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Cracked is a personal account written by someone who had a traumatic brain injury aged 14 years, in 1992. She was left with no physical scars, but with a complete loss of memory. What Lynsey well describes is the feeling of loss of identity, the feeling that she is trapped in someone else’s body, and that her family is not her own; this is particularly well accentuated by the use of the definite article, as in the mother, the father, the sister, etc. However, it is her relationship with health professionals, education, and most particularly her peers which are the most frightening and insightful aspects of this book.
Initially the book’s emphasis is on the author’s loss of her own identity. She says that she feels that her own date of birth is the date of her accident, as she has no memories or recollection of her life prior to it. There is also a wish to be as good as the old Lynsey, her family’s old daughter.
She next describes her medical care: after an initial stay in the neurosciences department, she is sent off to a behavioural unit; here she is with what she describes as “all the problem cases under the sun”. The use of different fonts, and even in some patches obviously poorly constructed sentences are all there to give a feeling of the author’s confusion at what was going on around her. However, here she is befriended by a couple of her fellow in-patients who re-teach her the basics of reading and writing. Finally she gets seen by a specialist who diagnoses her as having retrograde anterograde post traumatic (RAPT) amnesia, and who advises admission to her adolescent unit. Here again there were patients with a huge variety of diagnoses, from anorexics, to drug addicts, to the author. She describes the psychiatric therapy, but more clearly described is the bullying, and the start of a descent into an eating disorder behaviour.
Finally she went back to school. Here there appears to have been virtually no support. There was no idea of the problems that she had with amnesia and the impact that that would have on her learning. But more significant was the bullying and hostility, which finally led to her being assaulted.
She was sent to a new school two towns away where no-one knew “the old Lynsey”. Here she developed new friends, and had a much reduced timetable.
The remainder of the book is about a slow but steady improvement in her life. It is about the way she has slowly rebuilt her life, by going to college, getting involved in creative writing, and by slowly discovering her own identity. These have been punctuated by problems: her descent into anorexia, and then exercise addiction, to a highly immature sexual identity.
This is a highly personal book, written entirely from the perspective of a girl who suffered a traumatic brain injury. It is about having a hidden disability, about feeling a stranger in your own body, and with your own family. It is a book which should give hope to people that they can rebuild their lives following such a significant injury, but that problems will still remain. However, Lynsey had her brain injury in 1992, and certainly the medical treatment/therapy input, is totally different to what is carried out at Chailey Heritage today. Also it is our experience that the education authorities are more supportive than the ones described. However, I am sure the prejudices, and the stigma described are still present. The author is a talented writer; however, the most personal bits are the poems which frequently intersperse the book. Also the use of fragments of Alice in Wonderland add poignancy to the chapters. The part which is written with Alice as the first person is probably the most personal and poignant part of the book.
Certainly this book is to be highly recommended to anybody who works with children with traumatic brain injuries. It should also be recommended to families, with the proviso that in the past 10 years treatment, therapy, and most importantly care, has changed and hopefully improved.
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