More than thirty years ago, Julia Tavalaro woke up from a coma to find herself almost completely paralyzed by two strokes that had also left her unable to speak. Suddenly, just thirty-two years old, she was a prisoner in her own body and a victim of the ignorant and cruel treatment of hospital workers who neither noticed nor cared that the "vegetable" they changed and fed every day was actually a bright and emotional woman. In this powerful memoir, painstakingly written with the help of poet Richard Tayson, Tavalaro details the hellish life she endured as a defenseless patient, angry and desperate to die, and the liberating actions of two therapists who took the time to realize that she was not incognitive but rather brimming with intelligence and life. At last,Tavalaro managed to break through the isolation that imprisoned her. Slowly, methodically, she regained her ability to communicate--aided by technological and therapeutic developments--and began to compose poems that drew on the memories of her life before her stroke. Beautifully written and achingly heartrending, Look Up for Yes is a testament to a passionate and articulate woman who is ready and able to let the world know she is, indisputably, alive.
Tavalaro has been the subject of profiles in Newsday, the Los Angeles Times, and The New York Times, and has been featured on Dateline NBC and Sally Jessy Raphael.
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When Julia Tavalaro opened her eyes after spending seven months in a coma, she awoke to a nightmare. Nobody in the hospital ward to which she had been consigned even noticed that she was alert. Paralyzed and unable to speak, Tavalaro had no way of making them take notice. She spent the next six years languishing in her bed, and although able to hear everything around her, she was unable to communicate.
Finally, a young speech therapist broke through Tavalaro's isolation by composing a method by which Tavalaro could spell out words with her eyes. After mastering the technique, Tavalaro went on to write poetry about her life both before and after the stroke that crippled her. Tavlaro is able to recall her past in minute detail and weaves her memoir from threads of the past, her present, and her poems that transcend the two. Look Up for Yes is the courageous story of a woman struggling to find her voice and make it heard.From Kirkus Reviews:
The horrifying tale of a woman imprisoned in her own body. Tavalaro was a young wife and mother in 1966 when she suffered two strokes that sent her into a coma. Although she awoke soon after, the strokes had left her paralyzed from the neck down and unable to speak. Believed to be brain-dead, she was largely abandoned by her husband. The story of Tavalaro's six-year attempt to prove herself cognizant and to be treated as such is gripping and terrifying. With the little movement she was capable of, Tavalaro tried to gain the attention of her caregivers, mostly women who referred to her as ``the vegetable'' and brutalized her with their thoughtlessness and callous words. Finally, a speech therapist, Arlene Kraat, uncovered the hospital staff's mistake. Of course, the end of one nightmare was also the beginning of another. Still paralyzed and mute, Tavalaro struggled to learn how to communicate, to gain the freedom of an electric wheelchair fitted to her needs, and to create a life of sorts within the confines of her deformed body and the often inhospitable hospital. And she continues to fight for the basic respect she deserves for having overcome the harshest of obstacles while retaining her humanity throughout. But while Tavalaro's story is compelling, her chronicle of it--compiled with much help from poet and writing instructor Tayson--is not. It often seems like reminiscences tossed together, and while Tayson claims to have been true to the author's voice, there are many passages that the reader is hard-pressed to believe emerged from Tavalaro, the poor daughter of immigrant parents and a high-school dropout who never read much more than the occasional romance novel. Still, worthy for the powerful insight it gives into the lives of the disabled. (8 pages photos, not seen) -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
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