This is Your Brain on Your Brain: Scientist Gives Blow-by-Blow Account of Her Own Stroke

TED logoIf I could have been anywhere other than with you, last week, it would have been in Monterey CA at the TED Conference. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design, and the event, held annually since 1984, thrives on bringing together disparate thinkers from diverse fields to ask less-than-obvious, critical questions about ideas. Big-picture stuff.

Of course, people from WIRED went, and one, Kim Zetter, brought back this report of a presentation by Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, a Harvard-trained neuroanatomist with the Indiana University School of Medicine in Bloomington. I’d not heard of Dr. Taylor before this piece, but now, man, I’ve got to get this woman on NONFICTION, my WBAI-NY radio show.

Dr. Jill Bolte TaylorSee, on December 10, 1996, Taylor woke up to realize that she was having a strokeā€”a rare type called an arterio-venous malformation or AVM. What makes the episode odd, yet captivating, as Taylor recounts it, says Zetter, is that her

knowledge of the brain made her the perfect witness to her body’s gradual shutdown. Over the course of four hours she watched her body deteriorate in stages, all the while processing its breakdown as if she were a curious explorer taking field notes.

Yet, at first, she didn’t realize what was happening to her. So after feeling searing discomfort in her head,

she jumped on an exercise machine and looked down at her hands and says they looked like primitive claws to her. She didn’t recognize her body as hers.

Taylor eventually decides to call her office for help, but her stroke is overtaking her brain’s normal functions. She can’t remember her office number. She takes out business cards, but what would look like numbers and words to us, by now, to her,

looked like squiggles. She matched the shapes of the squiggles on the card to the squiggles on the phone and eventually reached a colleague. When he answered the phone, all she heard him say was, “Whaa, whaa, whaa” — a bit like the sound the adults in Peanuts cartoons make. When she opened her mouth to respond, the same sound came from her.

Three weeks later, doctors removed a hemorrhage the size of a golf ball from her brain.

For more, get Jill Taylor’s book, My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey. But you may want to build up to it, first, by reading Kim Zetter’s “Scientist Turns Microscope on Herself.”


1 comment so far ↓

#1 Jane Ross on 06.01.08 at 11:29 pm

I have had many parallel experiences with Dr. Taylor, and am currently publishing THE MYSTIC: Her Living Years and HELP ME FIND MY DADDY. In progress is my work BOOT CAMP FOR WORLD PEACE, from experiences in facilitating a wonderful program in Children’s Psychiatirc Ward .. U. of Miami, School of ;Medicine. I would travel anywhere to spend an hour with the amazing Dr. Taylor. Sincerely, Jane

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