My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D.: B+

From the back cover:
On the morning of December 10, 1996, Jill Bolte Taylor, a thirty-seven-year-old Harvard-trained brain scientist, experienced a massive stroke when a blood vessel exploded in the left side of her brain. A neuroanatomist by profession, she observed her own mind completely deteriorate to the point that she could not walk, talk, read, write, or recall any of her life, all within the space of four brief hours. As the damaged left side of her brain—the rational, grounded, detail- and time-oriented side—swung in and out of function, Taylor alternated between two distinct and opposite realities: the euphoric nirvana of the intuitive and kinesthetic right brain, in which she felt a sense of complete well-being and peace, and the logical, sequential left brain, which recognized Jill was having a a stroke and enabled her to seek help before she was lost completely.

A fascinating journey into the mechanics of the human mind, My Stroke of Insight is both a valuable recovery guide for anyone touched by a brain injury and an emotionally stirring testimony that deep internal peace truly is accessible to anyone at any time.

My Stroke of Insight can be divided into three main topics, each of which prompted different reactions from me.

It begins by focusing on the science of the brain—how it works, what the hemispheres do, the types of stroke. Although this section proved to be essential later on, I found it pretty difficiult to slog through initially. I think my own brain has pretty much rejected the idea of learning facts and terms by lecture now that I am so many years out of school.

I felt I learned much more in the section where Dr. Taylor recounts her own personal story, which is the second main topic of the book. She recreates the morning of the stroke in vivid detail and it’s quite fascinating. Additionally, she chronicles the steps of her recovery and informs readers of things they should and should not do when caring for someone recovering from stroke.

* Be calm. Tone of voice and body language can still be interpreted by someone whose left brain is damaged, even if the words themselves aren’t understood.
* Make eye contact.
* Be patient. This person is not deaf nor stupid; they’re wounded.
* Be optimistic. Your faith in this person’s ability to recover will help them to believe it, too.
* Correct the person if they make a mistake.

* Evince trepidation at approaching this person.
* Become exasperated when repetition of tasks is necessary.
* Finish sentences or prompt when this person hesitates to search their brain for the right word. If their brain is to heal, it must be challenged and reforge new connections to the information hidden within.
* Ask simple yes/no questions. Providing a variety of options instead will force the brain to attempt to identify the potential choices.

My only real complaint about this middle section is that it is often repetitive, dwelling beyond the point of necessity on the differences between the brain hemispheres and how she lost the sense of her body’s physical boundaries and felt “at one with the universe.”

The last section is kind of like a self-help book, again talking about the differences between the hemispheres and how one may choose to overcome negativity and find the “deep inner peace” afforded by the right hemisphere. Sometimes, this section recommends actions I deem silly, like when Dr. Taylor talks about her nightly ritual for verbally congratulating her cells for doing their job (“You go, girls!”) or advises readers to meditate with the mantra “I am an innocent and peaceful child of the universe,” but she does actually have some interesting ideas about diverting one’s brain’s attention when it threatens to get caught in an unwanted loop of stress or worry.

Ultimately, the most useful and interesting section of the book is the story of the stroke and the recovery. Not only can it help readers distinguish what’s happening if they find themselves experiencing similar symptoms, but it’s an excellent resource for the caregiver of a stroke victim who wishes to provide their loved one with the best support possible.

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