As I sense her awakening – re-awakening – the look of wonder in her eyes, I feel the strangest, most unlikely emotion: I am falling in love again.
We were on our way back to the remote Aboriginal settlement of Walungurru – in the beautiful western desert of the Northern Territory – to visit old friends. Our plans were suddenly and terrifyingly interrupted by Gisela’s brain haemorrhage, in the sandy bed of the Finke River, west of Alice Springs. We spent the following seven weeks in a succession of hospitals as Gisela roller-coasted through a terrifying sequence of complications and interventions.
It’s a nail-biting drama, an exploration of the healing power of love, of the extraordinary capacity of modern neuroscience, and the hazards of running the gauntlet of modern medicine.
Bleed started off as a journal for Gisela and grew from my efforts to describe Gisela’s life-threatening illness to my patients and colleagues – I rapidly realized what a sensational and uplifting story it is. The book tells this nerve-wracking tale and the ensuing dramas of family and friends as she teeters recurrently on the brink.
It’s much more than ‘misery-memoir’ though – Bleed explores in depth the complex web of identity, history and human resilience as her tale of endurance unfolds. The main narrative is woven through the twin tales of her remarkable personal story and the unfolding history of brain surgery.
The book is about brain haemorrhage, stroke, brain surgery, the rise and rise of medical science, the vulnerability of the human brain, its relationship to the mind and the soul, the fragility of language, memory and thus identity, but also its extraordinary resilience – and it’s plasticity, it’s capacity to sustain massive injury, rebound and re-wire. It tells the story of an unusual individual with a fascinating personal history as her brain is assaulted by a series of life- and personality-threatening assaults. It tells of the fear and love of family, friends and strangers who rally to her care and celebrates the healing power of love.