If you’ve been reading this blog for a while now, you may have heard this story before. Here’s the short summary. Man is out and about doing something totally mundane– walking home from a friend’s house or ferrying garbage and laundry across a lake in a small boat at the end of a summer vacation– when he suddenly and violently strikes his head. He is rushed to the hospital and falls into a coma. Meanwhile, the wife, not present at the scene, rushes to her husband, and waits. Because that’s what you do when someone you love is in a coma. You wait. The patient either comes out of it or doesn’t. In our story, the man does eventually awaken from the coma. Although it’s straining credulity a little bit to say he is the same person as he was before.
This is the story of traumatic brain injury. It is what happened to Alan Forman in the summer of 1996. And it is what happened to me in the beginning of 2005. Where Is the Mango Princess? is a non-fiction account by humorist Cathy Crimmins. Alan is Crimmins’ husband. His head was run over by a speedboat while the family was on vacation in Canada. The book is an intimate account of the effects of traumatic brain injury, not only on the direct victim, but on her, their daughter and every aspect of their lives.
My friend, Princess, told me about the book when we were talking about her senior level physiology class she’s taking this quarter at Northwestern. Part of this class comprises a disease symposium. Students group up and research a given topic. She has chosen traumatic brain injury and using the Forman case to present for the symposium. I’m reading the book for more personal reasons. I have a strong personal interest in TBI. Whirl is concerned that it is causing me distress to read this book. I admit there are a peculiar number of similarities in the cases. The sections about recovery and therapy have been the most troublesome for me, bringing up echos of my own anger and sense of helplessness at the time. Crimmins writes with a voice that is at once deeply personal, gut-wrenching and often hilarious. I applaud her for that.
When I’m finished with this book, it will stand alongside My Stroke of Insight, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Brainlash and Your Miracle Brain as part of my ever-growing library about scrambled eggs.