Life is indescribably horrific for me as the state of my neck continues to deteriorate. I’m working very hard every second to stay alive but it’s increasingly difficult, with more neck damage incurred every day, which means the structure of my neck and warped hardware are reducing blood flow even more and the degree of resulting numbness is getting worse (I can’t remember what it’s like to be able to feel heat or coldness on my skin, dryness or wetness, or to be able to smell or taste, or to be able to have control over my bladder). Various sections of my neck feel like they’re being pulled apart in different directions.
I have to spend 18 hours a day straining to hold my neck and head in a certain position so that a certain small pinprick of a spot on my neck gets pressed down on by the pillow, which allows a bit more blood through, and, after 18 hours like this, of this spot staying relatively unblocked (and never being able relax because if I don’t strain to hold that “magic” position, then I slip off that spot, which also causes things to “break/snap” and/or sublux in my neck and/or hardware, causing more damage), then I get back just about enough blood to be able to feel my tongue, throat and inside of my mouth a little bit, in order to be able to swallow to eat. Next, I have to eat a day’s worth of soft nutrition in one go (raising the angle of the hospital bed to as low an angle as possible but not so low that I’d choke on food but even so, a combination of my vertical neck instability and hardware looseness means that my skull sinks, rotates and slips into my neck and gets stuck while eating. And extra subluxations occur).
Afterwards I have work for hours trying to pull my skull out and untangle it all in order to get into a position where I might be able to sleep. When I do sleep, it’s only for a very short time because when I sleep, my neck relaxes and pings back into a position which cuts off blood more and everywhere regains its numbness. Then the 18 hour process of trying to get enough blood back to eat starts all over again. I’m getting 20-80 minutes sleep per every 30 hours or so. I’m out of my mind with sleep deprivation (I’ve only been able to write this blog post gradually over a long period of time while I struggle to remember words and construct sentences, holding the phone up to my tiny field of vision in bursts of 30 seconds every few days, which is risky because it takes my concentration away from my neck and I can easily wobble into another “break”). I do sometimes black out but I don’t know if that’s the sleep deprivation or the lack of blood to the brain. Or both. I have seizure-like episodes too, as well as short periods of temporary paralysis.
I can’t describe how desperate I am to get to America for the operations I need. If I move even a millimetre in the wrong direction, extra damage happens. If I touch the wrong part of my neck or skull to the pillow, extra damage happens. All of which means it takes even longer to get enough blood back to be able to eat (it didn’t use to take 18 hours; it’s worked it’s way up to that amount of time as more damage (and therefore blockage) has occurred). I’m always in respiratory distress as my airway is increasingly obstructed.
So please please please, spread the word about my fundraising attempt. If you need a concise well-written description of why I need surgery and what I need it for, this link is a good one to use for sharing with others: www.jkrowbory.co.uk/about-me/ and the donation page is gofundme.com/savejenny. Buying lots of copies of my poetry book ‘We Are The Winter People’, which is raising money for my surgeries in the US and the Medevac (air ambulance) to get there, as Christmas presents for people would be very helpful too. You can buy it on this website or on Amazon here: https://amzn.to/3C1ZXum
In the meantime, I’m able to listen to audiobooks sometimes during those long 18 hours, though it’s getting harder as the sleep deprivation increases. Audiobooks have been keeping me sane (well, sort of. 🤪) and sharing my opinions about books is something that I really enjoy and thought could be helpful if anyone is looking for gift ideas for Christmas.
So here are my reviews of the books to which I’ve listened recently:
‘Skyward’ and ‘Starsight’ (the first two books of the Skyward trilogy) by Brandon Sanderson
The best science fiction I’ve ever read (admittedly I don’t have as broad an experience with sci-fi novels as I do with fantasy or dystopian novels but I’ve still read a fair few). Just really fun and enjoyable. As usual with Brandon Sanderson, you get both deep, masterful plotting with unfolding secrets and mysteries AND excellent character growth and development. As a result, you get deliciously drawn into their world, minds and hearts. I especially loved the training of the characters in flight school (school-esque settings are always fun to read), their growing friendships and how we see their learning progression as they gradually become starfighter pilots (to aid in their world’s desperate attempt to defend themselves from the aliens trying to destroy them). But is everything as it seems? You’ll have to read it to find out 🙃. Lots of perilous, heart-stopping moments too. I’m really looking forward to the release of the third book in this series in November.
‘Dear Mrs Bird’ and ‘Yours Cheerfully’ by AJ Pearce (The Emmy Lake Chronicles)
Utterly charming. These books provided a welcome refreshment after coming out of a series where each book had a listening time of over 45 hours each (it was an exceptional series but I needed a bit of a switch up to something completely different afterwards)! Historical fiction is usually something I avoid because I don’t tend to enjoy it but there are always exceptions and this is one of them. These books shine and are delightful. Dreaming of becoming a daring war correspondent, Emmy Lake accidentally falls into a job as a typist at a women’s weekly magazine for the Agony Aunt page called ‘Dear Mrs Bird’ but finds herself taking matters into her own hands when Mrs Bird turns out to be a rather unpleasant editor who refuses to help readers with any real sort of problems. But what will be the consequences if she is discovered? As we build towards the denouement, I loved Emmy’s relationships and interactions with an eccentric cast of characters that you come to love, all set amongst the horror and constant peril of the Blitz, with Emmy working part time on the telephones for the fire service as bombs fall. Who will live and who will die?
(Thank you Ruth for recommending ‘Dear Mrs Bird’ to me. Thoroughly enjoyed it.)
‘Fireborn’ by Aisling Fowler
This is a passable read but overall a disappointment. A bit of a simplistic, unoriginal fantasy story that never rings true. When children’s and YA fantasy is done well, then it makes great reading for both adults and younger readers but this book is not one of those. Maybe children encountering a fantasy book for the first time might enjoy it but compared to others in the genre, it’s basic and does not stack up. I’m also not a fan of the let’s-go-on-an-unnecessarily-long-journey-and encounter-foe-after-foe type of story; I get bored! The main character is one of the dime-a-dozen “tough girl who’s great at fighting” that we see lots of these days, who has a rivalry with an entitled, sneery boy. The characters do grow but nothing feels fleshed out. It all seems artificial and forced. Plus it was jarring to have, for instance, a character yell “CONSTANT VIGILANCE” like Mad-Eye Moody famously does in Harry Potter. This weirdness was added to by the creature called a Grim, albeit a totally different entity than the one in Harry Potter (and obviously JK Rowling didn’t invent Grims), but it was just the two together that made it feel odd and lazy. I liked the squirrel though.
Fantasy books that I’d recommend instead for the same age group at which this book is targeted: the Wind on Fire trilogy, Alanna: the First Adventure, Harry Potter, His Dark Materials, the Old Kingdom trilogy, The Dark is Rising sequence.
‘Flowers for Algernon’ by Daniel Keyes
It’s hard to say anything about how I feel about this book without giving away the ending. What I will say is that it’s an addictive, affecting story that is powerful, thought-provoking and will stay with you.
I think this would have been very different to read as opposed to listen to because the story is told in diary-style progress reports by the main character who is taking part in an experimental surgical procedure to increase his intelligence. From the sounds of the audiobook, I imagine the spelling and grammar gradually change as the effects of the surgery emerge; we don’t get to properly sense this change in his writing as listeners. I definitely recommend this book though.
‘Circle of Friends’ by Maeve Binchy
This book almost has a sort of Anne of Green Gables feel to it (there can’t be a much higher compliment than that, can there). It’s a lovely, gentle story in a small community, set in Ireland and follows the friendship of two girls from age 10 ‘til age 20 (1949-1959). An unexpected delight, totally different to my usual fare. The audiobook is wonderful and adds to being immersed in the setting with its Irish accented narrator (she is the daughter of the author). I’d never read anything by Maeve Binchy before. Would love to know your recommendations for other books by the same author; are they all this good?
‘A Funny Life’ by Michael McIntyre
Exactly what you want (and more) from Michael McIntyre’s autobiography. Entertaining and funny but also touching and surprising in places. Despite loving ‘Michael McIntyre’s Big Show’ on TV, I knew next to nothing of his backstory and struggle to make ends meet for a long time before his success. The glimpse into the behind-the-scenes first appearances he makes on panel shows and the cut-throat world of comedians and entertainment is fascinating. It’s also interesting to learn of his thought processes, his crippling self-doubt and lack of confidence. His relationship with his, now late, agent is moving and captivating; his agent is the sort of person who almost seems fictional because they’re so larger-than-life. The book is dedicated to him.
I particularly loved the audiobook because it’s read by Michael himself and there are a few asides that are only in the audiobook, not in the print book (not many, but still, a few).
It’s strange the random things you remember as sticking out in your mind about a book when coming to write a review. One thing is what Michael regarded as a near career-ending incident at the BAFTAs and the effect it had on him, another thing is Michael describing how his wife has to give almost a little funeral when throwing away household objects, due to the memories and nostalgia attached to them. Thus I automatically like his wife because I’m similar in this way; if I find out that Mum has got rid of something (for example, her tasselled bag that I strongly associate with her throughout my childhood), I’m all “but…but I didn’t even get to say goodbye.” Now I know that some other people are like this too!
‘Where the Light Fell’ by Philip Yancey
I remember reading a book by Philip Yancey when I was 16. My family and I were staying in the house of a church friend while we were looking for a house to rent and didn’t have anywhere else to go. It was an uncertain time and I had just started at a new school for sixth form. I found ‘The Jesus I Never Knew’ by Philip Yancey on the bookshelves of the room I was staying in and buried myself in it, escaping everything else. I only have a very vague memory of enjoying it now but when I saw that Philip Yancey had written a memoir, I recalled enough about him to know that it would be well-written, honest and fascinating (spoiler: it was).
I felt an affinity with him early on in the memoir when he mentions in passing that he hates tomatoes. That shows very good judgment.
Philip’s father dies when he is a baby and he grows up poor with an abusive, fundamentalist mother. He is also very honest and up front about the racism and the narrative of the civil war that he is raised on, living in the South at that time in history. It’s a fascinating and horrifying personal window into that period of time. He doesn’t hold back from confronting his own racism, which, as an avid reader, begins to be challenged in his teenage years when he reads books by black authors, and then how he feels after the staggering violence he witnesses at a political rally.
It’s compelling to see historical events from an individual point of view. It becomes more real when living it through an alive person’s story instead of in a dry textbook. His experience of the Kennedy assassination is so interesting because of seeing it through his eyes.
His rollercoaster journey with religion is absorbing to read about, growing up in church but never truly encountering God. Then in college, searching for what is real and what is fake (something with which I’m very familiar) before finally having an experience that brings him to faith.
This is a stunning and profound memoir. I haven’t even touched upon his brother’s story. But this book is well worth reading and I thoroughly recommend it.
I am always desperate for more recommendations of audiobooks. Please leave your book recommendations in the comments! In my current state, my brain can only cope with either fiction or autobiography so I can’t handle any other non-fiction at the moment. On BBC Sounds, I also enjoy The Birthday Cake Game (thank you again, Ruth, for the suggestion) and, of course, Just A Minute. I listen to Adrian and Bridget Plass on their podcast/YouTube channel ‘Sounding the Shallows’ every Friday and also the podcast ‘Witch, please’. Let me know in the comments if you have any other suggestions for fun things to listen to.
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