'Normal' a survivor's tale with a unique perspective

'Normal' a survivor's tale with a unique perspective

It is possible to survive a ruptured cerebral aneurysm, although before reading "Normal" by Janet Bettag, most people might not realize this.

In her memoir, Bettag describes the day she had jury duty and a sharp pain in her temple led to blackness. Her life hasn't been the same since.

"Normal" tells the story of how she survived brain surgery that many people don't and began her recovery, where even making a pot of coffee proved to be a task equal to rocket science. Bettag writes an honest recount of what it was like for her the days, months, and years after her survival. This memoir is a real page turner, as readers come to know the innermost thoughts of Bettag and wonder if she'll ever be back to her "normal" self again.

It's a wonderful book for people who have survived ruptured cerebral aneurysms and their family members, as well as for anyone who knows someone who had brain trauma from accidents or other medical conditions. Readers will come to realize that we really know very little about the brain, and family members and friends who have survived any brain injury may have altered feelings, beliefs, self-confidence and more.

Bettag shares how a new computer back in 1997 with a dial-up connection and an AOL account brought some of her life-functioning skills back, such as reading, writing, playing games, communicating feelings and researching. She discusses how she misunderstood her loved ones more than once, like when her husband casually said to her, "Why don't you spend an hour on the computer today?"

She thought she only had an hour a day on the computer, and she would feel guilty when she went over her "time limit."

Bettag is the mother of two. When she thought she was dying from the ruptured aneurysm, she asked God to let her live because her first grandchild had just been born to her daughter. Bettag's son was still living at home at the time of her recovery. Both children supported and helped their mother while she got used to the one being cared for.

Readers will cry along with Bettag when she writes about some of the rudeness and cruelty of strangers. Once when she went out to eat with her husband before she bought a wig, some of the other customers called her a freak and said that looking at her made them lose their appetite.

Thank goodness for Bettag's husband, Mike, who lovingly encouraged her each and every day and didn't let people, such as these ill-mannered diners, stop his wife from going into public and functioning again.

Bettag did go back to work part time at a police department in St. Charles County, Mo. She faced problems, such as forgetting to put the e in her first and last name when she signed it; but because she reached out to her family, friends and an online support group, she made it through.

Throughout her memoir, she also has words of advice for survivors of ruptured cerebral aneurysms, such as being honest with doctors and finding others who are going through similar medical issues. She suffered from panic attacks and survivor's guilt, which she writes about with vivid detail and truthfulness. In the end of the book, she also includes discussion questions for support groups or even book clubs.

Besides her memoir, Bettag has published magazine articles, short stories, book reviews and paranormal fiction. She is currently working on a novel. She lives in O'Fallon, Mo., with her husband.

In the end of the book, she confesses that she still has "bad brain days." She writes, "While my brain issue may be the reason I function differently, it is not an excuse to be less than my best. ... Like all my many other life experiences, it is just part of who I am today."

This section is the perfect example of the amazing spirit and strength that the author shares throughout her story. If you love survivor stories or know someone who has had brain trauma, consider "Normal." Bettag will inspire you to understand your loved one and maybe take a look at how you define "normal."

Margo L. Dill is the author of "Finding My Place: One Girl's Strength at Vicksburg," a middle-grade historical fiction novel. She often reviews books as a columnist for "WOW! Women On Writing" e-zine and her blog, "Margo Dill's Read These Books and Use Them" (http://margodill.com/blog/). She lives in St. Louis with her family.

Topics (1):Books


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