Mapping the Wilds of Mortality and Fatherhood

The Inward Empire

Christian Donlan

 

            Christian Donlan becomes a father at the same time that he develops multiple sclerosis. The power of the book is his ability to express his feelings, especially about his disease. While his particular disease is MS, there are commonalities of symptoms and reactions to other, non-curable neurologic diseases. His reactions and his writing make the book an intriguing read. The following passages are those that I either found particularly interesting or I was struck by the communication.

An idea of where the illness stops and I begin is often problematic.

I would argue that neurological diseases are ultimately an attack on individuality.

“The Disembodied Lady” (a case description from Oliver Sacks) exists within the strange spook country of proprioception, the means – along with vision and the balance organs of the vestibular system – by which the body creates a sense of itself in space. Proprioception is a deeply physical business, and yet, it’s simultaneously a largely intangible one. It is not just the brain’s idea of where the body is from moment to moment. It is part of what makes a person’s physical experiences feel real and personal in the first place.

A proprioceptive deficit is therefore an intellectual deficit: it means that the messages being sent back to the brain are not being properly understood.

Proprioception is a guiding hand so deft and considerate that you might never come close to spotting it, and this is the tragedy of the body’s most elegant systems. You only learn how clever they are when the break – and when it becomes a matter of how clever they once were.

Proprioception was my introduction to the world of neurological disarray. I suspect that proprioception is an ideal introduction: a gentle indicator that there is always a level of mediation between the world and our experience of it.

It is hard to spot the things that happen when your brain starts to go wrong, because your brain is the last thing that is going to be able to tell you about it.

That is memory. Remembering something is an act of destruction, covered up by an almost instantaneous act of creation.

The problem for me was largely mechanical. The likely culprits were not the visual processing pathways leading to the occipital lobe, which houses the visual cortex, but rather the nerves that supply the muscles which operate the eyes like pulleys. My eyes were no longer perfectly aligned, and this meant that the images the visual cortex was trying to put together had ceased to overlap as cleanly as they usually did. My perceptions were becoming harder to mesh.

It is not that my eyes were exhausted. It’s more that there was an angry congestion building somewhere behind them, in the parts of the brain that had to deal with the chaos my eyes were suddenly delivering. So much trouble, and all this from a shift in one eye – a shift, most likely less that a millimeter. A shift so tiny that my eyeballs, viewed in the Ikea bathroom mirrors, seemed perfectly normal as they tracked up and down, from right to left.

Elsewhere, it seemed that my ability to deal with the subtext was diminished. In the evenings, or if I was particularly tired, I found that I could no longer peer beneath the surface of what people were saying as easily as I had before. I was stuck in the literal.

Some symptoms are part of what I feared at first and then forgot to fear – that MS could be such a wonderful, powerful all-purpose excuse I might invoke it a little too often.

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Vision: It’s Development in Infant and Child

 

I have reviewed the differences in education across cultures in The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got that Way  and in The Learning Gap . There are also differences within our own culture in child rearing, education, socialization, and remediation which have taken place over the past few generations; some due to philosophy and some due to technology. Continue reading

The Neural Basis of Reading

Cornelissen, Hansen, Kringelbach, Pugh

The following clinical pearls should not be buried in a compilation of scientific papers. This knowledge should be applied to reading instruction. It can also help understand how the process is breaking down for some children.

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Narrative Medicine

Narrative Medicine

In the October 6, 2018, Wall Street Journal, Suzanne O’Sullivan previews her new book, Brainstorm: Detective Stories from the World of Neurology. She explains how technology can deceive us with its wonderful images into thinking that it can provide all the answers. It does not. Continue reading