My Stroke of Insight

Jill Bolte Taylor's memoir about her own brain haemorrhage has been on my to-read list ever since my father had his stroke, seven years ago now, but I hadn't been able to track down My Stroke of Insight until now. Maggie Farrell mentioned it in I Am, I Am, I Am, which reminded me about it!

This is a short but fascinating first person account of what it feels like to suffer a stroke or similar brain injury, written by someone very well qualified to describe it -- Jill Bolte Taylor worked as a neuroscientist for many years before her unexpected brain haemorrhage. The first section of the book is devoted to describing the brain and how it functions, setting the scene for the next, most compelling section, which is a moment by moment recounting of the day of her stroke, the thoughts that went through her mind, her own dim awareness that something was terribly wrong, and her attempts to get help as the left side of her brain began to shut down. She knew that she should call someone for assistance, she could just about remember how to work a telephone, but she couldn't form the words to actually request that help, or recognise the numbers on the keypad. Fortunately, riding intermittent 'waves of clarity' she was able to dial her work office, where a colleague recognised the sound of her voice and sent help immediately.

Gradually, after surgery, and with the devoted help of her mother, Taylor achieved a remarkable rehabilitation, and she lists things she found helpful in her recovery, including LOTS of sleep, patience, not too much stimulation, and in her case, no yes/no answers -- having to explain herself helped her to recover her language skills more quickly.

Perhaps the most extraordinary aspect of Taylor's experience, and one I've never seen discussed elsewhere, was the sense of deep inner peace, tranquillity and oneness with the universe which overcame her as her left, analytical brain closed down and her right, creative brain took over. I was astonished that my father agreed that the same thing had happened to him! I lent him the book, the first book I think he's read cover to cover since his stroke. I'm so thrilled to have been able to gain this insight into Dad's experience, which because of his loss of language, he has never been able to describe to us himself.

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