Listening in the Silence, Seeing in the Dark: Reconstructing Life after Brain Injury

Johansen, Ruthann Knechel

Published by University of California Press, 2002
ISBN 10: 0520231147 / ISBN 13: 9780520231146
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Synopsis: Traumatic brain injury can interrupt without warning the life story that any one of us is in the midst of creating. When the author's fifteen-year-old son survives a terrible car crash in spite of massive trauma to his brain, she and her family know only that his story has not ended. Their efforts, Erik's own efforts, and those of everyone who helps bring him from deep coma to new life make up a moving and inspiring story for us all, one that invites us to reconsider the very nature of "self" and selfhood.

Ruthann Knechel Johansen, who teaches literature and narrative theory, is a particularly eloquent witness to the silent space in which her son, confronted with life-shattering injury and surrounded by conflicting narratives about his viability, is somehow reborn. She describes the time of crisis and medical intervention as an hour-by-hour struggle to communicate with the medical world on the one hand and the everyday world of family and friends on the other. None of them knows how much, or even whether, they can communicate with the wounded child who is lost from himself and everything he knew. Through this experience of utter disintegration, Johansen comes to realize that self-identity is molded and sustained by stories.

As Erik regains movement and consciousness, his parents, younger sister, doctors, therapists, educators, and friends all contribute to a web of language and narrative that gradually enables his body, mind, and feelings to make sense of their reacquired functions. Like those who know and love him, the young man feels intense grief and anger for the loss of the self he was before the accident, yet he is the first to see continuity where they see only change. The story is breathtaking, because we become involved in the pain and suspense and faith that accompany every birth. Medical and rehabilitation professionals, social workers, psychotherapists, students of narrative, and anyone who has faced life's trauma will find hope in this meditation on selfhood: out of the shambles of profound brain injury and coma can arise fruitful lives and deepened relationships.

Keywords: narrative; selfhood; therapy; traumatic brain injury; healing; spirituality; family crisis; children

From the Inside Flap: "An extraordinary story that you will pick up and finish in a few hours of remarkable reading. The account of her son's and her family's regeneration is simply inspiring. It will be instructive to any family with a child with a disabling condition. But as the account of a transfiguring experience and the sensitive interpretation of how it came about, it speaks to all of us." Arthur Kleinman, Harvard Medical School, author of Writing at the Margin

"Ruthann Johansen’s loving account of the aftermath of her son’s traumatic brain injury is an extraordinary book, . . . at once a profound meditation about the inextricable relationship between language, story-telling, and self-formation and a moving account of how one young man reconstructed his life in dialogue with the solicitations and offerings of family, friends, and caring others. This book should be read by everyone who is interested in the nature of identity and selfhood." Janice A. Radway, Duke University, author of A Feeling for Books: The Book-Of-The-Month Club, Literary Taste, and Middle-Class Desire

"This book clearly asks the question: Who speaks for the traumatically brain injured? It should be required reading for all neuroscientists who are providers of care or who are diligently conducting research to find a therapy that truly produces recovery of function." David A. Hovda, Professor of Neurosurgery and Director of the Brain Injury Research Center, University of California, Los Angeles

"A singular contribution to our understanding of brain injury as illness experience, of the family dynamics of care, and of the narrative nature of lives and brains. The writing is lyrical, moving, and scholarly, not by turns but at the same time. Johansen conveys mother love, feminist self-awareness, and a critical social perspective to provide a unique account of family life through continuing trauma." Arthur W. Frank, author of The Wounded Storyteller: Body, Illness, and Ethics

"This book is gripping and inspired. . . . It will be of great solace and usefulness to others who find themselves in such circumstances, part of the literature of family disaster. It will find an audience as well among all those concerned with what might be called the construction of the self, which would include a good many in various psychological fields." F. Robert Rodman, author of Not Dying: A Memoir

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Title: Listening in the Silence, Seeing in the Dark...
Publisher: University of California Press
Publication Date: 2002
Binding: Hardcover
Book Condition: Good

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