Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Long Awakening by Lindsey O'Connor

This book is being reviewed at this time in honor of  Brain Injury Awareness Month.

Late summer 2002 Lindsey O'Connor gave birth to a little girl, their family's fifth child.  Soon after she hemorrhaged so severely that she lost almost all her own blood, needed multiple transfusions, and subsequently was placed in a medically induced coma.  For forty seven days, Lindsey's family did not know if she would recover.  Doctors felt there was no brain activity and prepared the family for the worst.  Development of ARD (acute respiratory disease) complicated her care and recovery.  The Long Awakening documents lengthy and difficult adjustment to life after the coma.  As she emotionally describes, being in a coma is nothing like the movie versions.  Her awakening was a dragging into the consciousness, a combination of fog, terror, and pain. Memories of nightmares plague her reentry into the world of the living; a disconnect between herself and her newborn daughter plague her for months.  When friends from her church tell her that she is a miracle, that their prayers were answered, she does not feel the same.  An avid reader and broadcaster, Lindsey finds that words are a meaningless jumble on the page.   A full year or more after her lengthy rehabilitation, Lindsey and her husband realize she still cannot cope with daily life -- parenthood, shopping, etc.
As they seek help, they receive the diagnosis - post traumatic stress, depression, anxiety, and sleep apnea.  Basically, for over 18 months, Lindsey had never entered REM, the deep healing sleep that we need daily, and she was an emotional/physical wreck.  Her brain injuries were more prevalent than anyone thought.

Lindsey says that writing this memoir was a difficult, emotional task.  Virtually absent for the first months of the journey, she needed to interview family and friends, and years later, began to understand how each coped (and didn't cope) with the possibility of her death. Readers will have the objectivity to see the strong bonds that held their family intact and the love that her church and friends expressed through their actions.  
For the first weeks, they "mothered" the new baby until Jacqueline, the O'Connor's oldest daughter dropped out of college to care for the infant.  The church had a rotating meal delivery system that continued long after Lindsey's return home. Perhaps most painful was Lindsey's final discovery that her husband had during one crisis signed a DNR order, only to rescind it, resign it, and rescind it again.  Acknowledging his decision helped her understand just how ill she had been.

I've read other books entailing desperate struggles back from near death.  While others may have expressed bouts of anger and frustration, I think O'Connor's story is told with an unequaled quiet, frankness.  There are no single day epiphanies, sudden cures, single savior doctor.  This is the truth of a woman's struggle to be whole, aided by her extended family's devotion. Reading The Long Awakening will help all of us better understand brain injury and medically induced comas. Perhaps it will prompt us to be more attentive and caring after a patient returns home.  Release from a hospital (especially these days) does not mean a return to normalcy.  I do wonder how families who have experienced brain injury would react to this book.  My own experience here is limited.  Recently, a young couple in our neighborhood had a similar birth experience.  We all felt prayers were answered when the mother survived the emergency transfusions, hysterectomy, and medical coma, and ultimately was able to take their new son home within a week.  Reading this book makes me all the more grateful for their happy ending.

I received a copy of this book from Revell Nonfiction for my honest review.  All opinions are mine.  Here is a link to information on Brain Injury Awareness Month

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