"Crash: A Mother, a Son and the Journey from Grief to Gratitude" is a memoir written by a mother after her son is gravely injured by a drunken driver. The story is as much about a family’s encounter with a sudden, potentially devastating crisis as it is about the teen’s traumatic brain injury and its aftermath.
“Crash: A Mother, a Son and the Journey from Grief to Gratitude,” by Carolyn Roy-Bornstein, MD. Skirt!, an imprint of Globe Pequot Press, 2012. 214 pages. $22.95.
In early January 2003, Carolyn Roy-Bornstein’s family sat around the dining room table eating grilled burgers and making plans for the rest of their evening. After dinner, Saul, Carolyn’s husband, left to play volleyball. Their son, Neil, a senior in high school in Newburyport, Mas., and his girlfriend, Trista, set off on the 15-minute walk to Trista’s house, half a mile away. Carolyn, a pediatrician, scrapped a plan to see a movie with friends and stayed home to write. Forty minutes later the phone rang. It was Trista’s mother, Mary, wondering where the kids were.
Thus begins a story that is as much about a family’s encounter with a sudden, potentially devastating crisis as it is about Neil’s traumatic brain injury and its aftermath. Neil and Trista were run down by a drunken teenage driver who kept driving. Not long after, he overturned his car and was spotted running off into the woods. Eventually he served a three-year jail term.
The young drunken driver’s bad behavior and notable lack of remorse would have justifiably earned him a greater role in this book, but author Carolyn Roy-Bornstein contained her story. It’s a fast-paced account that stays on course, almost to the end, riding the tumultuous ups and downs of the tragedy. We learn that Neil finally discovers, after much effort and many false starts, the possibility of a refurbished, more promising life.
Brain injuries are not simple fixes. Surgical procedures and physical healing do not repair all the damages. Neil’s severe concussion and the bleeding in his brain resulted in ongoing depression, problems with short-term memory and certain learning challenges. He was an outstanding student, but after the accident, his cognitive abilities had changed. He finished high school and graduated from college. He’s now pursuing a doctorate in mathematics. But his sadness and the distance he keeps from others once imperiled his employability. The changes, nearly imperceptible to friends at first, were challenging.
Carolyn, a pediatrician quite familiar with treating children and head injuries, nonetheless did not understand how devastating brain injuries can be. She quickly set out to educate herself and now she spends a lot of time lecturing, writing, educating and supporting others. One can only imagine, she writes, what Gabby Gifford must be going through privately.
Trista died immediately following the accident. The driver ran over Trista, who was shorter and got pulled under the car. Neil, taller, was thrown over the top. One of his legs was badly broken, resulting in multiple surgeries and years of pain. The young couple was left bleeding on the frozen road in the dark on a frigid January night. Perhaps immediate treatment would have helped.
Page 2 of 2 - Trista and Neil had been dating for several months and were extremely close. Neil’s grief was compounded, as a result. The family — Carolyn, Saul and Neil’s brother Dan, studying in Mexico — pulled together and supported Neil. Dan came back from Mexico and Carolyn took time off from the pediatric clinic. The Boston hospital released Neil with no advance warning and no support plan in place. He was in a great deal of pain, depressed and combative. It fell to the family to step up and help heal their ailing, suffering son. Despite Carolyn’s background in pediatrics and medicine (she was a nurse before she was a doctor), Neil’s return from the hospital in his fragile condition was terrifying and very hard.
If ever the mantra “a day at a time” could be helpful, it’s with traumatic brain injury. Healing is only part of the long-term recovery process. There’s problem solving, planning and perseverance. In this family’s case, the accident was high profile and involved a lot of media attention and court appearances. These events distract from the objective of living through the tragedy and getting better.
“Crash” is a short, memorable and well-written book. It meanders at bit toward the end when Carolyn details her earlier residency, med school, etc. Short memoirs like this, focused on a single incident or short period in time, have intense dramatic arcs that, quite often, cannot sustain to the required word length of a book. Nonetheless, Roy-Bornstein’s book is recommended reading for any family facing a crisis or anyone interested in the subject matter.
Rae Padilla Francoeur’s memoir, “Free Fall: A Late-in-Life Love Affair,” is available online or in bookstores. Write her at email@example.com. Read her blog at www.freefallrae.blogspot.com or follow her @RaeAF.