“The Danish writer Isak Dineson wrote that ‘All sorrows can be borne if you put them in a story’.”
In her second memoir, poet and psychologist Doris Brett turns personal tragedy into a story of resilience and determination, as she once again navigates the journey from life-threatening illness to recovery.
She likens the experience to Alice falling down the rabbit hole. “We are prepared for everything. Absolutely everything,” she writes. “Except what happens.”
What happens is that her healthy 59-year-old husband, Martin, suddenly finds himself struggling to put words together during an Israeli folk-dancing class on an otherwise normal June afternoon in 2009. The minor stroke he experiences subsequently transforms into a golf-ball sized brain clot that causes him to lose most of his basic functions. Eating, speaking and moving are suddenly monumental challenges to overcome.
Thrust into the role of caregiver and patient advocate, Brett begins the slow and painful journey of recovery, for both Martin and herself. The unique perspective Brett offers as a medical professional provides a fascinating insight into the challenges of the medical system, filled with bureaucracy and miscommunication that often threatens her husband’s recovery, if not his life.
“When I say that I cannot imagine how one fares without someone to act as patient-advocate, every doctor and nurse I have spoken to nods their head in violent agreement,” she writes.
Brett works closely with Martin’s occupational therapist, physiotherapist and speech therapist—taking on these responsibilities herself when she feels Martin isn’t getting the attention he needs. She shops in children’s stores for activities to stimulate Martin’s brain and reads the latest studies on rewiring brain connections.
But it’s deep, human connections that Brett longs for in the months of ‘fear-filled darkness’. She finds herself searching for others on a similar journey, when some friendships dissipate and others become strained by her newfound vulnerability.
“I have made some attempts to find a support group for partners of those who are in the same phase of recovery at Martin, but either they don’t exist or my search techniques are inadequate,” she writes. “Memoirs become my only way of spending time with a fellow traveller.”
Brett writes beautifully and infuses her memoir with humour, poetry, recollections of dreams and retelling of myths and legends that not only demonstrate the fragility of life, but offers fellow travellers refuge in her strength.
Sarah Morton is a freelance copywriter and MA Creative Writing candidate who is besotted with words, good stories and hot chips.