In Sickness and In Health: The 'brain books' which provide comfort and advice

Trying to read them all is like trying to drink the sea: impossible, and deadly

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The Independent Online

Last year, Rebecca’s husband, Nick, was hit by a car and seriously injured. Here, in one of a series of columns,  she writes about the aftermath  of his accident

I can pinpoint when my love of reading started. It was during the evenings that my dad used to read out loud from my mum’s childhood hard-backed copies of The Famous Five.  Dad used to do the voices of  the Five (barks for Timmy the  dog) and I couldn’t wait to be  able to read them myself.  Since then, the only time when  I haven’t been able to read,  when I’ve not had three books on the go, is during the days after Nick’s accident.

For a week, the most I could do was flick through the stacks of magazines that my mother-in-law had brought down on the train, and bought each day in the hospital shop for want of something to do.

I couldn’t concentrate on a page of words and even if I tried to, I felt guilty given what was happening to my husband in intensive care. Then, one night, I went to bed with a bottle of wine and picked up A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor, something I’d been intending to read for years. Its detail drew me in after days without words and finally gave  me some respite.

Since then I’ve read for pleasure, for work, out of necessity and when I should be doing something more useful. I’ve also read for research, learning about how other people have coped with brain injury and physical limitations.

Trying to read every memoir of a shattered mind or body is like trying to drink the sea: impossible, and deadly. So I ration the “brain books”. I have found comfort and advice from the following titles, all of which  are fascinating whether they’re used as road maps or not.

Touching Distance by Beverley Turner and James Cracknell is a husband-and-wife account of the sportsman’s brain injury and recovery. I started it, having had it passed on by my mother-in-law, in the early days and had to stop because Cracknell’s progress was so much swifter than Nick’s.

Where Is the Mango Princess?: A Journey Back From Brain Injury  by Cathy Crimmins. So much of this book, written by the wife of a severely head-injured man, has stayed with me. Again, the recovery charted in this book is much faster than Nick’s, but by the time I tackled it, Nick was speaking, and I had more hope.

How I Rescued My Brain: A Psychologist’s Remarkable Recovery from Stroke and Trauma by David Roland. Read for work, but useful in private, this is a forensic psychologist’s tale of his misdiagnosed stroke, and his heroic efforts to heal himself.

Over My Head: A Doctor’s Own Story of Head Injury from the Inside Looking Out by Claudia L Osborn. Mentioned in How I Rescued My Brain, this is another insider’s look at what happens to a brilliant mind (in this case, a doctor) after  life-changing injury.

Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence by Matthew Sanford. The sadness of this  book is matched by how inspiring it is. Sanford lost the use of his legs in the car accident that killed his father and sister, lost connection to his body and lost his childhood. How he built a new life – warning, this book contains yoga – has set me and Nick on a new path. A must-read.