Heartache & Birdsong by Sam Bloom

Reviewed by Patricia Simms-Reeve

From a heartache, deep and near unbearable, to the carefree beauty of birdsong, the road crawled along by Sam Bloom is an unforgettable experience she shares with her readers.  The horror of her predicament, after a catastrophic accident on a family holiday in Thailand, is graphically and movingly conveyed in her book.

Now, almost three years later, her life is very different from those happy days when her loving husband Cam with their three young boys enjoyed an active life playing soccer, surfing and skating.

Sam’s life was enviable.  The family’s blissful existence on one of Sydney northern beaches is captured beautifully in a photo with them radiant with smiles swimming in the sea.

Exploring life’s possibilities lead them to take the holiday in Thailand.  A minivan took them to a humble little hotel in a rural part of the country in idyllic surroundings.  It became a milestone.  After a swim, they had fruit drinks on the second storey hotel roof.  When Sam leaned against the railing, it collapsed and she fell, landing on her back.

Her injuries were so severe as to be life-threatening.  She received superb care in Thailand and, subsequently, Australia.  During the months in hospital, the healing of her shattered body slowly took place.  However, her mental outlook was desperately dark.  It twisted her outlook on life so much that the once bubbly active woman starkly refused to accept any relief.  Her emotions choked her love of life and she rejected countless offers of help and comfort.  Self-loathing was all-pervasive.

The worst day of her life, she recounts, is the day she came home.  This emphasised how much her life had changed and how restricted it had become.

Incredibly, it was Penguin, a baby magpie, who lifted her out of depression.  The bird’s attitude somehow made Sam switch to a different outlook.  She became more determined and a gradual transformation began.

Unlike the previous book which was mainly pictorial and focussed on Penguin, his effect on the family and their very special interspecies relationship, this is a brave unflinching account of Sam’s own path in trying to face her drastically altered life.

Imprisoned in her wheelchair, she has many memories to recall.  There are her early travels with Cam, her love of nursing, the meeting in Africa with her idol, Catherine Hamlin, the doctor who has spent her life restoring thousands of damaged women to a normal life free from incontinence.  She met Mamita, from a small Ethiopian village, treated by Catherine, and who stayed to master nursing, then surgery, so that today she performs fistula operations herself and has helped thousands too.

Eventually Sam attempted to feel the joy of surfing on a body board, but it proved frightening.  Undaunted, she persevered, and two years later, she is an Australian Adaptive Surfing Champion.  The family went with her to San Diego for the Championship final; her triumph was enormous, especially for the boys.

Bradley Trevor Grieve, famous for inspirational books like The Blue Day Book collaborated with Sam and Cameron to produce a book that relates a courageous and honest account of her suffering and slow improvement from those early times following the accident.  It is not mawkish or self-pitying of the Bloom family and the birds in their lives.  Rather it is a celebration of loving care and that much-used word: resilience.

At one stage, Sam writes: ‘Don’t get me wrong, I am not a peace with my disability.  And I don’t think I ever will be.  I am definitely not a better person because of my accident’.

The Penguin Bloom book sold millions world-wide and is now a film starring Naomi Watts and due for release in early 2021.

Sam’s para-surfing has led her to becoming a Champion.  She has made a new life in many ways, yet she admits freely that she still suffers intense regret.

People who loved the Penguin book will embrace this new volume and it is bound to touch countless readers.  For me, the warmth and honesty shines through and make me glad to have shared this exceptional young woman’s story.

Heartache and Birdsong

[2020]

by Samantha Bloom, Cameron Bloom and Bradley Trevor Grieve

Harper Collins

ISBN 978 0 733 33979 0

$32.99; 240pp

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