Julia Fox Garrison refused to listen to the professionals she called Dr. Jerk and Dr. Panic, who—after she suffered a massive, debilitating stroke at age thirty-seven—told her she'd probably die, or to Nurse Doom, who ignored her emergency call button. Instead she heeded the advice of kind, gifted Dr. Neuro, who promised her he would "treat your mind as well as your body." Julia figured if she could somehow manage to get herself into a wheelchair, at least she'd always find parking. But after many, many months of hospitalization and rehab—with the help of family, friends, and her own indomitable spirit—Julia not only got into a wheelchair, but she got back out.
Don't Leave Me This Way is the funny, inspiring, profoundly moving true story of a woman's fight for her life and dignity—and her determined quest to awaken an entrenched, unfeeling medical community to the fact that there's always a human being inside every patient.
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About the Author
Julia Fox Garrison lives north of Boston with her husband, young son, and dog. Before her stroke, she had a successful career as a software support manager. Now she is regularly invited as a motivational speaker to doctors' groups around the country.
Read an Excerpt
Don't Leave Me This Way
Or When I Get Back on My Feet You'll Be Sorry
One of the Rats in the Race
July 17, 1997
she was southbound on route 128, driving to work and doing her daily ritual, thanking God for her son, Rory, and her husband, Jim, and all of her family and her friends and her job and the fact that she and Jim were talking about having another baby and the fact that she had lost weight thanks to that stuff she was taking and the fact that she had a good marriage, and she finished thanking God and quickly glanced in the rearview mirror and changed lanes confidently and safely and started thinking about precisely how she was going to handle the switchover of the phone system at work while making everything look SEAMLESS to the customers calling in, customers who didn't know (and didn't much care) that her company was moving from one building to another, or that BIG, BIG CHANGES were in the works. And she thought, Bring it on.
Southbound on 128. And she thought, Seamless.
And as she was driving it didn't occur to her to thank God for the ability to stand, or to walk, or to drive, or to take a shower herself, or to dress herself, or to have a functioning circulatory system, or to make her way to the toilet unescorted, or to change her own tampon rather than watch helplessly as a total stranger did so, or to wipe her own ass for that matter. And had she thought of these things she would certainly have been thankful to God for them, but as of the morning of July 17, 1997, it had never occurred to her to even notice them, much less express gratitude for them.
Southbound on 128 and driving and thinking that last week her boss had sat her down and told her "Big, big changes are in the works," and "I'll be honest with you, the company is going through a major transition," and "We need you to keep everybody in your department upbeat, that's what you're so good at," and "Don't get me wrong, this is a question of survival," and "You're the best team player we've got," and "The transition has to be seamless." Big, big changes in the works. "Don't let them throw you."
Southbound on 128 and remembering the huge cutout of Babe Ruth she'd put together for the party with the president when he introduced his new management team and the theme was "The Winning Team." She'd managed to track down a life-size stand-up photo of the Babe and she'd put a baseball cap with the company logo on it and it got a standing ovation. She'd decorated her department with a baseball theme, even hiring a hot dog and popcorn vendor. There were different positions for her coworkers to play -- the batting cage, the pitching mound. Boosting morale within the company. Big, big changes were in the works and everything was going to be seamless, goddammit, seamless.
Southbound on 128, a little sleepy, time to wake up now, thankful that she knew the road as well as she did. Thankful she knew exactly what was in front of her. Bring it on.
A long time ago you had a vision.
"You're going to be in a wheelchair for a while. But it's going to make you a better person."
You saw yourself in a wheelchair in the dream. When you woke up you felt confused.
Her normal routine was that she would take a lunchtime walk with Berkeley, the other customer support manager; together, they would walk close to four miles in under an hour, and discuss department strategies while they got in a little exercise. On July 17, they both had to go to separate manager events, so they decided not to walk at lunchtime. She was feeling congested and tired and was slightly relieved that they were not going to be walking.
She sent out a short e-mail to her department, asking if anyone had some kind of cold medicine. She wanted to use it to help relieve her symptoms so she could continue with her plans for the day.
A coworker responded: "I picked up some over-the-counter stuff at the pharmacy; you're welcome to it."
She swung by the cubicle, picked up the medicine, headed to the bathroom, swigged some water, and got on with her day.
at noon she went to the building cafeteria and made a salad from the salad bar.
She had the salad in her office while she composed an e-mail regarding her department's imminent move to another facility, which was scheduled for the end of the week. She was planning on staying at the local hotel over the weekend to oversee the relocation. A coworker came by her office to ask if she wanted a ride to the manager's event in Tyngsboro. She said she was still writing the e-mail with the details of everyone's responsibilities for the move. "Go on ahead and I'll meet you there," she said.
At a little past two, she felt a throbbing pain in the right side of her head. It was as if a switch had been flipped. The pain was immediate -- a volcano erupting inside her skull.
She saw randy, the department vice president, and told him she had a throbbing headache. He suggested going to the bathroom and trying to throw up. He seemed to think that the pressure would release if she threw up her breakfast. The idea didn't exactly bathe her in relief.
The pain was now excruciating.
She knew it was serious. She knew she had to go to the hospital. She was unsure what hospital she should go to. There was the hospital where she had delivered her son, but it was not a hospital her primary care provider was affiliated with. Her new primary care doctor was about thirty-five miles away. The sister hospital was about ten miles away. She had to make a choice. But her head wasn't working in its usual optimal choice-making mode. She needed some help.Don't Leave Me This Way
Or When I Get Back on My Feet You'll Be Sorry. Copyright © by Julia Garrison. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
What People are Saying About This
“She has raised the bar on honesty and irreverence… to the level of sacred.”
“This book changed the way I practice medicine.”
“Julia Fox Garrison’s story isn’t just about her own recovery, it’s about the best in all of us.”
Reading Group Guide
ABOUT: Julia Fox Garrison's deeply moving memoir cannot fail to have a powerful impact on anyone who reads it, even if they've never had a major life crisis. One day at the office, Garrison innocently takes an over-the-counter cold remedy. Hours later she has a major vent in her brain that leaves her entire right side paralyzed and her mind confused and afraid. She fights to regain her health and her life, in the face of stubborn doctors who misdiagnose her and tell her that she will never walk again, or drive, or be anything like the highly active person she was before. Garrison holds her own against these limits with every weapon in her arsenal, from outright anger, to insisting on regular visits from a manicurist. With bravery, honesty, and fierce humor, she leads the reader through her recovery step by step. She gives the reader an uncompromising look into the medical industry and its pitfalls and into the radiant strength of one woman's heart.
Questions for Discussion
QUESTION: 1. What is it about Garrison's character before her injury that helps her to fight misdiagnosis and recover?
2. When someone is disabled, receiving help can be both a blessing and a challenge. Discuss some of the ways in which both were true for Garrison.
3. Garrison writes at length about the problem of getting doctors to really listen to their patients, and then to respect what they say about their own symptoms. Why do you think this problem is so widespread?
4. Discuss the roles that Garrison's family—parents, siblings, husband and child—played in her recovery.
5. Garrison insists that she somehow knows that her diagnosis is wrong. Where does this kind of knowing come from?
6. Anger plays a great part in Garrison's story; it is definitely a healing tool. What part does acceptance play?
7. How did you feel about the fact that the corporation that made the cold remedy was never held responsible for what happened to Garrison?
8. At the end of the book, Garrison includes a list of guidelines for doctors. Would you show these guidelines to your own doctor? Why or why not?
9. How did you react to the episode where Garrison's well-meaning brother drops off a whole cooked chicken for her and then leaves, forcing her to lower her face into it in order to eat it?
10. After reading Garrison's story, do you feel that you might think differently about your own health and you relationship with doctors and medical care?