Written by Ann Millett-Gallant
Published by Wisdom House Books
Pb; 111 pages
Reviewed by Michelle L. Dean, MA, ATR-BC, LPC, CGP
Re-Membering: Putting mind and body back together following a traumatic brain injury by Ann Millett-Gallant is an honest account of her unabashed and unapologetic determination to recover from a potentially life-threatening brain injury. Ms. Millett-Gallant, a congenital amputee and long-time advocate for disability rights, draws from her persistent desire to not be hemmed in by any physical or societal limitation about what she may accomplish. Her story is as much about overcoming real and perceived obstacles, as it is about trusting her body, and her therapeutic use of art, as it is about her journey to recovery from a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). Her love of the arts and their integral role in the reconstruction of her life are apparent in her book, as demonstrated by the use of art as a means of piecing, or collaging, the fragments of her life into a cohesive self over time. The inclusion of color illustrations created both on her own and in art therapy sessions with her art therapist, and my friend and colleague the late, Ilene Sperling reflect the careful re-collection and mirroring process of her transformation. Ms. Millett-Gallant draws from her background in Art History to find inspiration from such historic artists who have overcome physical suffering as Frida Kahlo but sadly does not include these paintings in her book when she speaks of such works.
As many as 1.6 million people suffer from Traumatic Brain Injury every year (CDC, 2017a). TBIs cause 30% of all injury deaths and in 2010, 2.5 million emergency department visits, hospitalizations, or deaths were associated with TBI – either alone or in combination with other injuries in the United States (CDC, 2017b). Ms. Millett-Gallant’s memoir, told from her perspective about her experience, could have been made stronger by the inclusion of her family member’s emotional experiences immediately after her injury and during her early recovery. As cited by Ms. Millett- Gallant, “When one member of a family sustains a brain injury, the treatment, and rehabilitative process inevitably becomes a family affair” (Cassidy, 2009, p. 12). Because she was unconscious much of this time, she relied medical records, photographs her mother took, and accounts made by her friends and family of her treatment to describe the procedures but these accountings seemed sterile considering the emotional volatility that often follows in the wake of such a life-threatening event. Understandably, Ms. Millett-Gallant does not have memory of the accident or her initial recovery as she was in an induced coma or her memory was impaired by the injury.
As a legal guardian of a family member who suffered a TBI, whose outcome was not as favorable as Ms. Millett-Gallant’s, I found her characterization of her family’s reactions to her struggle a bit wanting. She comes across as lacking empathy for the way her own injury impacted those around her, particularly her father. I found myself reliving the pain, fear, and real financial burden of being the caretaker for a TBI survivor: an all-consuming responsibility that swallowed not only me but also other family members including my spouse and young children due traveling, months spent in hospitals and brain injury rehabs, and ultimately nursing homes as well as the time spent navigating the medical and legal systems associated with a suddenly, disabled person. Managing one’s life while picking up the pieces of someone else’s was like running at a full sprint while spinning plates on sticks. I found myself especially moved by, Ms. Millett-Gallant’s conflict with her father over his need to know if she had been drinking when she fell from her scooter as she toured wine country in California with a friend while uninsured and wanted to hear more about the heartfelt struggle that she and her family grappled with adjusting to a new normal. It is without a doubt that her loved ones fought their own battle through the labyrinth of hospitals, healthcare, disability, legal, and insurance agencies on Ms. Millett-Gallant’s behalf, while she fought valiantly and courageously for her life and ultimate recovery.
Cassidy, J. W. (2009). Mindstorms: The complete guide for families living with traumatic brain injury. Philadelphia: PA, DA Capo Press.
Center for Disease Control (2017a). Basic Information about Traumatic Brain Injury and Concussion retrieved on January 14, 2017 at https://www.cdc.gov/traumaticbraininjury/basics.html
Center for Disease Control (2017b). TBI: Get the Facts. retrieved on January 14, 2017 at https://www.cdc.gov/traumaticbraininjury/get_the_facts.html
TBI Resources for Health Care Providers: https://www.cdc.gov/traumaticbraininjury/providers.html
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