In this harrowing memoir, a mother endures the unendurable when her son is stricken with a devastating illness.
When her 13-year-old son Jeremy nonchalantly collapses with a ruptured vein in his brain, the author’s safe, carefully tended life with her husband and three children comes crashing down. Jeremy lies in a coma in the hospital, fighting for his life against a barrage of dire complications, his right side paralyzed while his left side unconsciously flails about, trying to pull the painful drainage tubes from his head. Fiala cares for him around the clock, soothing his convulsions, willing him to breathe, but beneath her exterior of calm efficiency she is “a small, frightened animal in a dark cage, keening with grief.” After the immediate crisis wanes, the family faces a lengthy, gray struggle to adapt to Jeremy’s handicaps—to teach him to sit up, to dress, even to chew and swallow—while facing an agonizing choice between the probability of a subsequent rupture and a dangerous, experimental procedure that might resolve the threat for good. Fiala’s limpid, sharp-eyed prose is unflinching in its depiction of the ordeal. She shows us the ravages inflicted on Jeremy by his illness and by grueling medical procedures, the callousness and occasional negligence of an overstretched health-care system and her own exhausted coldness toward the other suffering children in Jeremy’s ward. But she also discovers inspiration, hope and renewal in the experience—in Jeremy’s dogged courage and good cheer in confronting his disabilities, in acts of compassion by friends and strangers, in the testing and reaffirmation of her faith. (A spontaneous Internet support group called the Jeremy Network sprang up and held several prayer vigils that preceded near-miraculous improvements in Jeremy’s condition.) Fiala’s unsparing yet lyrical account of lives shattered and rebuilt despite daunting constraints teaches us how much we can lose without losing what matters.
A luminous story of love, heartbreak and hard-won wisdom.