Book: My Stroke of Luck: Alphabet to Author
Author: Vijay Santhanam
Number of pages: 231
Price: Rs. 299
The mother has always kept me away from hospitals. Deliberately. Therefore, I have little experience with tending to the sick or handling patients. Vijay Santhanam’s My Stroke of Luck: Alphabet to Author was a revelation at various levels. At the very basic level, it is an inspiring tale of the triumph of an individual’s will power and courage to battle his physical disabilities. At the same time, it also provides an insight into the mind of a person whose life is completely altered with one physical condition.
At 41, Santhanam, a senior regional marketing executive with BP, was afflicted with a stroke; he was paralyzed on the right side of the body. From being unable to move without assistance and articulate his thoughts, he went on to rebuild his life, travel, resume work and author three books, including My Stroke of Luck.
The book is a first-person account of Santhanam’s fight against the odds. To call it inspiring is an understatement. I turned each page with awe and respect for his words, his honesty and his courage.
In the Prologue, he provides a brief context about his lifestyle, the state of his health prior to the stroke and this book in particular.
In the opening chapter, he describes the events leading up to the stroke with some words of advice to the reader and a confession: Do not ignore the smaller symptoms. “In the acronym of S.T.R.O.K.E symptoms, as I belatedly learnt, the “K” is “Killer headache” — so my ignoring this important symptom was a real blunder.” This was a piece of learning to me as well.
Once incapacitated by the stroke, Santhanam highlights his struggle to communicate and articulate. Initially he is unable to comprehend why he can understand what’s happening in the room but is unable to articulate his thoughts or why his doctors choose to address his wife and not him, when he is the one lying flat on his back. But in the later chapters, he explains in detail, this dichotomy between the left and right sides of the brain, taking the care to avoid heavy medical jargon.
In one of the earlier chapters, Santhanam mentions that he wanted to discuss an important issue with his wife, Kainaz. The cynic and skeptic that I am, I was expecting financial and monetary matters. But Santhanam surprised me. He wanted to discuss vacation plans, about how he intended to keep his date with the Little Master, a few months later. That decision speaks volumes about his character and the strength he is made up of.
The remainder of the book outlines his brave attempts at resuming normalcy in his life, with first, returning home; making unaccompanied, independent trips to the hospital for his therapy sessions; getting behind the wheel again; and resuming work. Not to forget, not cancelling the two vacations he had planned for, before his stroke.
He also explains in great detail how he relearned his languages: English to begin with, because it was his primary language of communication, and Tamil a little while later. He also discusses his baby steps with the Internet and attempts to keep with chess, a pet passion.
Every few pages, Santhanam is also quick to credit his friends and family for all their support; an important constituent of the healing process.
While Santhanam does a fabulous job of documenting his successes, he is careful to not shy away from revealing his setbacks: When he admits to himself and his wife about his inability to multitask, when some decisions don’t work out as expected, when he suffers from seizures and has to give up driving. I sensed the deepest regret in the latter.
Alphabet to Author was my favorite chapter of the book. As I kept turning the pages, I asked myself, “How did he manage putting this book together? Did he really do it?” That chapter answered all my questions.
My Stroke of Luck: Alphabet to Author is a revealing and fascinating account of one individual’s triumphs against his fate. I was a little annoyed with the constant repetition of facts and milestones, but I suspect it was a deliberate ploy to not lose the reader and reiterate its significance. Apart from that, I could not get myself to assess or evaluate its finer literary points. Nothing stood out like sore thumb either.
Read it to help get a reality check in your life, to count your blessings and not take anything for granted. And thank you, Vijay, for sharing your story with the world.
Learn more about My Stroke of Luck: Alphabet to Author.