My Stroke of Fortune
"Every brain has a story and this is mine. Ten years ago, I was
at Harvard Medical School performing research and teaching young
professionals about the human brain. But on December 10, 1996, I was
given a lesson of my own. That morning, I experienced a rare form of
stroke in the left hemisphere of my brain. A major hemorrhage, due to
an undiagnosed congenital malformation of the blood vessels in my
head, erupted unexpectedly. Within four brief hours through the eyes
of a curious brain anatomist (neuroanatomist), I watched my mind
completely deteriorate in its ability to process information. By the
end of that morning, I could not walk, talk, read, write, or recall
any of my life. Curled up into a little fetal ball, I felt my spirit
surrender to my death, and it certainly never dawned on me that I
would ever be capable of sharing my story with anyone.
The above lead paragraph from Jill Bolte Taylor's My Stroke of
Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey has one of the best
hooks I have ever seen. I can't imagine not being overwhelmingly
curious to see how this miracle took place. In itself, the narrative
is fascinating and inspiring. Taylor, however, also challenges many
assumptions our society has about perceiving and rehabilitating stroke
patients. I'd put her story up there with that of Helen Keller.
It was also a real stroke of luck for me that I read the book
exactly when I did. You'll find out why in my personal note.
In her pre stroke life, Taylor was a super achiever. One day
she woke up to a severe headache. As she attempted to get ready for
the day she was bombarded by confusing symptoms. Fortunately she was
able to get help before she totally lost the ability to do so.
Taylor found her body's attempts to interact with the world
profoundly painful. The people assigned to attend to her often really
didn't help. Redundant procedures drained her energy. Questions
focused on her ability to recall, rather than her strategies to
recover, information. Many professionals sapped her through
impatience and rough handling. Her roommate's television noise
provided too much stimulation.
Fortunately when she was able to return home from the hospital
Taylor was put in the care of her mother, G.G., a woman of great
wisdom and patience. She was able to work at her own pace, sleep when
she needed to, and be tended to by a very responsive and resourceful
person willing to think out of the box and try unconventional ideas.
By focussing on and being grateful for any triumphs, no matter how
seemingly small, rather than how far she had to go she was able to
remain positive and enthusiastic.
Taylor feels that her stroke gave her an enormous gift. Before
it her left brain had dominated her right, disguising its potential
blessings. Suddenly she was able to realize and enjoy and integrate
"My right mind character is adventurous, celebrative of
abundance, and socially adept. It is sensitive to nonverbal
communication, empathic, and accurately decodes emotion...It is my
intuition and higher consciousness..."
My Stroke of Insight is a powerful and fascinating read,
particularly for anyone who has a loved one with brain damage...
...or the minority of us who are right dominant.
On a personal note, last year I had applied to the masters program of
my dreams. Among other things I am adapting my lifestyle to prepare
for a rigorous course of study: cutting out activities that are not
essential and creating automatic routines for anything from
remembering my library books to marching in the right place in choir.
It's the stuff that comes automatically to the left brain crowd that
we have to work at. I call it I Have A Plan. My seven question to do
or not to do rubric is an absolute gem. Due to a glitch that is
nobody's fault it looks like I'm aiming for 2018 instead of 2017. I
can really use more time for my program. Plus a graduate
assistantship that would make the most of my considerable talents
comes open in 2018.
Between now and then I am going to work dilligently and
celebrate each and every small bit of progress.
A great big shout out goes out to all who bring us insight into our
Sent from my iPod