The human body is a peculiar thing. An outwardly healthy-looking body could be hiding a plethora of hidden issues, unknown to the person until symptoms begin to show. Even then, there could be confusion as to what the problem is, with difficulties in determining whether they are ongoing and serious, or just a reaction to something like stress or everyday life.
This was the case for Emma Gee, a fit and active occupational therapist who, at the age of 24, began to notice that something was wrong with her balance and overall health. After many misdiagnosis’, it was discovered that she had an arteriovenous malformation (AVM)- a congenital condition where there is a knot of blood vessels in your brainstem. To avoid a potential haemorrhage in the future (and early death), Emma opted to have a risky brain surgery procedure, which successfully removed the AVM. However, as a result of the surgery, Emma suffered a debilitating stroke, and went into a coma.
After waking, she found that her life would never be the same. Once independent and active in her daily life, Emma now had to rely on her close family and friends to do just about everything for her. She could no longer walk, speak or even move and had to undergo intense therapy, both physical and emotional. That rehabilitation and therapy still continues to this day. Furthermore, she found that as a former OT, life was very different on the patient’s side of the medical field. She became one of the rare few who have an insight into life as both a patient and therapist, and has worked hard (in her job as an inspirational speaker) to bridge the gap, giving talks to medical staff about person-centred care. She has also made strong in-roads into creating disability awareness for able-bodied people. Weaving together diary entries, personal memories and the observations of family and friends, Emma has recreated her experiences in a strong and empowering narrative about the darkest time of her life.
This is a very inspirational story, and it’s clear that without the support of her parents, identical twin sister, other siblings, nieces, nephews and close friends, Emma’s life would have been a lot more difficult. Over ten years later, she has accepted her disabilities and is unafraid to ask for help when she needs it- something that she initially struggled with. Her story is a stark reminder that you don’t have to be elderly or unfit to suffer from a medical condition like a stroke- a point I am all too aware of, considering that one of my cousins also suffered a stroke while in her late twenties. While she still has her daily struggles, reading this book gave me a strong insight into how she would have felt in dealing with her condition as it happened and how she deals with life now, eight years later.
Reinventing Emma is a real eye-opener and an important piece of literature for anybody who wants to understand how love, support, a positive mindset and compassion can help when dealing with such a traumatic experience. Emma’s story is inspirational and compelling, and we can all learn a lot by reading her insights into disability, reinvention and overcoming daily life’s obstacles. This is not only the story of a young stroke survivor, but it is also an important narrative about one woman’s determination to observe life and take on all of its challenges, no matter how difficult they may be.