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by Allen Rucker
Harper, 2007
Review by Leo Uzych, J.D., M.P.H. on Jul 29th 2008

The Best Seat in the House

The Best Seat in the House is an emotionally rousing account of how sudden paralysis, at age 51, changed the author's life cataclysmically.  The author, Allen Rucker, is an accomplished book author as well as an award winning television writer who suddenly became a wheelchair bound, T-10 paraplegic as the result of a neurologic disorder called transverse myelitis.  Rucker describes the expansive multitude of physical and emotional travails associated with his paralysis in a lay reader friendly manner notable for its poignant humor and sobering candor.  Rucker eloquent writing exposes his deep feelings about being paralyzed in an edifying way that is likely greatly absorbing of readers' interest.

The building material for the substance of the book, in the form of autobiographic details, is anecdotal in nature.  Although the anecdotal nature of the material presented may diminish the book's instructive value, in an academic sense, it does importantly imbue the substance of the book with the animating force of real life details.  These details, in insightful and informative fashion, are recounted over the course of eleven chapters.

In Chapter One, the reader is informed of sobering details of the life altering day (12/10/96) that Rucker became paralyzed suddenly from the waist down.

Exhibiting the forthrightness that distinctly permeates the length and breadth of the book, Rucker, in Chapter Two, describes his personal experience of being hospitalized for evaluation and treatment of his paralyzing transverse myelitis.  Rucker explains that, at first, his sanguine belief was that his paralysis would be temporary in duration.  While waiting for a remission (which, alas, never came!), Rucker mourned the loss of normal functioning of half of his body.

When Rucker's insurer pulled the financial plug on his rehabilitation, he went home (still in a wheelchair).  The experience of living at home again, albeit this time as a paraplegic stripped of his dignity, is the subject of Chapter Three.  The indignity of being paralyzed is a thematic message pervading this chapter.  As described by Rucker, he often felt humiliated and frustrated.

Rucker's determined efforts to venture from his home and into the larger world occupy the space of Chapter Four.  As is his wont, Rucker, employing unabashed candor, explains that such efforts for a paralyzed person may be very harrowing.  In instructive manner, Rucker describes multifarious "dos" and "don'ts" pertinent to paralyzed persons and those interacting with them.

Rucker's great desire to keep working, encompassing critical commentary regarding disability discrimination, garners his close attention, in Chapter Five.

Organizations and advocacy groups with links to paralysis are an important focus of Rucker's attention in Chapter Six.  Rucker explains also that, as the first year of his life as a paralyzed person came to an end, he was confronted with the stark realization that for the rest of his life he would likely remain in the inescapable clutch of paralysis.

One of the lessons imparted by this insightfully written book is that paralysis may exacerbate family tensions.  In this regard, blunt comment concerning how sudden onset paralysis affected his relations with his family is especially of interest to Rucker, in Chapter Seven.  The reader is presented with sobering, family centric details extending importantly to protracted severe tension enveloping Rucker and his wife.

At the start of Chapter Nine, Rucker explains that the emotional black cloud that had darkened his life for years slowly disappeared.  Indeed, in a manner tinged with humor,  Rucker ponders the "sunny side" of paralysis (for instance, only rarely will a paralyzed person have to incur the cost of a new pair of shoes; and never will a paralyzed person be asked to empty the trash).  On a serious note, Rucker muses pensively that he stopped feeling like a victim.

The pensive ruminations of Rucker continue in Chapter Ten, where he reflects in part on his checkered career as a professional writer.

At the start of concluding Chapter Eleven, Rucker states, with his customary bluntness, that he hates being paralyzed; he hates, in fact, every minute of it.  But he also muses sanguinely on perceived diminishing societal prejudice against the disabled, while acknowledging that disabled persons still face enormous problems.

It is noteworthy that every paralyzed person's experience with paralysis, in significant ways, is unique.  Congruent with this important reality, the finely crafted account of life with paralysis described enthrallingly in this book is molded particularly to closely fit Rucker's uniquely personal experience with paralysis.

The rich wealth of information and insights provided by Rucker has strong potential reading appeal to laypersons.  Rucker's detail laden account of his life with paralysis may as well have considerable professional value for neurologists, psychologists, psychiatrists, occupational therapists, and physical therapists.

© 2008 Leo Uzych

Leo Uzych (based in Wallingford, PA) earned a law degree, from Temple University; and a master of public health degree, from Columbia University.  His area of special professional interest is healthcare.