“A Broken Hip Episode” by Dene Hellman

BookReview

“Everybody has a story,” says author Dene Hellman. “This is a basic reality of life. If it’s falling off a chair, breaking your hip and going to rehab for six weeks, that’s part of my story; but there is no one who is not worth writing about.”

This remarkable editor, entrepreneur, volunteer, widow and great-grandmother has definitely acquired the experience and the right to make this judgment. Closing in on her 90th birthday, Dene has left a distinctive professional, personal mark in a great many fields of endeavor. The most recent has been the publication of her book A Broken Hip Episode, which recounts what for anyone else might have been a catastrophic accident in the late summer of 2016.

Writing in the third person, Dene relates the moment when she, re-hanging the kitchen curtains she had just washed, decides to get a stepstool—only to remember as she steps backwards that she is already standing on the stool. “Lying crumpled on the floor, she quickly discovers that she cannot move, that she has tremendous pain emanating from her left hip, and that she will be on the floor for a long time because nobody else is home.”

The book goes on to recount her hospitalization, surgery and weeks of recovery in a rehabilitation center. Written with grit, humor and an honesty that is sometimes as painful as her broken hip, Dene captures and prophetically shares a number of common experiences and tough truths faced by older adults.

“I did not write the book with the intention of telling everybody about how ‘I fell down and got hurt.’ There are many messages I hope to promote in this. The basic one is this: It’s possible as an old person to get hurt, and yet to recover your life—even if you end up with a limp.”

She does not mince words concerning what she learned during her time of convalescence. “Subtly I tried to get across the point that privately-owned rehab/care centers don’t always do the best job in helping a patient recover, because their priority is to make a profit. I pointed this out to my doctor, who said, ‘Well I’m a capitalist, but I really don’t think that should hold over to the medicine we practice.’ I think older people get a bum deal sometimes.”

Then there came the renewed awareness that aging people—particularly women—tend to become “invisible” to others. “People didn’t show me x-rays or discuss medicine with me. They would show my daughter. Many people have expressed to me they’ve had this experience. There is nothing wrong with interrupting your doctor when he is explaining your health situation to your child and saying, ‘Excuse me. I’m over here.’”

As remarkable as her book is, for Dene it was what she called “a silly, fun thing I just did.” A novelist, biographer and poet, she feels her short story collection A House for Her, published in 2017 six months after her accident, reflected the height of her creative ability. In 2014 her highly-regarded memoir The People Under the House was first released. Both a biography and her autobiography, the book told in part the story of Dene’s second husband, Werner Hellman, a Holocaust survivor who successfully hid from the Nazis throughout World War II, then relocated to the United States. During his last months, with Dene caring for him as he descended into dementia, Werner expressed concern for the “people under the house,” imaginary people he believed he was concealing from the Nazis.

A Broken Hip Episode is just that—one episode in the remarkable life of a gifted storyteller and socially prophetic soul who has a wealth of insight to share, especially with older adults. Once you make her acquaintance in this book, you’ll want to read her others as well.

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