Wednesday, May 30, 2012

REVIEW: My Stroke of Insight by Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor




One of the many serendipitous things I experienced on our medical trip to California was finding a copy of Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor's My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey at the airport. This book was a fascinating read and I strongly recommend it.

Dr. Taylor's firsthand account of the experience of a stroke made me really "get it" that people with brain disorders simply see the world in a different way and that really, honestly and truly isn't a bad thing. As she says:

"This experience of losing my left brain has opened my mind to look more positively at people who have experienced various forms of brain trauma. I often wonder, in the absence of language or the ability to communicate with others in a normal way, what insights or abilities has that person gained? I don't feel sorry for people who are different from me or perceived as not normal anymore. I realize that pity is not an appropriate response. Instead of feeling repelled by someone who is different, I am drawn toward them with kindness and curiosity. I am fascinated by their uniqueness and compelled to establish a meaningful connection, even if it is merely direct eye contact, a kind smile, or appropriate touch." p. 150

In fact, Dr. Taylor describes — in no uncertain terms by the way — the sudden silence of her left brain's judgmentalism and incessant brain chatter as being euphoric.

(Of course, it was also life-threatening, so she sat for hours trying to remember which squiggles on the phone's keypad would bring her help. In fact, based on her descriptions, I feel it's important to mention that in addition to the signs of stroke we typically hear about — problems with speech, tingling or numbness, problems remembering, being off-balance, having a killer headache or problems with your eyes/vision — if you suddenly and inexplicably feel like you are on a drug trip, call 9-1-1 before you forget what numbers are or what a stroke is.)

I found this book truly engrossing. Because of Dr. Taylor's eight-year journey to a complete recovery, she is able to describe the experience of a brain injury from a point of view I can understand. It also made me realize that people with cerebral palsy and stroke victims are not that different from each other and should share resources and research.

Speaking of research, many of the passages made me think of the Anat Baniel Method and its approach to treating brain disorders. I'd like to share a few of them with you:

• "I wanted the doctors to focus on how my brain was working rather than on whether it worked according to their criteria or timetable." p. 78 
• "I realized that morning that a hospital's number one responsibility should be protecting its patients' energy levels." p. 81 (As a former two-week resident in a hospital, I whole-heartedly agree.) 
• "Because of my heightened empathy, I found that I was overly sensitive to other people's stress. If recovery meant that I had to feel like they felt all the time, I wasn't interested." p. 82 
• "... I had to completely inhabit the level of ability that I could achieve before it was time to take the next step. In order to attain a new ability, I had to be able to repeat that effort with grace and control before taking the next step." p. 90 
• "The process of physical recovery was just like the stages of normal development. I had to go through each stage, master that level of ability, and then the next step unfolded naturally." p. 93 
• "In my opinion, the purpose of medical treatment is to increase our ability to share a common reality." p. 158 (Emphasis mine. I think about this over and over again. She's absolutely right.) 
• "A lot of stroke survivors complain that they are no longer recovering. I often wonder if the real problem is that no one is paying attention to the little accomplishments that are being made." p. 95 
• "Although it was helpful for people to correct me, it was vitally important that no one either finish my sentences or constantly prompt me." p. 102 
• "I desperately needed people to treat me as though I would recover completely.... The brain is a marvelously dynamic and ever-changing organ." p. 111

May is National Stroke Month. It's almost over, but guess what: your cardiovascular system doesn't know that! You can still learn all about stroke, its causes and your own risk factors by visiting the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association.

For example, I learned that my home state of Oregon has a higher rate of stroke than the national average. About 6 percent of Oregonians die from stroke and 3 percent of adults are stroke survivors. Then I went ahead and found out that people with migraines with auras — like me — are at a higher risk of stroke.

Oh, I realized. This isn't just about Malachi. Brain problems could be part of my reality one day, too!

Learn about your risks and what a stroke feels like at StrokeAssociation.org.





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4 comments:

  1. This is a great connection. Have you seen her TED talk? It's amazing!
    http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/jill_bolte_taylor_s_powerful_stroke_of_insight.html

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    1. Anonymous8:15 PM

      Thank you, teamaidan. Just found and experienced her talk. My experience wasn't as powerful as hers, but my brain tumor gave me amazing visions of light I won't forget. There is so much more to our life on earth than what we typically know. Here and now depends upon what I perceive. Amazing grace.

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  2. Many, many children who have CP experienced an in utero stroke. And some people have wondered if there is really a distinction between a brain bleed and a stroke...aren't they really the same thing?

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  3. This sounds like a great book! The disease I have is often compared to a stroke because there are a lot of shared symptoms. I'm interested in finding out what the Dr has to say!

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