Author: Vijay Santhanam
Publisher: Hay House India
Vijay Santhanam was a regional marketing director for BP (auto lubricants), in Singapore, when he suffered a paralytic stroke. While most people would have resigned themselves to living a less active lifestyle, this strong-willed man, then only 41 years old, decided that he was going to work hard towards regaining his health and restoring his physical and mental faculties.
His efforts helped him to pick up the threads of his active life. They also encouraged him to seek to learn more about the human brain, its capabilities and strengths. These fascinating nuggets of information along with his experiences of the distress he suffered and how he coped with the aftermath of the stroke are what he has put down in his book, My Stroke of Luck: Alphabet to Author.
Starting as a splitting headache that wouldn’t go away, the stroke announced itself through a number of tell-tale indications. Any one of these indications could have served as a red flag and urged him to seek prompt medical attention, if only Santhanam had been able to recognize them as warning signs.
Within hours of the stroke, Santhanam’s left brain was affected so badly that the right side of his body was completely paralysed. Similarly, brain functions that resided in the left brain were impaired. Santhanam could not name the city and the country he lived in (Singapore) nor the country he hailed from (India). Yet strangely he still retained an understanding of the characteristics of both countries.
Nor could he remember even a single letter of either his own or his wife’s name. Nor a single digit of his own cell phone number or that of his wife. But the memory that they were scheduled to fly to India on October 27, 2006, to watch India play the Aussies or to the West Indies in April 2007 to watch the cricket World Cup remained. It was this memory that served as a huge motivation for recovery, when Kainaz, his wife, said that she would not cancel any of the tickets, just in case.
Even though the promise of the cricket holiday was a huge inducement, the fact was that the stroke had left Santhanam feeling extremely debilitated. It left him incapable of speech and even of articulation of syllables such as Aa. The affliction in the left brain left him feeling helpless as regards simple linguistic concepts such as He versus She, Left versus Right etc. In addition, he lost the ability to read, basic mathematical ability, colour recognition etc. Nor could he understand anything anyone said to him unless it was repeated slowly more than a few times.
However, since Santhanam’s right brain was unaffected, he still had visual images stored in his brain. And it was the realization that even though he had lost some abilities, he still retained others, that encouraged him to take the first steps towards self-improvement.
The book offers details on the various types of therapy that Santhanam had to undergo. It is written from the perspective of a layman for laypeople and attempts to give readers an understanding of what a person goes through after suffering a stroke.
From the beginning, Santhanam comes across as a fighter. When the doctor said that there would be one session each of Speech therapy, Physical therapy and Occupational therapy each day, to be increased to two sessions each once progress was observed, Santhanam fiercely insisted on two sessions of each therapy every day, to be reduced to one each if he was unable to cope.
Slowly Santhanam’s self motivation began to yield results. He taught himself to sign with his left hand, and, with the help of trained therapists and motivated self-learning, re-learned the English alphabet, brushed up on grammar and vocabulary, and later relearned Tamil and Hindi, the way a child might, and yet not quite like that. For he still had some memories of the content beyond the letters and the vocabulary he had to learn.
It was a slow learning process the second time around, yet Santhanam mastered it sufficiently and ended up writing two books on cricket. He also resumed his hectic work life and took up his responsibilities at work.
Santhanam lauds the support provided by family members and friends, all of whom have been named in the Acknowledgements section. He also credits the support given by his wife and the food from home and his friends’ kitchens.
The narration is simple, linear and methodical and concerns the period immediately before the stroke and four years after it. Santhanam gives us as many details as possible without drowning us in scientific information. The book gives an insight into how an individual facing an affliction could, with sheer will power and determination, bounce back to health and activity.
My only grouse was that there was altogether too much information relating to cricket and chess. Of course, these portions are not without a context. Santhanam had used his passion for cricket and chess to set himself certain tasks which eventually aided in his recovery. The only issue is that these portions would have been better placed in a sports-themed book, as they tend to detract from the stimulating element of his story. I also think that better proofreading could have helped avoid some easily preventable grammatical errors.
But these minor issues aside, Santhanam does a good job of relating the inspiring story of how he drove himself to fight the feelings of frustration and distress to regain control of his body and life.
The book was received as part of Reviewers Programme on http://thetalespensieve.
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