Book review: Stroke, by Ricky Monahan Brown

Ricky Monahan Brown’s memoir is certainly not for the squeamish: it describes the author’s massive haemorrhagic stroke which occurred out of the blue in 2012, and his subsequent recovery. The 38-year-old Scot was living in New York and divorced with a young daughter, but in the early stages of a new relationship. Working in the high-pressure environment of Manhattan financial law, he was sacked a day before the stroke but still spent a relaxed afternoon taking his daughter to a museum, eating out with his girlfriend, Beth, in the evening and having sex, before feeling distinctly unwell.
Ricky Monahan BrownRicky Monahan Brown
Ricky Monahan Brown

When the paramedics Beth insisted on calling arrived and measured his blood pressure they found it high enough to kill two men. A blood vessel had exploded inside his brain.

From here the memoir traces the emergency procedures used to save his life in graphic detail. As the subtitle of the book states, he was given just a five per cent chance of survival. Two holes were drilled in his head and tubes inserted, dripping “a sludgy mix of brain fluid and blood” into receptacles by his hospital bed.

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To the strong of stomach the descriptions of what his body undergoes will be fascinating – highly technical, but at the same time accessible enough for the layman to understand. But there are passages which make for extremely uncomfortable reading, from a description of what happens when he pulls out a Foley catheter with the balloon part still inflated, to the incident where he rips out an arterial line after having hallucinations that mosquitos are attacking his wrist. Comparing the brain to a cauliflower and imagining it cut in half, as he advises the reader to do to explain one procedure, had me wincing and cradling my head.

It is not all blood and gore. Brown interweaves the tale of his eventual recovery with tender descriptions of his relationships with Beth and his daughter.

The narrative describes some of the characters he met while in hospital, such as his roommate and fellow stroke survivor, Alfonso from Mali, whose main symptom appeared to be irritation.

The biggest laugh, however, comes from an Asian-American nurse, Sally, who studied in Edinburgh and appreciated Brown’s Sean Connery impressions. When approaching him to administer a blood-thinning injection into his abdomen each morning, in response to his query: “Do you eckshpect me to talk?” she would deadpan, “No, Mister Bond. I expect you to die.”

Brown’s retelling of his amazing story is slightly haphazard at times, but such vignettes more than make up for that. - Kirsty McLuckie

Stroke, by Ricky Monahan Brown, Sandstone Press, £7.99