An academic steeped in the works of Milton loses her personal paradise when a decades-old neck injury resurfaces, bringing with it excruciating pain.
Greenberg (English/Hunter Coll.) divides her memoir into two parts: “Paradise Lost” and “A Paradise Within.” Chapter titles include “Doom,” “Descent into the Underworld,” “Anxiety,” “Loneliness” and “Grief” in Part I, and “Hope,” “Patience,” “Courage” and “Acceptance” in Part II. Each chapter opens with a quotation, sometimes from Milton but often from a modern poet—Sylvia Plath, Linda Pastan, Adrienne Rich, Jane Kenyon, Louise Glück, T.S. Eliot—whose words have special significance for the author. (English teacher that she is, Greenberg often delivers an illuminating mini-lecture on the selection.) Her Eden included the perfect job, a home in a close-knit, friendly Brooklyn neighborhood, a loving husband, son and daughter. She was, she says, “the luckiest girl in the world.” Bad luck came in the form of a fragile, unhealed broken bone in her neck and subsequent, apparently permanent, damage to the nearby nerves. Greenberg unflinchingly details her desperate search for medical and surgical solutions, her physical and mental collapse, her addiction to and attempted withdrawal from pain-numbing drugs and the unraveling of her home, social and professional lives. Eventually she became a patient in a pain clinic that changed her perspective and gave her hope that she could learn to live with chronic pain and rebuild her life. Acknowledging that a formerly near-perfect existence has changed forever, Greenberg does not paint an overly rosy picture of her newfound paradise. But her story demonstrates that it is possible to live joyously within the limitations of one’s body, to have pain but not be dominated by it.
Absorbing memoir of special interest to anyone living with chronic pain.