It’s 2008 and Frank Austin is an average family guy having a good day: he confirms with a phone call a job offer he’s received, then picks up his son from preschool and the two get haircuts. Later that night, he wakes up in bed, completely disoriented. He can’t talk, can’t see, can’t seem to move. Is this a nightmare? Or is he just dreaming of a person’s worst nightmare?
Then it comes to him: He can hear, and his wife is saying,” I have called an ambulance . I think you are having a stroke.”
Yes, Frank is having a stroke all right, a Cerebral Vascular Accident that will change his life, and not for the better. He suffers an assault upon the brain, an interruption or blockage of the blood vessels that nourish his cognitive and physical capacities. As time passes and some of the symptoms diminish, he is left with the devastating realization that he can`t talk, can`t read, can`t write. He hears and comprehends everything, but can do little in response. He is a prisoner locked up in his own mind. He has aphasia.
But Frank is no quitter. Overwhelmed as he is by his greatly reduced state, he has two things going for him: a belief in God and a strong will that makes him determined to overcome the obstacles that life has thrown in his path.
When The Milk Sours is a highly personalized, tangential collection of notes from Frank and others, appropriate anecdotes from history, philosophy and novelists, all serving to put a frame around the labyrinthine rabbit hole that an aphasiac`s life can become. No two strokes are the same; some come and go quickly, leaving little evidence of damage, others debilitate for life. Frank`s job is to figure out how badly he is damaged and how much he can recover.
Once the letters have stopped dancing on the page, Frank takes to reading with a vengeance. In what turns out to be a brilliant gambit, Frank teaches himself to regain his speech by reading to his son. The sheer frequency of matching words on the page to those coming out of his mouth gives him a blueprint to move forward. Sometimes with one step back. But he perseveres and wins the battle, if not always the war.
Along the way he learns that there is great deal of ignorance and little support for those who have suffered a stroke that leads to aphasia. Frank becomes an advocate for those people, and remains one to this day. If you are wondering why he choose the title, When The Milk Sours, you will find it in Frank Austin`s own words: ``Make Cheese!``
One gets the feeling from reading this book that nobody will be moving Frank`s cheese anytime soon.
Author Bio: Frank Austin founded the Expressive Café, a support organization for stroke survivors with aphasia in Elmira, Ontario. He became a hospital visitor with Linking Survivors with Survivors in Guelph and Kitchener, and continues to volunteer at aphasia workshops . He and his family live in southwestern Ontario, Canada.