Friday, October 14, 2011

LEFT neglected (Lisa Genova)

I most recently finished reading "LEFT neglected" by Lisa Genova.  Recognize the author?  She also wrote Still Alice, which I also read and enjoyed!

LEFT neglected is a novel about Sarah Nickerson, an extremely busy mom who must deal with a brain injury called Left Neglect.  Basically, her brain no longer let's her body recognize that she has a left side.  Or that anything has a left side.

Imagine you only apply makeup to the right half of your face.  Imagine you can only read the right half of a page.  Imagine you can't tell your body to move your left limbs.  This is what Sarah is dealing with. 

Maybe it's the science communicator in me, but I loved learning about Left Neglect through this novel.  Lisa Genova does a great job explaining what it must be like to live with this type of brain injury.

Here's an example from the book (though kind of lengthy, it's very interesting!):
"The first step in my recovery is to become aware of my unawareness, to constantly and repeatedly remind myself that my brain thinks it's paying attention to all of everything, but in fact, it's only paying attention to the right half of everything and nothing on the left.  Every second of the day, it seems, I forget that this is so.  While the part of my brain normally responsible for this awareness has taken a leave of absence, I have to recruit another part of my brain to be my own babysitter, to monitor my every move and to chime in whenever I need prompting.  Hey there, Sarah, you think you're seeing your whole face, but you're actually only paying attention to the right side.  There's another half there.  It's called the left.  Honest to God. 
The second step, once I become aware of my unawareness, is to expand this knowledge over to the left, to stretch my focus and imagination past what seems like the edge of the earth, and find the other half.  What used to be automatic and entirely behind the scenes - seeing the world as a whole and seamless - is now a painstaking and deliberate process of trying to reel a disconnected left into consciousness.  Look left.  Scan left.  Go left.  It sounds simple enough, but how do I look, scan, or go to a place that doesn't exist in my mind?"  (p. 127-128)
 Another part that stood out to me was when she was talking about how difficult it is for her to walk:
"But walking with a left leg that fades in and out of existence is enormously frustrating and complicated.  Even stepping forward with my right foot requires a conscious and continued faith in the existence of my left side, because when that right foot is in the space between here and there, I'm standing only on my left leg.  My left leg and foot have to be appropriately activated, compromising between flexion and extension, responsible for balancing me and holding all of my weight upright - a tall order for an appendage that feels no loyalty toward me whatsoever.
I sometimes think it would be easiest to hop on my right foot to get from place to place, but I haven't yet had the courage to try it.  Logically, hopping should work, but somehow I just know I'll end up sprawled out on the floor.  Anticipating this outcome really shouldn't deter me from giving it a shot, as I end up sprawled out on the floor most of the time anyway.  I have big, colorful bruises all over me.  I can't believe I haven't fractured a hip or dislocated my knee.  Thank God I have strong bones and loose joints.  I guess I realize that hopping isn't a practical long-term solution for mobility."  (p. 157)
While these quotes from the book help to share some of the challenges of dealing with Left Neglect, they don't even begin to touch the thoughts that go through Sarah's head as she's dealing with this brain injury and trying to keep up with her busy family.

I really enjoyed this novel and would definitely recommend it!

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