Department: the Waiting Room
(by Jill Bolte Taylor)
Jill Bolte Taylor was a healthy 37-year-old neuroanatomist at Harvard when, one morning in 1996, she suffered a massive stroke in the left hemisphere of her brain. In four hours she lost her ability to walk, talk, read, write, and remember parts of her past.
Yet Bolte Taylor not only recovered completely—a process that took eight years—but regards her stroke as a positive event that left her with a sense of peace, a less-driven personality, and new insight into the meaning of life.
In My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey (Penguin Group, 2008), Bolte Taylor, 49, shares lessons learned from a stroke patient's perspective, including tips for doctors, nurses, caregivers, and other stroke survivors. Perhaps most surprisingly, she recalls feeling an intense sensation of inner harmony and deep connection during the stroke that has remained with her. She believes this state of awareness is available to all people if they know how to look for it.
Today, Bolte Taylor—an adjunct professor at Indiana University Medical School—speaks widely to corporate and other groups about these insights; has appeared on Oprah Winfrey's TV program and Soul Series Web cast; and has a movie deal in the works. She also is developing a neurological rehabilitation device that incorporates virtual reality, biofeedback, and gaming. (To see Bolte Taylor speak about her experience, go to ted.com and type her name in the search window.)
One of Bolte Taylor's goals with the book, she says, was to reach doctors-to-be while they were still in school, to “influence the way they perceive the ability of the brain to recover.” Some neurologists tell stroke patients most recovery occurs within the first six months post-stroke, leaving little hope for further improvement—advice with which Bolte Taylor strongly disagrees.
Among the lessons Bolte Taylor has for medical professionals and caregivers: Don't accept timetables for recovery, have hope in the brain's plasticity and ability to be repaired, and appreciate the value of sleep in the healing process.
“I've been given twelve years I almost didn't have,” says Bolte Taylor. “To me, that is precious, sacred time. I wake up every morning, wiggle my toes and my fingers, and say to them, ‘Good morning, girls; thanks for another great day.’”