Thursday, November 05, 2009

Brain's Capacity to Compensate for Losses

“But my brain, when Freeman got to it, was young. It was still growing. After the surgery, it adapted to the lobotomy and found ways to compensate for it. The parts of my brain that Freeman hadn’t damaged grew stronger. This was very unusual, according to Bob and Glenn, but not unheard of. Bob had read about a teenage girl in Germany who began to experience some weakness in her left leg and arm. Her parents took her to the doctor. The doctor referred to a neurologist, who got worried – he discovered that she was weak on her entire left side. So he ordered an MRI, which showed that the girl, basically, had no brain on the right side. She had probably been born that way; the right hemisphere of her brain had just never developed.

In an adult, if the right hemisphere is destroyed or damaged, forget it. That person would be finished. They would experience terrible problems with vision, language, reasoning… with everything.

But this girl’s problem had begun at birth, or even in the womb. So her brain had adapted right from the start. The neurologist found that, other than some weakness on the left side of her body, she had no other problems. She was perfectly healthy and even though she might not make it to the Olympics, she’d be able to play sports and do all the things that teenage girls do. She would be able to live a totally normal life.

I was a bit shaken up by that story, and by what Glenn and Bob said about the damage done to me. But then I started see things a little differently. I had always thought it was terrible that I underwent a lobotomy at the age of twelve. How could anyone do something so barbaric to a child? I always felt sorry for myself because this terrible thing had been done to me when I was so young. But now I saw that I was actually fortunate to be young when it happened. If I’d had the same lobotomy even five years later, when I was seventeen, I might not have had a life at all.” (“My Lobotomy”)

When I myself saw how my brain was shaped for the first time, I got literally stunned. What is this? I believe it was in the summer of 1999. After another episode of blackout, my neighborhood doctor referred me to a CT scan session. The scan pictured showed a brain that was asymmetrical with the left side much smaller than the right one because of the shape of the skull. As I was born three weeks earlier than I should have, my anatomical formation must have been even more imperfect than other babies. The skull should have been quite soft still and for reasons I can only guess, it shaped the way it is. It might have been how I was placed down in a bed or crib or whatever or it might have been how my head was handled by people. There should not be enough room in the skull for my left hemisphere could grow into. I guess something similar to the above stories occurred with my brain even though my brain was not damaged physically or neurologically. And it may offer some clues about my conditions as a depressive.

In the meantime, the first case of “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat” tells a music teacher who can describe things in detailed abstract ways but cannot name them. His perception of things is all in the abstract. For him, a rose is “about six inches tall. A convoluted form with a linear green attachment.” The second case is about a 49-years-old man who believes he is still nineteen. His present tense only belongs to the time of 30 years ago. His memory lasts only a minute or less.

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