Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Thursday, February 22, 2018

 

 

 

"We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses." Abraham Lincoln

What’s the old adage? You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.

Like books.

I was always a big reader. While I was growing up, there was a library of hardcover children’s classics in my sisters’ room – Little Women, Little Men, Swiss Family Robinson, Five Little Peppers. Each time one of us children got sick, my Dad would bring home another book to add to the collection. I loved immersing myself in another time, another place, another world.

It’s a family trait. Every afternoon as dinner simmered on the stove, my mother would curl up on the couch with her nose in a book. She read three or four books per week. As long as it was nonfiction, she’d read anything. My older sister loved science fiction. Dad liked politics and history and biographies.

I liked reading about real people in difficult circumstances. My all-time favorite book is The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom. It’s the story of a family of Dutch Christians during WWII who built a secret room in their house to hide Jews. Equally inspiring is the book, Give Us This Day by Sidney Stewart, which chronicles his survival of the Bataan Death March.

I also enjoyed C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia, and anything by Erma Bombeck.

My husband and I have raised our children with the same love of books. Currently, Peter is reading a biography of Teddy Roosevelt. The four kids, ages 17-23, are reading Harry Potter (again), the C.S. Lewis space trilogy, a murder mystery and a tome about the relationship between theology and physics.

And me? I have not read a book for 17 years.

Now you know my unhappy secret.

It began on July 31, 1991. I was under 35, healthy, with three small children and a fourth on the way. Peter and I arose early that morning and slipped into the gray dawn for the drive to the hospital we’d been planning for nine months. I carried my little duffel up the stairwell, joked with the nurses and settled into a labor and delivery room, fully expecting that events would transpire in a predictable and straightforward manner. In a few hours, we’d call home with the news that James or Victoria had been born.

But it was not straightforward or predictable at all. Instead, I suffered an exceptionally rare embolism that causes pulmonary failure, cardiac arrest or massive hemorrhaging. Typically, the mother dies within 4-5 minutes.

By the grace of God, I survived, but I suffered oxygen deprivation. It destroyed chunks of my long-term memory, and damaged my ability to focus, sequence and organize.

The key problem is that I can no longer read more than a few paragraphs. My eyes flit all over the page, my mind wanders, I get antsy. When I pick up the newspaper, the best I can do is to read the first and last paragraphs of a story, then try to infer the rest. It doesn’t work very well.

More than anything, I miss the books. I miss losing myself in a place and time beyond my little world. I miss the excitement, the knowledge, the laughter, the intrigue. Books draw you into someone else’s world, allowing you to escape the problems of the day and fill your mind with wonder.

Only recently did I arrive at a system that permits me to listen to audio books in the car. I can only listen to small portions at a time and sometimes have trouble with narrative sections, but for me it is a victory beyond expression. My first selection was the Harry Potter series, followed by the true-life story of a plane crash in the Andes Mountains. I am loving every word.

People look at me as if I’m crazy when I say that I cannot read. They think I’m joking, or exaggerating. Who ever heard of a writer who can’t read? I can’t explain it; it just is. I do know that such problems are common among survivors of this complication of childbirth.

A few friends have asked if I’m bitter. The answer is no. I’m not bitter, just sad. But despite the loss, I praise God for his goodness. I am alive to raise our children, to celebrate 30 years of marriage, to enjoy our parents and siblings and crazy nieces and nephews. God is good.

God is always good.

Regina Cram lives in Glastonbury and is a freelance writer.