TITLE: LEFT NEGLECTED
AUTHOR: LISA GENOVA
Be warned: This review contains one possible (minor) spoiler near the end.
Sarah Nickerson is in her thirties and leading a very busy life. Between her high-powered, demanding and stressful job, her husband and her three young children she doesn’t have time to stop and think and has to schedule every activity in her own and her children’s lives to the last second. It is the life she and her equally busy husband have always dreamed of though, so most of the time Sarah is proud of and happy with her juggling act.
All activity comes to a complete stop when one morning while driving in to work Sarah glances at her phone for a second too long and ends up crashing her car and severely injuring herself.
When she wakes up she finds herself in the Intensive Care Unit of a hospital with half her head shaven but, as far as she can tell, otherwise fine. Except that she is completely unaware of anything on her left. She is diagnosed with Left Neglected, a neurological condition where the patient’s brain forgets that the left exists. Not only can she not see anything on the left of her, she’s also blind to the left-hand side of most things she can see and unable to use either her left hand or left leg.
Rehabilitation is a slow and frustrating process and when the insurance money runs out Sarah is nowhere near recovered.
Back home, being cared for by the mother she’s been estranged from for most of her life, Sarah has to begin the slow process of picking up the pieces of her life, adjusting to her new reality and finding new goals.
This is a wonderful book as well as a horrifying story. No matter how hard I try I can’t begin to understand how a person’s mind could just decide half of it isn’t there, how that person could possible be unaware of missing half of themselves as well as their surroundings or imagine how someone would even begin to come to terms with that fact.
Genova does a great job of explaining this disorder and how it affects a person. She describes how Sarah goes through a whole range of emotions without making her character look either too blasé or over-emotional. This makes the story, the disorder and the character both believable and accessible to the reader.
As I did with ‘Still Alice’, I find myself thinking about the condition and trying to imagine how I would deal with it. I love it when books bring me more then just reading joy.
One objection, on page 201 Heidi points out to Sarah that she’s lucky compared to others in the rehabilitation clinic. And although that is undoubtedly true it’s not something I feel you can ever say to a patient. Any of us can only deal with our own health issues. Comparing them to the issues of others doesn’t make our own easier or better, it just helps to make us feel bad about feeling bad about our own situation.
On the other hand, I love the optimistic but not miraculous ending to the story, signified through the following words: “Because while I still hope for a full recovery, I’ve learned that my life can be fully lived with less.” A sentiment I had to work my own way towards a decade ago.
This is a book that will grip you, keep you turning the pages and stay with you for a long time after you’ve read the final words. In short it comes highly recommended.