Danish scientist Rikke Schmidt Kjaergaard started to feel unwell on a New Year’s Day walk with her family. After a cascade of increasingly violent symptoms, the thirty-eight-year-old was rushed to the hospital. Her heart stopped and for a while she was clinically dead before falling into a two-week coma, followed by a long rehabilitation from a nearly unstoppable bacterial infection that ravaged her body and health.
Kjaergaard’s ordeal is told with clear and unsparing detail in The Blink of an Eye. She relates the terror and confusion of struggling to understand her fragmented thoughts and regain even the tiniest bit of control over her body. Gaining consciousness was painful and sapped her energy; for days she was “locked in,” terrified, helpless, and unable to communicate. Hooked up to machines that controlled and measured her organs, her exhaustion nearly overcame her. Only when she focused on organizing her thoughts and summoned the strength to blink was she able to start her arduous journey forward to a much altered life.
This sharp and unselfpitying account has important information for medical professionals and loved ones about how to care for and support postcoma patients. It is also poignant: Kjaergaard’s note to her friends about how she “used every word, every thought, every drop of love and friendship from you” is a touching reminder that love and human contact are important for healing. The book can also be disarmingly funny: Kjaergaard’s first postcoma spoken word is “weird,” and in her recovery back home she revels in the fact that she and her cat share a passion for “looking for all the good places for a snooze.”
Above all, The Blink of an Eye stresses the miracle and fragility of life. It is a reminder to treasure our lives, our health, and our loved ones, as they too can be gone in a blink.
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