05 December 2011

Book 33 of 2011

I finished this shortly before performing my staff duty at work as the ticket seller for the play.

33) My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey by Jill Bolte Taylor
Jill Taylor is a renowned brain scientist who had a massive stroke due to a golf ball sized clot in the left hemisphere of her brain at 37 years old. It was the best thing that ever happened to her.

Taylor's story came to me through a TED talk that another teacher showed me while we both were teaching One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Much like Chief, her brother is schizophrenic, which led her to study the brain as a means to find out why his perception of the world differs from that of everyone else. Her stroke gave her the opportunity to study the effects from a unique perspective and discover that the impairment a stroke entails also allowed her the chance to reboot her personality.

Taylor provides a great deal of insight into how the brain works, something she always studied in theory but discovered in practice when the clot essentially silenced the left half of her brain. The left hemisphere is the language center of the brain, but, more importantly, it's the part of the brain that puts everything we see or experience into context. Conversely, the right hemisphere is all about experiencing the present moment, taking in the here and now in such a way that Taylor compares the time when the stroke silenced her left hemisphere to experiencing Nirvana. Since her left side could not provide the context of the past, present or future, she no longer knew where the borders of her body ended and the rest of the world began. She goes into great detail about how her life was changed by the stroke, both in taking the 8 years to fully recover and noting the ways in which she consciously made decisions to avoid the emotional baggage that hounded her pre-stroke.

While the content of the book is fascinating, the layout and structure take away from the whole. The last four to six chapters really drag as she gets into flowery descriptions about letting the right brain take over and leaving the left brain behind every once in awhile. A better editor could have spread out the experience of the stroke and subsequent recovery over the course of the book with the chapters on how best to establish a right brain connection interspersed in between as a way to bring things together in a more cohesive way. Plus, toning down or getting rid entirely of how appreciative she feels towards each of he individual cells would have increased my enjoyment and decreased my frustration at the repetitiveness of her writing.

Still, it's a fascinating story that allows someone to experience the kind of empathy needed when dealing with someone who has had a stroke, and her guide for doing so in the back of the book will be invaluable for anyone suffering through the experience.

Here's the original video, which, if you're a senior, you'll see again in the spring.

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