Thursday, June 22, 2017

Book Review: 'My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey' by Jill Bolte Taylor

Review by Tommy
By Jill Bolte Taylor

I first heard of Jill Bolte Taylor, a Neuroanatomist, earlier this year after a presentation she gave at TED. TED is an invite only conference that is hard to explain. But lets just say people from all over the world are doing some of the most amazing sh*t you can imagine in dozens of different disciplines, and many are brought here to speak.
During her presentation, which literally brought down the house she said at one point:
And in that moment my right arm went totally paralyzed by my side. And I realized, "Oh my gosh! I’m having a stroke! I’m having a stroke!" And the next thing my brain says to me is, "Wow! This is so cool. This is so cool. How many brain scientists have the opportunity to study their own brain from the inside out?"
And the story is just getting started at this point. In four hours she'd forget how to talk, walk, eat, even who she was. It took eight years to recover ..... this is her story.

Jill Bolte Taylor is a Neuroanatomist at the Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center (Brain Bank). She went into this field cause her brother has schizophrenia and she wanted to understand "way he experienced reality and chose to behave" the way he did.
I wondered how it could be possible that my brother and I could share the same experience but walk away from the situation with completely different interpretations about what had just happened. This difference in perception, information processing, and output motivated me to become a brain scientist.
At first I wasn't happy with the book. I mean after seeing her presentation at TED, I guess I expected something different. It starts with her background, then moves into a few somewhat technical chapters related to the brain and how it functions. Well I wanted the meat, what the hell happened. I also found the writing style to be loose, or maybe I should say informal. Not what you'd expect from a world-renowned Harvard professor I thought to myself. Even the drawings of the brain in the "technical" chapters seemed like they had been done by a ten year old. 

Later I would come to think this was the most enduring part of the book. Cause I quickly couldn't put the book down. And when it ended I wished there was more, a lot more.
Then we come to the chapter called the "Morning of the Stroke." I don't want to give away too much, but lets just say she had a massive stroke. In a matter of four hours she lost the ability to walk, talk, read, write, or recall any part of her life.
The next chapters talk about her eight plus year journey back ......
And these are the chapters I need to read at least once more. The stroke and bleeding happened on the left side of her brain—the rational, grounded, detailed and time-based side. They swung totally out of control while her right side took over and she felt an amazing sense of "euphoric nirvana." From the book jacket:
Today Taylor is convinced that the stroke was the best thing that could have happened to her. It has taught her that the feeling of nirvana is never more than a mere thought away. By stepping to the right of our left brains, we can all uncover the feelings of well-being and peace that are so often sidelined by our own brain chatter.
See why I need to reread, cause wouldn't that be pretty darn nice .....
Now I want to note one other thing. Before all this happened she was the youngest board member of NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness). She was 35 while the average age of the other members was 67. She first joined cause of her brother. One of the reasons she was elected was her campaign for folks with mental illness to donate their brains after they passed away for research purposes.
At the time she joined the entire research field didn't even have enough tissue samples for Harvard, much less all the other researchers throughout the world. In a funny part of the book she realized that as she was talking to members about this topic they quickly understood she was "asking for their brains." So guess what she did, she wrote a song, or you could even call it a jingle, which is also included with the book. Got to love a lady with a purpose and a sense of humor at the same time.
And finally, at the end of the book are the most basic checklists and signs of a stroke that could save the life of a person.
My grandfather more than a decade ago, a doctor for more than 50 years, showed signs and nobody around him caught them. Even as a doctor, we can only guess he didn't either. As he pulled out of a parking lot, well things went really bad. Found hours sooner with medical care he might still be with us. Instead his final days and even weeks were not what they should have been.

Editor's note: This review was originally published at the Daily Kos, which notes that its "content may be used for any purpose without explicit permission unless otherwise specified." The original page can be found here. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right. 

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