The lives of writer Cathy Crimmins, her lawyer husband Alan Forman, and their seven-year-old daughter were changed forever on July 1, 1996, at a lake near Kingston, Ontario. "Alan’s brain got run over by a speedboat. That last sentence reads like a bad country-western song lyric, but it’s true. It was a silly, horrible, stupid accident." (p. 5). While Alan steered a small boat back to dock at the end of their vacation, a teenager drove a speedboat literally over him, causing major traumatic brain injury (TBI) including seizures, coma, hemorrhage and paralysis.

Crimmins chronicles her husband’s remarkable recovery with a mix of humor, medical information, anger at HMO denial of benefits, and gratitude for the care of physicians, nurses, therapists, EMT, friends and family during this grueling, and in many ways, never-ending ordeal. Although Alan survived -- and is now capable of walking, speaking, reading, loving, working and driving -- he is a different person. The injury to his frontal lobes causes him to be disinhibited, erratic, angry, irrational, petulant, obsessive, devoted yet cruel to his daughter, and prone to severe "cognitive fatigue."

TBI is a bizarre, unpredictable illness. Crimmins notes that the degree of Alan’s recovery is atypical for the force of his trauma. In addition, TBI survivors say and do wacky things: "Where is the mango princess?" was one of Alan’s first utterances after emerging from his coma. Alan’s pre-accident sharp-edged humor was replaced by bland affability and a disturbingly vacant gaze. Yet some of what he says and does is heart wrenching and poignant.

The book clearly documents that the trauma is not limited to the patient. As Crimmins so eloquently and honestly recounts, she, her daughter, and all who knew Alan were traumatized by the accident and its aftermath.

Crimmins is an aggressive caregiver, thrust kicking and fighting into the caregiver role. Her advocacy for her husband, including research into the best rehabilitation facility, day hospital, vocational rehabilitation program, doctors, therapists, etc., was unwavering and crucial to his optimal care and outcome.


This book offers highly valuable insight into the agonies and triumphs of the caregiver. Crimmins is forthright about her misgivings, mistakes, and anger about her experience. She sugarcoats nothing. I found myself rooting for her and her daughter and husband, hoping he never has another seizure, celebrating his milestones.

Crimmins also meditates on personality and personhood--who a person is once their original neuronal connections are damaged; what is it, really, that makes a certain person that person. She explores consciousness as self-awareness and how memory matrices and frontal lobe anatomy contribute to individuality and relationship.

She and her family live in Philadelphia, near where I grew up in center city at 22nd and Pine. And so it was particularly moving for me to read this book: all of a sudden there was the Lombard Swim Club (formerly Rittenhouse Swim Club, though on Lombard Street) or Race Street or West River Drive or HUP or the marble staircase of the art museum. Or the flower show! The TBI survivor frequently lives on long term memories, as shorter term memory falters or fails outright. Hence it was all the more poignant for me to read this book and muse on how my personality was shaped by my childhood environment and memories. I thank the author for this unexpected gift.


This book won the Outstanding Book Award, General Nonfiction, American Society of Journalists and Authors (2001).


Random House

Place Published

New York



Page Count