Review – My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey

My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey, Jill Bolte Taylor, 2009, ISBN 9780452295544

Having a stroke must be hard enough for anyone. It must be that much harder to be a Harvard-trained brain scientist having a stroke, knowing what is happening to your brain as it happens.

In December 1996, the author woke one morning knowing that something was very wrong with her. Within four hours, the left hemisphere of her brain had deteriorated to the point where she could no longer read, write, talk or understand what those squiggles were on her telephone keypad. While her logical left brain was shutting down (she was able to get help in time), her intuitive right brain gave her a feeling of total peace and being at one with the universe (not necessarily a bad thing). Taylor is able to give an almost blow-by-blow description as her brain shut down. For instance, when she loses the ability to speak, that means that a spot called Broca's Area is affected.

Taylor's type of stroke was called an arteriovenous malformation, an abnormal arterial configuration. Even though it's a rare type of stroke, it's the most common type of stroke for youngger sufferers (Taylor was 37 years old when she suffered her stroke). After several days in the hospital, she was sent home with her mother, who had come to help nurse her back to health. The plan was to get her as well, and as strong, as possible, because the operation to fix her arterial malformation, a stereotactic craniotomy, was coming. She survived, and over the next several years, was able to put her brain back together, leaving out the incompetent and negative parts.

During her recovery, Taylor learned the things that caregivers should, and should not, do to help stroke patients. Make eye contact with me. Honor the healing power of sleep. Speak slowly and enunciate clearly. Please do not raise your voice. Keep visits brief. Ask me multiple-choice questions, not Yes / No questions. Break all actions down into smaller steps. Do not finish my sentences or fill in words I can not find.

This is a really interesting book. On one level, it looks inside the brain to show just what happens during a stroke; good for strike victims or caregivers. On another level, it shows that the two lobes of the brain have very different personalities. It's very much worth reading.