Greg Payan’s girlfriend of ten years, Holly Hillgardner, was a beautiful, smart woman: a professor and yoga instructor with a wicked sense of humor and many friends. The couple lived a charmed, bustling existence in which they treasured each other, but also their independence. This is the “before” picture Payan paints in Please Stay, but most of this engaging book recounts the “after.”
Hillgardner, at 39, experienced a sudden, excruciating headache that turned out to signal a severe ruptured brain aneurysm. She stopped breathing in the ambulance. The aftermath of highly risky surgery meant a long recovery in the Intensive Care Unit, extensive time in a rehabilitation center, and a nearly unbearable stretch of intractable pain.
Life became fraught with medical and emotional ups and downs for Hillgardner, Payan and those close to them. Payan does an excellent job portraying the experience of caregivers who find themselves suddenly in this situation, wondering if their loved one will ever be out of medical danger, if they will return to themselves, and what life will look like in the long run. Even when Payan starts to witness improvements – which were painstakingly gradual – he notes, “I exist in constant fear that something will burst my bubble…”
The author’s inclusion of detailed update emails he sent to family and friends, as well as text messages, helps simulate the “real-time” experience and fill in the picture of Hillgardner’s lively, indomitable spirit. (In one email, Payan notes that when Hillgardner’s doctors asked her to count backward from ten, she showed off by going into negative numbers). Some of these missives, however, are less illuminating and might have been trimmed: “Just called hospital. Holly well and sleeping. Fever back, and she’s getting Tylenol…” Regardless, readers fear, hope, and cheer for Hillgardner as she fights to reclaim her life.
Overall, Please Stay is a smoothly written memoir about what it’s like to live through a health crisis— a worthy, sometimes tear-inducing, and highly inspiring read.
Also available as an ebook.