Neuroscience Meets Nirvana

On a recent visit with my dear childhood friend she asked me what I was reading and we ended up taking about her health. At age of 40 my friend Denise had a wakeup call, but it wasn’t one of those ‘what should I do with the second half of my life?’ moments. One day while at work she didn’t feel quite right. She felt strange, woozy and a bit off-balance so she sat down. A co-worker asked her what was wrong and when Denise tried to speak it was gibberish that came out. This ‘blip’, as she puts it, only lasted a few moments and the symptoms passed. Like a typical busy mom she decided to carry on with her day and made a mental note to visit her doctor the next day. Denise described her symptoms to her doctor and he immediately sent her for tests. The tests confirmed that she had experienced a Transient Ischemic Attack (T.I.A.) or colloquially referred to as a ‘mini stroke’. She had several blood clots in her brain which were later revealed to be caused by a congenital heart defect. In laymen’s terms Denise had a hole in her heart. She was put on heavy duty blood thinning drugs to break up the clots. In the next few days it became noticeable to Denise that her left side was slightly weaker than her right side.
Denise was very fortunate that her stroke was mild and that she decided to seek medical attention for her vague, fleeting symptoms. It took about 6 months to fully regain the strength in the weakened side of her body and she is on blood thinning medication for the rest of her life. It’s been three years since her stroke and Denise is doing well. She practices yoga, watches her diet and takes her medication. Denise wants to stress the importance of recognizing the signs of stroke and the urgency for immediate medical attention.

You might be wondering what my friend's story has to do with a book review. Well, the book I picked up was a copy of the New York Times Bestseller My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey by Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D. (Published by Plume, a member of Penguin Group USA)
My Stroke of Insight the author takes the reader on an amazing and hair-raising journey through her stroke, recovery and self-discovery. In December of 1996 Jill Bolte Taylor, an accomplished Harvard trained neuroscientist, awoke to a day she would never forget. It’s actually incredible considering her circumstances that she can recall this day at all. At the age of 37 the brain scientist, researcher and teacher got a lesson of her own. She found herself having a stroke. Over the course of four hours Taylor was in a discombobulated state, flitted between lucid thoughts and mental blankness. She managed to challenge her increasing deficits from the brain bleed and call a colleague for help. In this short period Talbot was aware that she was losing her ability to walk, talk, read, write or recall memories or thoughts for her future. Talbot was living only in the moment and noticed the quietness and a sense of peace in her existence. There was an absence of what she calls “brain chatter.” She had a general feeling of well-being. Her brain was in a state of bliss! You might ask how is this? Well, Taylor had experienced a rare stroke in the left hemisphere due to a congenital malformation of blood vessels in her brain. The stroke on the left side gave way to her right side so it could take precedence.

“Your left mind might be rushing, thinking, deliberating, and analyzing, but your right mind is very mellow.”

The two lobes of our brain have different personalities so when Dr. Taylor “stepped to the right“, as she puts it, she found inner peace. This peaceful existence was interrupted only by the pain from her increasing headache which brought her back to her grave situation. If you want to know more about Dr. Taylor’s recovery and revelations then you should read the book. I will mention that after years of rehabilitation which included surgery, it took Talbot eight years to fully recover from her stroke. Compared to most stroke victims, Talbot knows she isn’t the norm. Dr. Taylor mentions that she had the advantage to understand how to repair, retrain and recover her brain. She is in the invaluable position to teach from the knowledge gained in her field and from her personal experience. Taylor is grateful for the opportunity to explain what happened to her brain and the insights she has gained!

“Wow, how many scientists have the opportunity to study their own brain and mental deterioration from the inside out?”

Taylor wishes to offer hope and inspiration to those who are dealing with a stroke or a brain injury. Taylor also mentions that trauma and disability doesn’t necessarily mean disaster. Dr. Taylor writes about her stroke as a miraculous recovery and a metaphysical revelation. My Stroke of Insight is a unique combination of science and omniscience; the physical and metaphysical.

“As a neuroanatomist, I must say that I learned as much about my brain and how it functions during that stroke, as I had in all my years of academia.”

Taylor wants us to pass her story on to our family and friends. My Stoke of Insight is a must read for anyone who works with stroke patients or family members caring for stroke victims. This is not a woe is me tale. Dr. Taylor is grateful to her experience, noting that she gained a shift in consciousness and a new appreciation for life.

If you wish to see a webcast of Jill Taylor’s presentation then check it out on
Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor created a mnemonic device to help people remember the most important signs of stroke. She suggests we commit these to memory and share them with everyone you know. Remember, stroke is a medical emergency: Dial 911

Warning Signs of Stroke

S = Speech, or problems with language

T = Tingling, or numbness in your body

R = Remember, or problems with thinking

O = Off-balance, or problems with coordination

K = Killer headache

E = Eyes, or problems with vision

Dr. Taylor recommends theses sites:
American Stroke Foundation
In my Google research I found these sites and links to be helpful:
Heart and Stroke Foundation
CanadaFive Signs of Stroke
Act F.A.S.T. -test list for stroke victim