Regular Disability Horizons contributor, Sarah Ismail, reviews Matt Padmore’s book – Halfway Gone – a book about life and love after a stroke.
Halfway Gone is the story of Matt Padmore, a thirty something English man who was happily married and living in Japan teaching English. Everything seemed perfect for Matt until 6th September 2007, ten days before his 36th birthday, when he suddenly had a stroke.
Matt begins the book ten days before his stroke and with the poignant words; “I’m afraid this is a true story.”
“Me and Jun, are joshing. I’m sat on the stairs three or four steps up. Jun’s at the bottom, stood up in a fleecy orange dressing gown I’d bought for her… It was my birthday in a few weeks and I was trying to deduce what my present was… [I figured out] She had bought me a Paul Smith watch… It seems silly now when I think about all the watch means to me, but, at the time, Y3o,ooo seemed a huge amount of money to spend.”
Chapter two takes us straight to just after the stroke, or as the book calls it, ‘the crippling.’ In hospital in Osaka, one of the first things he describes is his tears when he couldn’t see the time on the new watch his wife Jun bought him for his birthday.
Time is a theme throughout the book. Every chapter is titled with the date and how long before or after the stroke it was. At the end, when he’s back in England, separated from Jun, the watch is a link to her and his old life. The book takes us backwards and forwards in time, something that did make it confusing and often difficult to follow.
Matt also describes the room where he had physio; his vivid descriptions reminded me of the rooms where I used to have physio as a child.
Before knowing what is wrong with him, he recalls falling over on the kitchen floor and being sick, but at the same time planning on ringing work to say he’ll be in the next day because he doesn’t really know how serious his illness is.
Japan and Japanese are also strong themes in the book. It is clear that Matt takes Japanese traditions and culture seriously. Snippets of Japanese writing are scattered throughout the book, something that was a little confusing, although it is always translated in the footnotes.
But, although Matt was well submersed in Japanese culture and language, barriers still remained. He recollects the frustration of the nurses not being able to understand him, initially fearing that he had lost the ability to speak. But thankfully, he realises that some of the terms he was using were actually just wrong!
Not being able to understand medical terminology in Japanese was the biggest barrier; he only found out that he had had a stroke about a month later. His reaction, as he described it, was a ‘normal’ one for a ‘normal’ young man; he thought that it was something old people had and no one ever recovered from.
He explains how difficult it was learning to speak again with a speech therapist who didn’t speak English. He also spoke about the English lessons he tried to give to the other patients and hospital staff, and what a disaster it was because of all the simple abilities he had lost.
Matt describes the process of putting on a shirt by himself, and how difficult he found this simple task the first time he tried. He says that he still gets dressed the way the physio taught him in the second hospital and he is now grateful for her advice.
Sadly, the decision is made that Matt must return to England to be supported by his family, taking him away from Jun. Jun was ill about two years before Matt’s stroke with a rare condition called moyamoya. He now understands that he should have been more supportive and that he was doing to her what he now hates to have done to him. In the end, this is what leads to their divorce, because the doctor tells Jun it would not be safe for her to leave Japan to join Matt in England.
When he returns to England, it doesn’t feel like home any more. He describes how his “old person’s illness” took him back to adolescence, living with his parents after twenty years, and worse, needing their help for so many little things. He describes how after the stroke, he slept downstairs, and how this made him feel like half his life was off limits.
But the book does end on as happy a note as a book of its kind can. Matt has accepted his disability, his divorce from Jun and his new life in England.
Matt’s book, Halfway Gone, can be bought on Amazon for £8.99.
By Sarah Ismail
You can follow Sarah on her blog, Same Difference.