EXCERPT: Don’t Leave Me This Way by Julia Fox Garrison

Thursday, July 27th, 2006

By piper

To tell you the truth, “inspirational memoir†isn’t a term that excites me much. I’m much more likely to pick up “crack-addicted drag queen memoir†or “sassy angry Jewish chick memoir†or even “fucked up incest memoir.†But when I saw that the second paragraph of Julia Fox Garrison’s Don’t Leave Me This Way: Or When I Get Back on My Feet You’ll Be Sorry included the phrase “wipe her own ass,†I decided this book required a closer look. As Booklist reviewed, “Inspirational is too weak a word†for Garrison’s book, but it is also frank, forthright and full of wordplay.

Garrison, a wife and working mother, suffered a massive brain hemorrhage in 1997. Doctors disagreed on cause and treatment, and she rejected the pity-party ethos of support groups, leaving her alone with her friends and family in her quest to regain a normal life. Don’t Leave Me chronicles her little victories, from walking to tampon-changing to parenthood to sex, as well as her legal battles, her experiments with alternative healing, and her “homage to my hemorrhage†party.


In this excerpt, from the beginning of the book, we follow her footsteps on the very ordinary morning the extraordinary began:

She was southbound on route 128, driving to work and doing her daily ritual, thanking God for her son, Rory, and her husband, Jim, and all of her family and her friends and her job and the fact that she and Jim were talking about having another baby and the fact that she had lost weight thanks to that stuff she was taking and the fact that she had a good marriage, and she finished thanking God and quickly glanced in the rearview mirror and changed lanes confidently and safely and started thinking about precisely how she was going to handle the switchover of the phone system at work while making everything look SEAMLESS to the customers calling in, customers who didn’t know (and didn’t much care) that her company was moving from one building to another, or that BIG, BIG CHANGES were in the works. And she thought, Bring it on.

Southbound on 128. And she thought, Seamless.

And as she was driving it didn’t occur to her to thank God for the ability to stand, or to walk, or to drive, or to take a shower herself, or to dress herself, or to have a functioning circulatory system, or to make her way to the toilet unescorted, or to change her own tampon rather than watch helplessly as a total stranger did so, or to wipe her own ass for that matter. And had she thought of these things she would certainly have been thankful to God for them, but as of the morning of July 17, 1997, it had never occurred to her to even notice them, much less express gratitude for them.

Southbound on 128 and driving and thinking that last week her boss had sat her down and told her “Big, big changes are in the works,” and “I’ll be honest with you, the company is going through a major transition,” and “We need you to keep everybody in your department upbeat, that’s what you’re so good at,” and “Don’t get me wrong, this is a question of survival,” and “You’re the best team player we’ve got,” and “The transition has to be seamless.” Big, big changes in the works. “Don’t let them throw you.”

Southbound on 128 and remembering the huge cutout of Babe Ruth she’d put together for the party with the president when he introduced his new management team and the theme was “The Winning Team.” She’d managed to track down a life-size stand-up photo of the Babe and she’d put a baseball cap with the company logo on it and it got a standing ovation. She’d decorated her department with a baseball theme, even hiring a hot dog and popcorn vendor. There were different positions for her coworkers to play — the batting cage, the pitching mound. Boosting morale within the company. Big, big changes were in the works and everything was going to be seamless, goddammit, seamless.

Southbound on 128, a little sleepy, time to wake up now, thankful that she knew the road as well as she did. Thankful she knew exactly what was in front of her. Bring it on.

A long time ago you had a vision.
“You’re going to be in a wheelchair for a while. But it’s going to make you a better person.”
You saw yourself in a wheelchair in the dream. When you woke up you felt confused.

Her normal routine was that she would take a lunchtime walk with Berkeley, the other customer support manager; together, they would walk close to four miles in under an hour, and discuss department strategies while they got in a little exercise. On July 17, they both had to go to separate manager events, so they decided not to walk at lunchtime. She was feeling congested and tired and was slightly relieved that they were not going to be walking.

She sent out a short e-mail to her department, asking if anyone had some kind of cold medicine. She wanted to use it to help relieve her symptoms so she could continue with her plans for the day.

A coworker responded: “I picked up some over-the-counter stuff at the pharmacy; you’re welcome to it.”

She swung by the cubicle, picked up the medicine, headed to the bathroom, swigged some water, and got on with her day.

At noon she went to the building cafeteria and made a salad from the salad bar.

She had the salad in her office while she composed an e-mail regarding her department’s imminent move to another facility, which was scheduled for the end of the week. She was planning on staying at the local hotel over the weekend to oversee the relocation. A coworker came by her office to ask if she wanted a ride to the manager’s event in Tyngsboro. She said she was still writing the e-mail with the details of everyone’s responsibilities for the move. “Go on ahead and I’ll meet you there,” she said.

At a little past two, she felt a throbbing pain in the right side of her head. It was as if a switch had been flipped. The pain was immediate — a volcano erupting inside her skull.

She saw randy, the department vice president, and told him she had a throbbing headache. He suggested going to the bathroom and trying to throw up. He seemed to think that the pressure would release if she threw up her breakfast. The idea didn’t exactly bathe her in relief.

The pain was now excruciating.

She knew it was serious. She knew she had to go to the hospital. She was unsure what hospital she should go to. There was the hospital where she had delivered her son, but it was not a hospital her primary care provider was affiliated with. Her new primary care doctor was about thirty-five miles away. The sister hospital was about ten miles away. She had to make a choice. But her head wasn’t working in its usual optimal choice-making mode. She needed some help.

2 responses

  1. Delmar Neeley, Ed.D. says:

    This is the singularly most accurate depiction of ‘a trip through the system’, and simultaneously, the most inspirational book I have read.

    The two descriptions are typically mutually exclusive, but Ms. Garrison has brought them together “seamlessly.” While I have had an occasional negative reaction to some of the more graphic comments, everyone I have shared this with, in person and in classes, overall has had a very emphathic response.

  2. Mindy says:

    Good site! I found in +

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