My Lost Summer by Elizabeth Evans Fryer
Published by Jamaica Road Press, Cincinnati, Ohio
189 pages, paperback
How did you decide to write your book?
In June 2003 I graduated with a Master’s degree in Professional Writing & Editing, and in one class I wrote a 10,000-word essay on my recovery from a coma when I was 13. After high school, my coma is just something I didn’t think about often; I put it behind me. And then, 18 years later, I was writing an essay on it, and everyone was so interested in the story. It has a human interest element.
Well, the August after I graduated, I went to a writer’s conference in Columbus, Ohio and read part of the essay on open mike night. The next day I just happened to eat lunch with a lady who heard me read who said my story would make a great book. I didn’t think I had a book in me so I didn’t even consider it at the time. But then a year passed and I was still unemployed, still applying for jobs regularly, which was getting tiring. In November 2004 I decided to take a break from writing cover letters and sending out resumes and do some pleasure reading. I came across Cathy Crimmins’ book Where is the Mango Princess? about her and her daughter’s frustrations with her husband as he recovered from a coma. And while I found the story engaging and really interesting, as I hadn’t experienced a coma from the angle of a surviving loved one, I got a bit angry with the author. I kept thinking, “What about your husband? You describe your frustrations with him, but what about his frustrations with you?” Overall, I thought Crimmins was kind of selfish. I thought, “Someone needs to give a voice to coma survivors, who have their own frustrations with family, caregivers, and their lost abilities.” And since I had plenty of time on my hands—being unemployed as I was—and since I had a graduate degree in Professional Writing and was a coma survivor myself, I thought I was the perfect candidate to take on the duty. Plus, I already had 10,000 words of the book done. The essay I wrote in grad school ended up being chapters 10-13. The book is 15 chapters.
What were the most important factors in your rehab?
My mom and my attitude. My mom at the time had her degree in Early Childhood Development, and I think she played a major role in coaching me back to where I am today, which is fully recovered. She brought in games and changed the bulletin board in my room to keep my mind stimulated.
My attitude really helped a lot too. In my book I talk about my sadness with my lost abilities, but I never did get depressed or give up hope that I would be right back where I once was. However, after a couple years, I came to the realization that, physically, I would not ever be back where I was pre-accident. Still, I studied and studied so that I would progress mentally. I finished high school back near the top of my class.
Today do you have any effects from you TBI?
My coma was the result of a horseback-riding accident over 20 years ago. I no longer feel totally at ease on a horse’s back. It’s been a couple years since I’ve ridden. I consider myself fully recovered, but I still have physical symptoms I can say are leftovers from my TBI. I still get double vision some, usually only when I’m tired. My right side is still slightly ataxic, or the movements are a bit uncontrolled. It’s nothing anyone else notices, but I can’t bounce my right leg rhythmically, like a nervous person might do. I mostly brush my teeth left-handed, like I learned to do upon gaining consciousness, and I still do, all these years later. But I do practice right handed a couple times a week, and sometimes I end up jabbing the toothbrush into my gums because of the ataxia on my right side.
I apply eye-makeup left handed because that’s how I learned to do it. I was 14 when I started to wear eye-makeup, just a year after my release from the hospital. If my right side is still a bit ataxic now, you can imagine that a year after my accident I wouldn’t have done well applying mascara right-handed.
I also have a breathing difficulty. It’s like exercise induced asthma, only I recover very quickly once I stop exercising or reduce my intensity. In researching for My Lost Summer, I e-mailed the Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Cincinnati’s Children’s Hospital Medical Center asking if my breathing difficulty could somehow be related to my coma. He answered that it is common for survivors of coma due to head injury to have breathing problems, and the problem is likely the result of damage to the brain stem respiratory centers. I thought that was interesting. It was good to know the source of my difficulty after 20 years.
What kind of reception is your book getting?
It’s only been out since the last week of 2005, and already I’ve gotten e-mails from people who’ve recovered from TBI or who have loved ones recovering in the hospital right now. So the book’s getting into the hands of people who it will most benefit. But I’m also getting e-mails from people whose lives have not been touched by TBI, who just think it’s a great story. All the messages I’ve gotten so far are positive.
Is there somewhere people can go to get a preview of the book?
Yes. My Website has excerpts and pictures of me taken at different stages of my recovery. Plus, www.lulu.com/content/173173 carries different excerpts. You can also order the book from there.
Do you have plans to write another book?
No, I don’t. Like I said, I didn’t think I had a book in me. I honestly feel like God’s hand lead my hands as I wrote my story as it’s one that needs to be told. I know it will help make recovery more comfortable for survivors if their loved ones and caregivers read it.
~sapphoq and Elizabeth Evans Fryer