My family and I are learning a lot these days, and it all seems to come back to patience. Peter is back in Atlanta now, getting stronger, but still has a journey of rehabilitation ahead of him. In the midst of this new reality, a family friend recommended Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor’s book My Stroke of Insight.
Insight is a memoir of sorts, but it is also a story of encouragement and enlightenment for stroke sufferers and their families. Taylor, a Harvard brain scientist who suffered a cerebral hemmorhage (much like Peter’s) when she was just 38 years old, tells the story of her stroke and recovery with odd clarity. Her recollections are, in many ways, comforting; they serve as a guide for those of us in the midst of caring for a family member who has suddenly lost skills that once required little effort. Taylor writes with an authoritative voice, not simply because she knows from experience what it is like to lose the ability to read, speak and walk, but because she is a neuroanatomist. With affectionate voice, she explains the power, plasticity and intricacy of the brain. I have never been more in awe of gray matter.
My Stroke of Insight is a reminder to everyone who interacts with stroke patients that the person they love is still in there, but maybe a little quieter, or a little more confused than usual. Taylor tells her readers how to interact with friends and loved ones recovering from a stroke, encouraging them to be positive, speak quietly and slowly, and to remember that they are interacting with someone who has been wounded but is by no means stupid or hard of hearing. Taylor’s book reminds us that life in the “real world” – or at least the world that we with normally functioning brains perceive as real – is terribly harsh; using her own experience as a backdrop, she urges us to be gentler, kinder, more humane. I can think of no better service for a book to provide.