“Rise and Shine: The Extraordinary Story of One Man’s Journey From Near Death to Full Recovery” by Simon Lewis (Santa Monica Press: $24.95)
A car accident on the crowded roadways of Southern California is a wholly unremarkable event. For producer and writer Simon Lewis, however, the crash that killed his wife — and nearly ended his life, too — was the beginning of a saga of struggle and redemption that is truly heroic, as we discover in “Rise and Shine: The Extraordinary Story of One Man’s Journey From Near Death to Full Recovery” (Santa Monica Press: $24.95).
As Lewis describes it, he was already beginning to die from his injuries when an off-duty paramedic happened upon the accident scene and started to resuscitate him. Unable to speak, Lewis was merely a “John Doe” to his rescuers. By the time he was taken to the Cedars-Sinai emergency room, he was “naked and nameless, balanced between death and rebirth,” as the emergency-room personnel struggled to evaluate his injuries and save his life.
Deep within his coma, however, Lewis was already beginning to experience himself in a kind of dream-state in which he was aware of “fragments of the present, and then a deeper, puzzling past.” He endured surgery, infection, delirium, all the while locked in what he calls “innerspace” and “comascape.” When he finally emerged to consciousness, he was confronted with the greatest challenge of all — the recovery of not only his health but himself.
“I was purely an observer; a visitor from another planet recording sights for the first time,” he recollects. “That is how I felt, with the awe of a newborn child at everything I saw, still with no doubts or questions – a simple, gentle rapture in being able to perceive all things, and that I was present in this moment of time and space to behold them.”
What follows is an account of the slow, frustrating, and anguished process of repairing an injured body and brain. Although he is an experienced producer, Lewis doesn’t know what his mother means when she asks if he wants to watch the Oscars. She needs to remind him that his wife died in the accident that resulted in his injuries. Merely getting out of the hospital bed for the first time is a triumph: “No medical report could describe what it felt like to sit on a chair for the first time in months, see my room from a different perspective than horizontal, my head held high.”
Even after five months at Cedars-Sinai, however, the recovery was just beginning. Like every victim of brain injury, Lewis endured a long course of rehabilitation, but he was also forced to address issues of grief and loss occasioned by the death of his wife. “I felt I lived in a silent landscape, like Narcissus, who gazed for eternity into a pool of water, except I didn’t want to see myself,” he told his psychotherapist.
But Lewis, to his credit, is not merely recalling and celebrating his own desperate efforts to regain not only his health but his very identity. He reminds us that even at the moments of crisis and throughout the long ordeal of repeated hospitalizations and multiple therapies, the most mundane concerns are the most urgent — how would he and his family pay the staggering medical expenses that began to mount from the first moments after his accident? Just as he was escaping from “innerspace,” Lewis was entering what he describes as “the Byzantine complexity of the business of caring.”
Lewis narrates his ordeal in meticulous detail, and he even provides a glossary to assist the reader with the more obscure terminology of medical care and insurance practices. In a sense, the lengthy account of his ordeal is the best evidence of his ultimate recovery. And he insists that the healing goes much deeper than flesh and bone: “It brought something else, too: a strange revelation which brought full recovery for my soul through the insight that all my struggles since the hit-and-run that crushed my life made it no less sweet, in fact the opposite.”
Jonathan Kirsch, author and publishing attorney, is the book editor of The Jewish Journal. He blogs at www.jewishjournal.com/twelvetwelve and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.