right there This, to me, means he cannot rule evenly, fairly, or even in a contemplative manner as a potential Supreme Court Justice.  He does not deserve to sit on the same court with Ruth Bader Ginsburg. 

Orrin Hatch, senator from Utah, just told women protesting the Kavanaugh nomination to "Grow Up".  Excuse me?   No, you go get a clue Mr. Hatch.  Last time I checked we all have a right to free speech and if we do not like your stance on Kavanaugh we have a constitutional right to TELL YOU. So, "Go Read The Damn Constitution Mr. Hatch".

And then there's preachy Lindsey Graham, senator from South Carolina, who following the Dr. Ford testimony emphatically insists to the press that "She (Dr. Ford) needs help".  No, Mr. Graham, unlike you she came forward in a composed, civil, and respectful manner to tell you and other committee members about character traits and behavior displayed by Brett Kavanaugh that she felt the judicial committee needed to know before you make a decision on Brett Kavanaugh becoming a Supreme Court Justice.  And she deserved a full and thorough FBI investigation in which agents spoke with her and others who have knowledge of Mr. Kavanaugh's character and behavior.  Sadly,  Dr. Ford and many others were never interviewed by the FBI.  The only sham here is the rushed FBI investigation and senators who say they represent women's rights and the rights of female sexual assault survivors, but who evidently do not based on the vote they make about the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh as a Supreme Court Justice.  It is my recommendation that females hold their state and national representatives accountable for how they vote on critically important appointments such as a Supreme Court Justice.

Lit Loves, here are the key votes to watch for in this Supreme Court nomination vote:

Susan Collins, senator from Maine
Jeff Flake, senator from Arizona
Lisa Murkowski, senator from Alaska
Heidi Heitkemp, senator from North Dakota
Joe Manchin, senator from West Virginia

If senators vote to confirm Kavanaugh then you can bet your bottom dollar women and their rights, equality, and value will never receive proper representation by the majority of our justices on the highest court in our country.  In that event, you will know what to do at the polls on November 6th, 2018.   I know I will be sending my local, state, and national representatives a message about the value of women on November 6th, 2018:  "Hell No, I Am Not Gonna Take Your Dismissive Attitudes Or Behavior Toward Women In This Country!"