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The Day My Brain Exploded: A True Story

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Overview

After a full-throttle brain bleed at the age of twenty-five, Ashok Rajamani, a first-generation Indian American, had to relearn everything: how to eat, how to walk and to speak, even things as basic as his sexual orientation. With humor and insight, he describes the events of that day (his brain exploded just before his brother’s wedding!), as well as the long, difficult recovery period. In the process, he introduces readers to his family—his principal support group, as well as a constant source of frustration ...

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The Day My Brain Exploded: A True Story

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Overview

After a full-throttle brain bleed at the age of twenty-five, Ashok Rajamani, a first-generation Indian American, had to relearn everything: how to eat, how to walk and to speak, even things as basic as his sexual orientation. With humor and insight, he describes the events of that day (his brain exploded just before his brother’s wedding!), as well as the long, difficult recovery period. In the process, he introduces readers to his family—his principal support group, as well as a constant source of frustration and amazement. Irreverent, coruscating, angry, at times shocking, but always revelatory, his memoir takes the reader into unfamiliar territory, much like the experience Alice had when she fell down the rabbit hole. That he lived to tell the story is miraculous; that he tells it with such aplomb is simply remarkable.

More than a decade later he has finally reestablished a productive artistic life for himself, still dealing with the effects of his injury—life-long half-blindness and epilepsy— but forging ahead as a survivor dedicated to helping others who have suffered a similar catastrophe.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
First-time author Rajamani delivers a fascinating look at his life and his recovery as a brain-injury patient that is both heartbreaking and uplifting. In 2000, Rajamani was a 25-year-old first-generation Indian-American living the dream as well as living on the edge: a rising star in the competitive world of New York City public relations as well as a full-blown alcoholic who arrives “volcanically trashed” for a major job interview and is still “hired on the spot.” Only a week after he is hired, his life changes entirely after he suffers a massive brain hemorrhage caused by AVM, or arteriovenous malformation—a congenital birth defect in which “a tangle of veins and arteries hidden within the brain” suddenly bursts, causing the brain to bleed and flooding the head with septic fluid. Rajamani expertly details his injury (“My brain had become, simply, a liquid mess”) and its treatment, describing procedures such as a ventriculostomy, “an operation in which they drilled holes in the skull and insert tiny plastic tubes, also called ventrics, to drain the fluid.” Rajamani describes how he recovers with the help of his family and an extended support group of brain-injury survivors, and discovers that “even though I face epilepsy and multiple functional defects in my sight, hearing and memory, I’ve become more at peace, finding a new kind of harmony with the world.” (Jan.)
Kirkus Reviews
Barely surviving a cerebral hemorrhage gives the author a new perspective on life. Set to attend his brother's wedding, Rajamani experienced a subarachnoid intracranial cerebral hemorrhage while masturbating before the ceremony. This provides the sole unexpected moment of this memoir, which traffics heavily in clichés and a conversational tone that disserves the challenges of recovery. The narrative jumps back and forth, juxtaposing anecdotes about growing up as a bookish Indian-American with chapters on the days and weeks following the hemorrhage. Taken individually, the chapters are hit-or-miss; while some tie back into the challenges of recovery, others provide unrelated background on the author's childhood, adolescence and his fast climb up the corporate ladder. One would guess that Rajamani is sharing his largely unfettered rise to business success to illustrate the crashing loss of his world after the hemorrhage. Unfortunately, the writing never goes to any depth in reflecting on the changes brought about. Rajamani presents the anecdotes of his life as one might share personal stories to an impromptu gathering of co-workers at a new job--guardedly, always looking to pose the events in the best possible light. The interesting details and reflections largely fall through the cracks, leaving readers with little to reflect upon beyond a general appreciation of the resilience of the human brain. Dramatic story, dull delivery.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781565129979
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
  • Publication date: 1/22/2013
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 385,995
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Ashok Rajamani

Ashok Rajamani lives in New York City. His work has appeared in dozens of publications, including Scholars & Rogues, South Asian Review, Danse Macabre, and 3:AM Magazine. This is his first book.

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Interviews & Essays

A Conversation with Ashok Rajamani, Author of The Day My Brain Exploded

The Day My Brain Explodes begins on the day of your brother's wedding, the day your brain "explodes." Can you tell us about that day?
Unfortunately, I can't; people have to buy the book to find out! What I will say, though, is that the hemorrhage was caused by the explosion of a hidden birth defect called an AVM, an arteriovenous malformation, a congenital birth defect that is hard for doctors to detect until it explodes, as was my case. An AVM can exist anywhere in the body, but is most frequently detected in the brain. Mine had been nestled in my brain from birth, awaiting its explosion. In other words, my AVM was a ticking time bomb. The event took place in the most surprising of situations, and the actual bleed that provoked the explosion, was, shall we say, something not suitable for children to hear.

Not for children? Sounds provocative!
Provocative is a good word to describe it.

Your resurrection from such extreme brain trauma is quite rare. How would you say you've contended with your survival?
I tell other brain-injury survivors that we shouldn't feel so morose, because I feel we've been given two lives for the price of one. That's how I look at it. I know I am lucky to have survived well enough to speak, to think, to read, and to write, and to do everything offered in the land of the living. Well, that's not the total truth. I can't ride roller coasters.

You've made an amazing recovery. Are there issues that you still have to face and overcome each day as a result of this injury?
There have been quite a few consequences from my hemorrhage. I now have erratic short-term amnesia as well as seizure disorder, otherwise known as epilepsy. Although I have not had a seizure in years, sometimes I still worry about getting another one. This is a fear faced by most people with epilepsy; no matter how long we go without seizures, we fear another incident is just around the bend. I also suffer from tinnitus, which is a consistent ringing in the ears, a sound that happens nonstop. In the book, I call the problem "chasing ambulances in my head."

Worst of all, I now have permanent blindness in half of both my eyes. This is a condition called hemionopsia, and it is a dreadful ailment. I can only see half the world now. The trouble is, there is no demarcation in my sight, such as some sort of black line, which tells me my field vision has ended. So I truly think I see the whole world, when in fact, I don't. You wouldn't believe the number of times I've accidentally walked into a women's public restroom since I don't see the "women" sign on the door, but only see the word "men." Then, when I enter and see a roomful of stalls with no row of urinals, I realize I have made a mistake yet again! My visual therapist once ordered me to consistently turn my head around like an oscillating fan. Since it's hard for me to always be conscious about the blindness, I often forget to do this. And when I keep my head in place and scan an area by moving my eyeballs left to right, I end up looking like a shifty-eyed villain from an old black-and-white movie.

Your memoir details your spirituality. How would you describe your belief system?
I was always spiritual, but my survival has made me even more a believer of forces beyond control. Whether one calls it 'universe, 'god, 'energy,' I know there is something bigger than all of us, as individuals. And each one of us has different paths to discover this. Rivers lead to the same ocean, don't they? After all, Love is love around the world, even though it has different names in different languages.

The narrative of the book is not chronological. Instead, it slides back and forth between different years and spaces of time. Why did you recount your story this way?
Our thought processes are far from linear. I wanted my memoir to conflate both order and disorder, reflecting such mechanics of the brain. The back and forth motion also forces the reader to be energetic, whereas a chronological narrative does not. Rather, it enforces eventuality: the reader can guess where the timeline of the story is headed, and this can be disinteresting. Many memoirs, unfortunately, take a route like this.

In most memoirs, the writer discusses his or her families. How is yours dealing with their compromised privacy due to the book?
Actually, my parents have been totally supportive. I myself was rather surprised! I do know, however, that my mom's late mother was obsessed with the words 'privacy' and 'dignity,' like the Queen of England. I'm sure if she were still with us, she would be wringing my neck, or probably choking me with her sari.

Why did you choose to tell your story?
There are not enough memoirs by brain-surgery and brain-injury survivors; for many, these survivors have become too mentally challenged or face other severe handicaps. Plus, they are often killed by their injuries. I once asked my brother, "how come there aren't many 'brain injury pride parades' in contrast to parades with survivors from other health conditions?" He told me, utterly deadpan, "that's because the marchers are either too damaged to walk, or they're dead."

I've been blessed to still be alive and functioning. I have to tell my story, and the story of those who can't tell it themselves. I also haven't found enough memoirs by Indian Americans dealing with racism, or folks with half-blindness, or folks with psychotic hallucinogenic vision syndromes, or of folks with many other issues that I detail in the memoir. We need such stories.

Survival memoirs are often emotionally painful to write. Yet The Day My Brain Exploded is comical and humorous. How were you able to recount your difficult journey with such humor?
I don't take myself too seriously. And, as I often say, my laughter is far stronger than my tears. When one undergoes a hellish experience, they can either cry or laugh. I chose to laugh.

Who have you discovered lately?
Just finished Juliann Garey's Too Bright to Hear Too Loud to See. It is, simply, one of the best books I have read recently. The writing is bold, vivid, and moving. Details the issue of madness perfectly. Terrific work.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 10 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 10 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 19, 2013

    Upon reading this true story I was immediately drawn to the in y

    Upon reading this true story I was immediately drawn to the in your face title. The jacket cover art underscores the triumph and the tragedy the day Ashok Rajamani's brain exploded. The words within the pages are indeed expertly detailed in a matter of fact way. Unlike memoir's I have read that are chronological in approach this memoir is like a flashes or chunks of Rajamani's life. At times I just had to put the book down because of the pain that Mr. Rajamani had endured during the hospital fall, the overt medical neglect and worst of all the childhood traumas in middle American that today would be considered hate crimes. Through time tragedies make the best comedies. Mr. Rajamani succeeds like the best musicals on Broadway where there is a triumph at the end.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 18, 2013

    Everyone has bad days, but back in 2000, Ashok Rajamani, a young

    Everyone has bad days, but back in 2000, Ashok Rajamani, a young man just coming into his own in the world, had a really bad day. Just before his brother's wedding, he suffered from a brain aneurysm caused by an Arteriovenous Malformation (AVM). The circulatory knot of arteries and veins, a congenital malformation, had ruptured; the literal ticking time bomb had gone off in spectacular fashion. The good news was that Ashok survived; the bad news was that the person that he had been had died. His account tells of his physical and mental struggles and how he came to an uneasy peace with the realization that he was now Ashok 2.0, a person who suffered from an odd form of blindness, epileptic seizures and visual hallucinations. Written in a conversational tone replete with healthy doses of gallows humor, especially when touching on doctors, and their advice or lack of it, his story is more than just an accounting of a recovery from a serious medical issue. He also examines what makes an individual unique through looking at his relationships and his experiences growing up as an South Indian American in the USA.

    I received this book as part of Library Thing's Early Reviewer program.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 15, 2013

    I Also Recommend:

    I read the book in one reading. It took me approximately three

    I read the book in one reading. It took me approximately three hours to complete the book from page 1 to the last page.
    This is a rarity for me as I usually finish a book in several settings taking as much as two weeks to complete a book!
    The author has written the book in an interesting manner and has described in vivid details what happened to him on the day of his brother’s wedding. The narrative was clear, gripping and is emotion packed. Although at times he is angry that he had to undergo brain surgery at an young age and experience the consequences of the brain hemorrhage, he describes in detail how he copes with this difficult situation and finds a purpose and meaning to his life. The author also clearly states how is committed to helping other disabled persons meet their daily challenges with life.

    I am very much impressed with this author’s writing style and his determination and courage in meeting the future with great optimism, hope, and finding peace with himself. I strongly recommend this book.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 29, 2013

    This is one books I have ever read. I was originally drawn into

    This is one books I have ever read. I was originally drawn into this book by the simple cover and strong title yet as the pages went on I found myself rooting against the main character. Below are a few of the reasons:
    1.) No one has a brain hemorrhage and than remembers moments after to dial 911, this in itself proves this story to be more fact than fiction.
    2.) Ashok is extremely unlikable, reading about him just makes me feel like he is constantly judging everyone even those in his brain injury guide are not spared from his condescending tone
    3.) The book constantly jumps around with no real conclusion other than the main character is spoiled, arrogant and very lucky
    To be honest I could only get half way through before getting extremely bored. Here is a summary of the entire book to prevent you from buying it: Arrogant, Selfish, Spoiled man has a brain hemorrhage he lives to continue belittling and patronizing other people essentially learning no lesson other than maybe how to exploit people farther with his injury to get a book deal.

    3 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2013

    The day my brain exploded

    Excellent book. Thoroughly enjoyed reading this book.
    Highly recommend as a good read

    A reader at Barnes and Noble.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 29, 2013

    terrific memoir. drama, humor, hope... its just amazing.

    terrific memoir. drama, humor, hope... its just amazing.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 13, 2013

    It is amazing, astounding, and incredible to note the progress i

    It is amazing, astounding, and incredible to note the progress in recovery that he has made! He loved his family. He must have been hard to love at times. This is a quick read. Though he skips around in telling the story, it can be read as a sort of stream of consciousness event. If you are a reader of memoirs addressing loss (as I am), you will appreciate this account. I reference other momoirs such as "A Widow's Story" by Joyce Carol Oates; "Blue Nights" by Joan Didion and "I Married You for Happiness" by Lily Tuck.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 10, 2013

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 23, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted June 17, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

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