Sunday, January 24, 2010

Fantastical Goal of 2010 #1:
Buy enough books to construct indoor fort. Example:

Realistic Goal of 2010 #1:
Read all unread books from my personal library totalling 100+.

Probable Reason for Not Reaching Realistic Goal of 2010 #1:
Addiction to purchasing new and used books, as well as unbearable urge to enter all book stores in path.

My obsession with neurological case studies wins again! While browsing the Bargain Books section of Border's this weekend, I found a copy of The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales by Oliver Sacks for a mere $5.99 (cheap, cheap goes the bird eating the book worm).
Unfortunately, this is not the dust cover of the book I purchased. Instead, I am posting this one because it oh-so cleverly represents the first case study from which the title comes. Clearly a take on Magritte's painting, "Ceci n'est pas une pipe" (This is not a pipe), this cover uses a hat also common in Magritte's art to make the point "Ceci est ma femme" (This is my wife). The case study of Dr. P tells the story of a zealous musician with visual agnosia. The general definition of visual agnosia goes like this: the inability of the brain to make sense of or make use of some part of otherwise normal visual stimulus. In particular, Dr. P is unable to recognize faces, including the familiar faces of his students, family, and even his own. Dr. Sacks includes anecdotes from his experience with Dr. P, which are simultaneously saddenning and hilarious.

I must have looked aghast, but he seemed to think he had done rather well. There was a hint of a smile on his face. He also appeared to have decided that the examination was over and started to look around for his hat. He reached out his hand and took hold of his wife's head, tried to lift it off, and put it on. He had apparently mistaken his wife for a hat! His wife looked as if she was used to such things (p. 11).

I take well to morbidly comical stories, how about you? Actually, I have an anecdote of my own about my post-stroke grandmother. At the time it was quite unsettling, but before her death, she and I were able to giggle about it together. After my grandmother had her stroke, she suffered most obviously from apraxia (the loss of the ability to execute or carry out learned purposeful movements, despite having the desire and the physical ability to perform the movements) and visual agnosia. As a result, my grandfather became excessively protective of any movement my grandmother made, following her around the house and the yard, where she spent most of her time. There was one instance when my grandmother managed to get out of the house undetected, to walk the path that led to the garage where she intended to meet me. I witnessed, in slow motion, my grandmother go clumsily flying off the sidewalk into a flower bed. While struggling to get up, my grandmother's only wailing response was, "Don't tell your grandfather!" Besides a few bruises, she was fine, but neither of us could resist telling my grandfather (much later, of course). I think it's laughing at the things which hurt us that makes us most resilient. It was my grandmother who taught me this the most.

Mary Christina Brown


No comments: