Jason Padgett – Struck by Genius

Acquired savant syndrome is exceedingly rare. Jason Padgett changed profoundly after a mugging left him with a head injury. From being a happy-go-lucky type, who loved going out for a drink, and enjoying the company of the ladies, Jason became a OCD stay-at-home soul (and he blocked the windows with blankets), who had to cleanse his hands after touching anyone else. But he also found a previously hidden fascination with mathematics and numbers, helped by a new synaesthetic association of numbers with perceived superimposed 3D shapes. This story is truly mind-boggling.

Jason doesn’t have an easy life after his traumatic … Read more...

Lisa Genova – Left Neglected

The challenge: how to portray someone’s experience of the world which is ‘normal’ but only incorporates half of it – a bit like writing about are awareness of what is behind us. Sarah, the central character of Lisa Genova’s novel, is conscious of herself and of herself in the world, but the bit she is conscious of is her right side only. The focus of the novel is Sarah’s experience of the world without her neglected left side. In other words, the novel is about what the narrator is unaware of – so how does that become the subject of … Read more...

Gabrielle Giffords & Mark Kelly – Gabby: a Story of Courage and Hope

Gabrielle Cliffords was an American Congresswoman for Arizona when she was shot in the head in an attempted assassination. Her partner Mark Kelly was an astronaut and flight commander on the Space Shuttle. Given their high level jobs and public personae, their book is inevitably much more than the account of a head injury and its aftermath, including their pre-injury stories, and their life together. But for the clinician, and for the relative of anyone with a severe brain injury, there are some particular important sections. ‘Sunrise’ (chapter 15) is the account of the first few days after the injury … Read more...

Lawrence Freedman – Cerebral Concussion

The boundaries between cerebral concussion and a severe brain injury are probably slightly academic for the person experiencing the aftermath of head trauma. For the person writing an accompanying postscript to this account of concussion, the symptoms describe merit the diagnosis of a severe brain injury. The typical features of amnesia, confusion, disorientation, disruption of balance, severe fatigue and long periods asleep are all mentioned by Lawrence Freedman in his account of concussion following a cycling accident. But there are all sorts of additional neurological symptoms that can result from shearing and tearing of white matter tracts. Other common symptoms … Read more...

Elizabeth Lopatto – This is what a brain injury feels like

Concussion is probably the most common of all neurological conditions, so it makes good sense to include accounts of people’s experiences of concussion and mild traumatic brain injury on this website of illness narratives. Often, people with concussion are the walking wounded, whose illness is invisible, or even masquerading as something socially unacceptable, inebriation. Elizabeth Lopatto has produced a riveting brief account of her brain injury following a cycle accident. Being a science journalist who has previously reported on Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), she has also set her symptoms in the context of repeated concussion in American Football and boxing.… Read more...

Adrian Owen – How science found a way to help coma patients communicate

This article (or podcast) refers to one particular patient encountered by Adrian Owen in his investigations with people in coma. It is a short and very moving account of how clinicians used fMRI to enable a 38 year-old man in deep coma to communicate with the people caring for him. By imagining how to play tennis at particular moments Scott Routley was able to signal (either yes or no according to how the question was framed) by firing up his prefrontal cortex on the fMRI image, even though to neutral observers he seemed to be still deep in his … Read more...

Cathy Rentzenbrink – The Last Act of Love

A fate worse than death. And life was never the same again – although there was a strong sense of another alternative life somewhere else. Cathy Renzenbrink tells us that she sometimes imagines the parallel universe where her brother’s accident never happened and he grew up to be a brain surgeon and fathered her nieces and nephews. This riveting book tells how she and her parents (and many others) had to struggle through an impossible situation. Her brother was knocked over by a car, and although the subsequent emergency surgery prevented his death, it (and consequent epileptic fits) left him … Read more...

James Cracknell and Beverley Turner – Touching Distance

Touching Distance has a glitzy media spin as the struggle of an Olympic gold-medal-winning rower and endurance athlete who had a traumatic brain injury while cycling across Arizona. But its most convincing and powerful sections are the domestic ones away from the media eye. In them we hear how Cracknell’s wife and children struggled to cope with the change in personality resulting from the brain injury, his loss of frontal lobe control with consequent irritability, anger tantrums, impatience, loss of attention, self-centredness, and even paranoia.

The chapters written by Beverley Turner, Cracknell’s wife and a media personality in her own … Read more...

A.R.Luria – The Man with a Shattered World

Zasetsky is the soldier whose journals form the subjective core of this book. In 1943, aged 23, he received a bullet wound in the left temporo-parieto-occipital area of the brain, leaving him severely aphasic. During his rehabilitation and over the next 30 years, he struggled to express what was happening to him, word by word, and to describe the difficulties he faced, in 3,000 pages of journals. For 25 years he was lucky to be cared for by the great Russian psychologist, Professor AR Luria, known among other things for a textbook on Traumatic Aphasia, using the results of … Read more...

Malala Yousafzai – I Am Malala

I Am Malala is much much more than an ‘illness narrative’ by someone who has had a gunshot injury in the head. It is a cry for the rights of girls and women, a cry for peace in Malala’s Pashtun homeland, and, for me, an introduction to the swirling politics and culture of Pakistan and Afghanistan in a time of foreign invasions and the Taliban.

The account of the shooting and brain injury occupy only a small section (Parts 4 and 5) of this fascinating book. Much of the narrative concerns Malala’s family and school life in the Swat valley … Read more...