Book Review: Kathy

Title: Kathy

Author: Barbara Miller with Charles Paul Conn

Illustrations: black and white photo insert

Publisher: Fleming H. Revell

Date: 1980

Length: 160 pages

Quote: “I was surprised to realize, as we entered the hospital, that I was not a complete wreck.”

On March 14, 1977, Barbara Miller’s thirteen-year-old daughter, Kathy, was hit by a car. “A bruised brain,” a doctor who examined Kathy explained, “doesn’t heal…I thought…she might become ambulatory, maybe learn to dress herself and feed herself, but no more.”

The middle third of Kathy’s story is a rather gruesome read, though valuable to writers who might imagine a ten-week coma as something like a ten-week nap. Real comatose patients may be as lost to the world as people sleeping deeply, but as Miller and Conn show us, they are noisy and messy, and may even kick hard enough to hurt others or themselves. From day to day, it was hard to say whether the repulsive little shell of a body was getting worse or better. We’re told enough of the details to know that the body was not pleasant to be around. Only faith and prayer kept Kathy’s parents going.

Gradually, “grunting and random vocalizations became more frequent” and it began to seem as if Kathy noticed people and things. “We put soft pieces of fruit…in her hand…Sometimes her hand didn’t find her mouth until the third or fourth try,so she always smeared more of the food onto her face than into her mouth.”

By June Kathy was pointing at things she wanted, “awkwardly,” but she’d lost half her body weight, was in diapers, and “was unable even to sit upright in a wheelchair.” It’s easy to see in the photo section why her own dog was afraid of her. What’s hard to understand is how anyone had been able to claim that her eyes were focussing. That does not show in the pictures. In the fall term of 1977, schoolmates asked her brother whether she was “stoned again.”

In fact she was working hard to recover her place in school—especially in sports. In November 1977, she insisted on running a ten-kilometer race. “[S]he finished running! No matter that the field had finished far ahead…” Kathy’s effort in this race was written up in a newspaper and, in 1978, recognized with an International Award for Valour in Sport. Although she apparently went from being an average student to being a slower-than-average student, at the time of writing her family expected her to be able to handle a trade school program and prepare for a job.

Conn emphasizes that neither faith nor medical science guarantees even this much of a complete recovery to every patient with a severe concussion. Kathy is a best-case scenario story…and its greatest value is probably for the friends and relatives of people with brain injury, to prepare them for the long unpleasant time even the best-case scenario involves.

Should motor vehicles be added to the list of things that are so inherently dangerous to humans that they shouldn’t be sold online, or even discussed at very family-friendly web sites? Yes, motor vehicles are useful. Yes, many of us have adapted to a “car culture” and formed habits that would need to be drastically changed if we went car-free. Nevertheless…there are more cases like Kathy’s in this world than there are cases like Jim Brady’s. Motor vehicles kill, maim, or permanently disable thousands of Americans each year. While some of this damage comes from genuine “accidents” or at least genuine incompetence, people with homicidal intentions often plan motor “accidents” in order to avoid prison time.

A question I seriously tried to answer is whether Barbara Miller is still living, in which case Kathy would be a Fair Trade Book. If you buy it online here, for $5 per book + $5 per package, that will cover the cost of writing to publishers to find out how to trace this particular Barbara Miller. An online search shows that several active writers are using the name “Barbara Miller” but does not show a clear link to this one. It’s likely that the author of this book is still alive and, like most of her generation, not active in cyberspace. So I’ll try to track her down if and when I sell a copy of her book. In real life, what I’ve offered for sale in a physical store was a deeply discounted, puppy-damaged copy that the storekeeper was encouraged to give to anyone who wants it. (Online purchasers will of course receive a clean copy.)

Now for a graphic…since I’m not entitled to use a good, true-color image of a book’s cover, and don’t want to use up prepaid phone minutes posting blurry, off-color images snapped with a cheap cell phone, here’s the official image for book and writing posts at this site. Courtesy of Matei at Morguefile,

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2 thoughts on “Book Review: Kathy”

  1. Before the Internet, fans usually wrote to writers in care of the publishers. Then if the writers never wrote back, the fans could blame the careless publishers for not forwarding the letters. (Some writers who really appreciated readers’ input put their own mail-drop addresses in their books.)

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