An internationally respected food scientist, Nan Unklesbay, PhD, was nonetheless baffled as she tried to follow the baking instructions on a simple box of brownie mix.
It was 2003 and Unklesbay was in a kitchen at Boone Hospital Center. She was working with an occupational therapist as she recovered from a stroke.
During the brownie-baking exercise, Unklesbay struggled with easy tasks such as measuring the water and finding eggs in the refrigerator.
“I did not have a clue about how to turn on the oven or set the timer,” writes Unklesbay.
This experience is shared by Unklesbay in her new book, “Swimming Against the Tide: Strong Recovery from Stroke.”
Much of the middle section of the book happens at Boone Hospital, where she received her treatment and rehabilitation. She writes about working with therapists to overcome her new, frustrating limitations.
As a scientist, she often used statistics, but now she had to strain to compute the answer to one plus one. She had also authored books and more than 100 academic papers as a professor, but now just reading her Wall Street Journal was a slow, laborious process.
Even some basic daily tasks had to be rediscovered.
“I had to learn to put my underwear on before my sweatpants,” Unklesbay writes. “I had to learn to put my clothes on right side out.”
Unklesbay, a retired University of Missouri professor, wrote the first draft of her book in 2004 at the prompting of two friends. Writing the book was a difficult, but therapeutic exercise. In finishing the book, Unklesbay also regained part of her old life.
“It was great therapy to write this book, because I got it done,” she said, during a recent interview. “I figured out how to do it.”
After finishing the manuscript, Unklesbay spent several years seeking a publisher. This year, she found one in local publisher AKA:yola. By the end of September, “Swimming Against the Tide” will be available online and at local booksellers.
The book is told from Unklesbay’s perspective and provides an in-depth look into the emotions and struggles a person can face as they recover from a stroke. Unklesbay’s words are clearly a valuable reference for family members or caregivers who work with people recovering from strokes.
Unklesbay hopes her readers grasp the importance of humor during the long, difficult recovery from stroke.
“I hope they realize how strong and serious the struggle is, they have to work extremely hard,” she said. “I once heard someone say, ‘recovering from a stroke is the hardest thing you will ever have to do.’ I believe that.”