Friday, May 22, 2009

'The Body Broken' is Pure Poetry

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I've read a number of headache books and patient memoirs, but not one of them has been anything like Lynne Greenberg's The Body Broken.

Twenty-two years after a seemingly miraculous full recovery from breaking her neck in a car accident, Lynne Greenberg was struck with a severe headache that has not gone away since. In The Body Broken she chronicles her experience with this unrelenting headache in a way only an English professor could, a fact that for better or worse was never far from the front of my mind as I read her story.

Before her pain forced her to stop working, Greenberg taught and wrote about seventeenth-century British literature. She was in the process of writing a book about John Milton when she stopped working. She uses passages from his most famous work Paradise Lost and from other favorite works of literature as a framework for telling her own story.

My favorite portions of her book are those in which she is brutally honest about the ways in which her pain has distanced her from her children and the emotional pain her situation has caused them, particularly her daughter Lilly. Knowing how much guilt is often associated with being sick, I believe she must be an incredibly strong woman to face down the way her illness has shaped her relationship with her children without flinching.

Greenberg likens her situation to Adam & Eve and Paradise Lost. The idea of punishment resonates with me. I have always viewed my migraine attacks as punishment for something, never knowing what. As a kid I always secretly wondered what I'd done to deserve this kind of suffering.

Chronic pain patients will find themselves nodding along and perhaps even reliving their own journeys as Greenberg traverses the process of trying to find the right care provider and treatment plan. They will relate to the fear and anxiety of trying to decide which path to take at a fork in the road and the difficulty of trusting doctors once you've been around the block and back.

At the end of the book she includes an appendix of some of the poetry that helps her cope with her situation. These works are a beautiful end to the story she tells and far from being an unrelated extra provide another window into how she views herself and her pain. I'm not especially fond of poetry, but I can imagine that a reader who is will find much comfort in the poems she selected for inclusion.

Related posts:
'The Body Broken': Story of Woman with Unrelenting Headache (Sound Familiar?)

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