‘If a man is the collection of his memories, I had been erased.’
Stroke: A 5% Chance of Survival
By Ricky Monaghan Brown
Published by Sandstone Press
Firstly, could you tell us a bit about the book?
It kicks off with me suffering a catastrophic stroke – the day after I lost my job! I was wheeled into hospital with a one-in-twenty chance of achieving what the doctors delicately called ‘a good outcome’. What follows is the story of a miraculous recovery. It’s a lot funnier than that sounds, I think. I’ve heard many survivors’ supporters say that it was the laughs that they shared at absurd moments that helped them get through, and that was certainly the case for us.
This is a story of survival and recovery, but at its core it’s also a love story – could you tell us a bit about how those strands work together?
I feel it’s important to tread carefully here – if love on its own was enough to save us from health crises, then there would be a lot more healthy and happy people around. There’s a huge dollop of luck involved, too. But if I’m the protagonist of Stroke, then Beth (who acts as my partner, lover, carer and friend in the book) is the hero. She started the process of saving my life from what it might otherwise have become long before the stroke hit, and she still does it every day. The survival story can’t be separated from that.
How did you start getting into writing after having the stroke?
When the lights first went back on in my head, Beth brought me my phone, and I started tweeting out some of the silly little things that would happen each day. When people responded, I felt like I was re-establishing my connection to the world outside the hospital. Soon, I realised that I had stories to tell. Like many victims of brain injuries, I wanted to make sense of what I had lost and find a version of my story that made sense to me. I found out that I had been lucky enough to gain things, as well. Hopefully people in similar situations, and their loved ones, will be able to read Stroke and find some potential for optimism, too.
This is a deeply personal and emotional story – were there bits that were particularly hard to write? Were there bits that you enjoyed revisiting?
The writing wasn’t so bad. I think that I was focused on the story and finding the best way to tell it. Reading back through the final proof, though, I found I was crying tears of laughter as well as sympathy for the Ricky who is often so very scared in the book. I still think that the scene where I try to remember any of the details of our home that I’m working so hard to get back to – and can’t – is absolutely heart-breaking. Many of the laughs come from the antics of the supporting characters: my hospital roommate, the doctors, the nurses and the therapists. It was lovely to reacquaint myself with them again.
One of the things readers comment on is the humour in your memoir when dealing with something scary and painful. Could you tell us a bit about making people laugh with a story about a haemorrhagic stroke?
Well, that’s part of it, isn’t it? The ridiculousness of there being anything funny coming out of this. It’s absurd, and you can’t help but laugh! Like the time I ordered a nurse to get me some ice chips – I’m a very important man, I told him. I’m going to be the vice president! ‘Of what?’ he asked. Of the country, man! What do you think? I’ve no idea what I was thinking, but it made sense to me at the time.
Beth would sometime feel guilty about laughing at the things that would happen, but then she would see me enjoying them, too. Hopefully, readers will feel that I’ve given them permission to join in. Spoiler alert: I survived!
Stroke: A 5% Chance of Survival by Ricky Monaghan Brown is published by Sandstone Press, priced £7.99