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WILD COOT – Different strokes

Harry Russell

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IN DECEMBER 2007 when I had my stroke I was fortunate. I was facing a sweet slow bowler, bowling leg-cutters.The ball turned sharply, I got a nick, struck me on the pads, the wicketkeeper did not gather cleanly, and I got a single to fine leg as the feeler was fielding deep. So here I am at the bowler’s end hoping not to face that sweet bowler again.Seriously, I would recommend compulsory reading of Dr Jill Bolte Taylor’s book My Stroke Of Insight to anyone over the age of 55, or who has already had a stroke. This lady, a neuroanatomist by profession, after a successful career at the age of 37 had a massive stroke.Strokes come mainly in three forms. Mine was what the doctors call an ischaemic blood clot, to wit, there is a constriction in an artery and the flow of oxygenated blood to critical parts of the brain is interrupted. The blood has to find an alternative route in order to get those body parts working again. The new routes of mine are very devious.Another type of stroke, called a haemorrhagic stroke, is where there is a weakness in the artery, a bulge forms and eventually bursts. In addition to the feed interruption the escaping blood can damage other parts of the brain circuit and incapacitate those parts.Dr Taylor’s stroke was an AVM (arteriovenous malfunction). An artery is directly connected to a vein with no buffering capillary bed in between. Over time the vein can no longer handle the high pressure from the artery and the connection between the artery and the vein is broken, spilling blood into the brain.People who have a stroke when they are awake are usually conscious that something is wrong. It is that period that Dr Taylor is able to describe: how some of the trillion cells in her brain gradually closed off and she lost perception or movement. First, she attributes her strange sensation to a minor ailment; then she senses that there is some malfunctioning, and, being a neuroanatomist, she starts to figure out what is happening. Her analysis of the situation as it develops is quite acute, and can only come from one who is au fait with the workings of the brain. Eventually, in a semi-paralyzed state she manages to babble for help as she is at home.The recuperation period is eight years, during which she regains complete usage of all of her faculties. But it is not without effort. The insight she has of which part of the brain is doing what gives her an advantage over the ordinary stroke victim. However, many of her suggestions as to therapy both for the victim and his or her minder are instructive: what kind of things a minder or visitor should say to the victim in order to maintain spirit. She insists that suffering a stroke, as long as you survive the first onslaught, is not the end of the world, and her example and perseverance over such a long period are ample evidence.Much of the book deals with the quality of help available. Of course, Dr Taylor was able to access the best treatment, but much of it was given by her mother, who, by the way, was a schoolteacher, not a nurse.One sentence struck me as odd. “Since my recovery, I have heard of many stroke survivors who, although they could not speak (left hemisphere), they were capable of singing their message (both hemisphere). I’m amazed at the resilience and resourcefulness of this beautiful brain to find a way to communicate.”  Readers can decide if I am speaking or singing.For those who might be interested she may be visited at www.drjiltaylor,com and
• Harry Russell is a retired banker.