Reviewed by Jerry Levy
Susan Mockler’s memoir, Fractured, is a journey into the surreal world of doctors and nurses and hospitals but it is also a journey into the soul, into the psyche of an able-bodied woman who very suddenly finds herself physically broken, “fractured.”
One evening, on an excursion to the White Mountains in New Hampshire, Eric Clapton’s music playing on a tape player, the car Mockler was in struck a moose on a darkened highway. The harrowing events that followed were a murky blur of having her clothes cut off by a doctor, being intubated, told that her lung had collapsed but she would be perfectly fine with only one lung, and ultimately ending up in a hospital in Ottawa for months on end, unable to move her limbs. Curiously, her companion and driver of the car, Gary, remained uninjured.
The ensuing weeks and months chronicle the author’s ordeal in the hospital. Everything from having a metal halo screwed into her head, having catheters inserted to allow her to urinate, being washed by nurses and fed by other people (including family members). It all amounted to a complete loss of independence. It also equated to waiting: an endless wait for medical appointments, therapies, and for her body to somehow recover. But as she would discover, illness, dredged up from the depths of the underworld, has its own timetable and laws, unrelated to desire and motivation.
There an old adage that it takes a village to raise a child. And in Fractured, it brings home the notion that it also takes a village to resurrect a damaged body –
Physiotherapists, occupational therapists, doctors, nurses, residents, x-ray attendants, so many others. Including, of course, trusted family and friends. But the book is replete with a few of those same doctors and nurses who appeared uncaring, far too cavalier at times. As an example, two physicians challenged each other to a race to unscrew the bolts from the halo, only to leave Mockler bloodied as her hair got caught under one of the bolts; a more serious and careful removal would have prevented that. As well, some members of the public themselves seemed unable to deal with her disability, such as a mailman who refused to deliver mail to her home’s post box because it was out of his way. Ten feet out of his way.
The memoir seamlessly alternates between the present and the past and outlines Mockler's difficult upbringing, and her current relationship with family and boyfriends, some of which remain strained. But again, being disabled, she was now at their whim in some respects, unable to do things for herself. The book also deals with her now-uncertain future and all the little things (and bigger things) she did to not give over to total despair (like a fellow-patient did, a woman who was similarly severely injured when a bale of hay dropped on top of her). Things like dabbing holy water from Lourdes on her lower abdomen to help her pee (it actually worked!), leaving Gary’s house abruptly when the situation became unbearable, and just reconciling to the fact she might have to reinvent herself and learn to be different in the world, the same way highly accomplished people like Steven Hawking and Helen Keller had done.
One thing apparent throughout the ordeal is that although the author’s body was badly crippled, her mind remained intact. In fact, her insights into human behaviour are astounding (given that Mockler a successful psychotherapist, that is perhaps not surprising). She profiles one patient named Denny who didn’t want to return home, although he had full use of both his arms and could walk well. He said he lived alone and that it wasn’t safe at his place. In a paragraph that followed, Mockler imagines that his home was a rooming house, “lit by a naked bulb, maybe a hotplate for heating canned beans or making a cup of tea, a lumpy cot, and threadbare sheets.” Not easy reading, cringe-worthy to be certain, but insightful and on point.
Fractured outlines the limitations imposed on disabled people by society and how it is generally not equipped to deal with them. “A sickbed is a grave,” wrote John Donne, the 16th century English poet and cleric. Maybe so, but my takeaway from this compelling memoir is that human resilience can overcome many obstacles, many private tortures. Maybe not all, of course, but many. Susan Mockler is certainly a testament to the human spirit at its best.
Fractured is published by Second Story Press.