Book Review: In the Valley of Achor

Patricia Gaddis Brannon’s journey

As a book lover and compulsive reader, I’ve often wondered what life would be like if I went blind. What if I couldn’t read? It’s one of my favorite things to do in the world. In seventh grade, when at my first school eye exam I was told I was very nearsighted in one eye (an undetected lazy eye) I thought about it for the first time. With “be prepared” as a personal motto, I thought to myself, “I will learn braille.” Problem solved, I went on my happy way.

But what if you couldn’t walk? Patricia Gaddis Brannon had to face this question without any mental preparation. One morning, she got up, and within minutes was sitting on her floor, her legs paralyzed in front of her. Her book, “In the Valley of Achor” covers the first year of her journey after the extremely rare paralysis which took her mobility. One day she felt a little twinge in her back when she lifted her garage door, but it was so temporary she didn’t think of again. The next morning, June 28, 2014, she was up early to finish many errands before she left on her first trip to Europe. She was barely able to walk back to her bedroom before succumbing to a “falling sensation” and eased herself down to the floor by the footboard of the bed, unable to move her legs.

The doctors at first diagnosed her with transverse myelitis, an inflammatory disorder of the spinal cord. Doctors at Johns Hopkins later changed the diagnosis to vascular myelopathy, a mechanical malfunction of the spinal cord blood system. Her spinal cord had suffered a “mini stroke” in effect. But the doctors at Johns Hopkins left her with the news that though they didn’t know if she would walk again, they did not find any reason why one day she might not. Her job was to work hard at physical therapy and never give up.

“Do not fear; just believe.”

Patricia heads each chapter describing her journey with an appropriate Bible verse, showing how she leaned on her faith in Christ to see her through the struggle. Her memoir’s title comes from the Biblical book of Joshua, in the story of a disobedient Israelite who was stoned in the Valley of Achor – a Hebrew word meaning trouble. But the book of Hosea, God transforms that place of sadness for the Israelites: “There I will give her back her vineyards and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.”

The author looks at every part of the story honestly, not sparing her feelings, and sharing with us the times she “melted down” in tears, angry and frustrated. She is no plaster saint, but a real woman placed in impossible-to-believe situation. One day she is playing tennis, coming back from active trips to the mountains and beach, driving her beloved red convertible: the next, in a wheelchair.

“I’m not going to take that sitting down!”

But Patricia doesn’t wallow. She’s too full of joie-de-vivre to do that. Two of the chapters are titled “A Comic Interlude” and prove that she nearly always saw the funny side of the situation. “‘I’m not going to take that sitting down!’ becomes a much more acceptable response, when spoken by one in a wheelchair.” and “‘Don’t worry, I brought my own chair’ is a great party-starter when in a wheelchair at a crowded restaurant table.” Her life motto is “If you ain’t living on the edge, then you ain’t got a view!” and it shines forth in these pages.

I’m blessed to have met Patricia in person: she now goes to the church I attend in Columbia. She is still in a wheelchair, but she still is doing physical therapy and has never given up hope of a full recovery. And with her many friends and activities, she’s still living on the edge, enjoying one heck of a view.

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