Book Review: A Wonderful Stroke of Luck
Monday, June 3, 2019 at 9:42AM
Windy City Reviews

A Wonderful Stroke of Luck: From Occupational Therapist to Patient and Beyond. Janet R. Douglas. Archway Publishing, October 4, 2018, Hardcover, Trade Paperback, and E-book, 316 pages.

Reviewed by Julie S. Halpern.

Janet R. Douglas’s account of the challenges she faced after surviving a stroke is a beautifully written memoir with an ironic twist. Janet was a longtime occupational therapist with extensive knowledge of rehabilitation and the health care industry. A consummate medical professional with the soul of a poet, Janet reveals the immediacy of every experience in heartbreakingly vivid detail. Her unique, unexpected sense of humor—often inspired by literary works—inform even the most frightening situations with wit and empathy. 

When Janet suffers a stroke during a relative’s wedding in her native England, and is left with devastating physical and cognitive damage, she knows all too well how uncertain her prognosis could be. Upon returning to her Chicago home, she finds herself a patient in the facility where she once worked as a therapist. Dedicated staff members keep her focused on her recovery, despite her lack of cooperation. She candidly discusses the personality changes the stroke caused. Unable to walk, read, see clearly, or even dress herself, Janet’s recovery is difficult and not as complete as she had hoped. Coping with canes, leg braces, painful therapies, and countless other indignities add to her anger and frustration. She also suffers severe memory loss.

Janet’s love story figures prominently throughout. Her husband, Bruce, is a loving partner and advocate. After Janet is released from the hospital, her much older husband unexpectedly becomes her chief caregiver, bearing the brunt of her day-to-day frustrations and physical and cognitive limitations with exceptional kindness and strength. Their two daughters also take on many responsibilities to help keep life as normal as possible. When each daughter gets married, Janet defies all expectations by managing large, lavish weddings, complete with bad weather and large numbers of unexpected guests.

Janet and Bruce met while working for the World Health Organization(WHO) in Bangkok, and they continued their passion for world travel. Determined to travel again, Janet impulsively books a cruise to Tahiti. Neglecting to mention her needs when booking the trip, they encounter endless logistical issues, such as cramped airplanes and hard-to-navigate cruise ship cabins. Despite the challenges of her first post-stroke vacation, Janet finds herself able to finally begin piecing her memories together while sitting on the deck of the cruise ship.

Memories begin rushing back: the childhood trauma with her mentally unstable and abusive mother; the loss of family members to strokes, illness, and accidents; and the more recent loss of several dear friends in the 9/11 attacks. Therapy after her return home helps her realize that the years of trauma very likely contributed to the stroke. 

Janet also returned to the corporate job she held before the stroke, but she encountered a cold, unwelcoming environment. While a few colleagues gave her the extra help she needed, several colleagues she once considered friends showed themselves to be anything but. Realizing she was being pushed out, she eventually left on her terms.
As she continued her recovery, she found work that benefits others to be more fulfilling than the corporate world.

Janet’s determination to regain her mental facility, as well as write this impeccably researched memoir, is a triumph. While the book is sprinkled with daunting medical terminology, Janet presents these terms in a manner readily understandable to the general public. Each chapter contains useful bibliographies with extensive clinical and literary references. Despite the complex subject matter, Janet’s wit and humor make it a thoroughly enjoyable read.


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