Anatomy of a stroke

 Stroke Head Brain Science Emotion Mankind Medicine Technology

When we analyse how much we've evolved in the last twenty years, we realize the gigantic leap we've given into the future. In no other time in history have we been so connected and had such good conditions available to make science cross boundaries and dare to make the impossible possible. I can't imagine what the future will be like a decade from now. In this line of thought, I have always been fascinated by medicine, mostly because I am an hypercondriac and because I'm utterly fascinated by the most complex machine ever invented, the human body.

I was absolutely fascinated by this presentation by Doctor Jill Bolte Taylor, about the experience, first-hand, when she realized she was having a stroke (cerebrovascular accident). Actually, Jill had the opportunity very few scientists have: to achieve a deep knowledge about a certain area and to be able to experience first-hand the consequences of this kind of episode, surviving to be able to tell the story.

Jill Taylor's interest in the study of the human brain developed early on, when her brother developed schizophrenia. The reality generated by this pathological state motivated her to follow the study of the brain and to understand the mechanisms behind some diseases. What are the biological differences between the brains of normal people and the brains of people who develop a certain pathology? In what way do chemical mediations happen with, cause and effect, in our own conscience? Among many others, these were the questions she wanted to answer, as a scientist.

In 1996, Jill had a severe stroke and was able to experience and feel first-hand the mental changes triggered by this disease. From the perception that something was wrong, untill the loss of basic functions such as walking, talking, reading or writing. Jill realized she had become, for some time, a child trapped in a woman's body, losing all her abilities to remember what her entire life had been like.

The stroke took place in the left half of her brain, responsible for the entire logical behaviour, rationality and analysis of detail in what surrounds us. When this half of the brain stops working, we are left with what is sensorial, with emotions and the perception of stimuli coming from everywhere... Odor, sound, light, temperature, but without the ability to process all this information in a logical and useful way. As the seriousness of the haemorrhage got bigger, the left half of the brain was intermittent, making the most simple tasks - such as asking for help - a true challenge. Over 45 minutes went by before Jill was able to reach the phone to call 911, only to realize, when she tried to speak, that she had lost all her linguistic knowledge - her left half of the brain had completely shut down.

Remarkably, in spite of the seriousness of this experience, Jill was able to remember everything she felt and lived through, allowing her to make an amazing report of this episode.

What touched me the most was the fact that she told everything in the first person, with a lot of emotion, making it clear that her analytical ability, as a scientist, had been affected by something of great importance, that we often forget: our humanity and our need of being more than mere individuals. It's an amazingly powerful story about how our brain defines us and connects us with the world and the people surrounding us.

The video is divided into four major parts:

1) The motivation for the study of the human brain
2) A brief explanation of the functions of the right and left parts of the brain
3) The discription of the entire stroke
4) The waking up after the stroke

The entire presentation is in English and is well worth the watch. Invest 20 minutes of your time watching this amazing story.

Thanks for the link, João Pedro.

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