Climbing Back by Elise Rosenhaupt

Climbing Back

A Family's Journey through Brain Injury
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In her debut, Rosenhaupt tells stories of her family’s neurological emergencies, focusing on her son’s recovery after an accident.

In October 1998, the author’s son, a Harvard University student who loved rock climbing and ultimate Frisbee, crossed a highway late one night while wearing dark clothes and was struck by a car. The driver wasn’t speeding, she says; it was merely unfortunate timing. Her son became one of the 1.7 million cases of traumatic brain injury reported annually, and he was the youngest neurological patient at the New England Rehabilitation Hospital, where he spent 22 days instead of a projected six to eight weeks. Rosenhaupt recognizes how lucky her son was to have made such rapid progress: he could shower unaided, take walks with others, and even prepare breakfast as a rite of graduating from rehab. Moreover, his mind was so minimally affected that he was able to complete his folklore and mythology degree, even studying in Cuba for his senior thesis. This is not a tidy story of perfect restoration, however, and Rosenhaupt bravely chronicles her son’s setbacks and probes the cruel coincidences of her own experience. It wasn’t her first encounter with brain injury, after all; two decades earlier, her father fell off a bicycle and hit his head, and although surgeries gave him some good years, he later experienced dementia. Also, her husband experienced transient global amnesia, her mother suffered from Parkinson’s disease, and she fractured her own skull only 10 weeks before her son’s accident. At times it feels as if this book is merely an account of one medical crisis after another, but thanks to the author’s skips back and forth in time and flashbacks to normal life in Santa Fe, it’s no dull, chronological narrative. Passages from Rosenhaupt’s notebooks, letters, and emails aid the graceful reconstruction of scenes. The language is simple but heartfelt: “We never talk about what we fear most. We don’t fall apart. We are holding our breath.” Most chapters are headed by apt poetic epigraphs; as a former poetry editor and English teacher, Rosenhaupt knows literature’s power to soothe.

A well-crafted memoir that creates meaning by drawing medical connections.

Pub Date: June 29th, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-9836980-2-9
Page count: 232pp
Publisher: Peninsula Road Press
Program: Kirkus Indie
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