[ Stories from Dr. Yukari ]
Since her little brother was diagnosed with schizophrenia, she was always interested in how the human brain works along with researching the nervous system. She studied neuroscience and later became a neuroanatomist who was deeply interested in how the human’s left and right hemispheres interact in the brain. The left brain was known to be the simple processor which analyzes and organizes past data and systematically plans for the future, while the right side processes human sensations and perceptions. The right brain is known to have a sense of perception that allows one to process human emotions and surroundings. For Jill, these mechanisms were utterly fascinating and she saw the two hemispheres of the brain as if it were two different people.
On this very morning she noticed a difference in her surroundings. She looked down at her hands and saw her finger nails had grown in huge size and her surroundings becoming blurry. She tried to tell herself in her mind to get up and take a shower and that she had to go to work. Despite the efforts, everything was still moving around her slowly and she couldn’t get a firm grip. She began to notice the voice inside of her head fading away as if someone pushed the mute button.
All of sudden, everything clicked and she realized she was having a stroke. The left side of her brain kicked into action to problem solve while the right side of her brain grew fascinated by the experience. As a neuroscientist, she was seeing this moment as an opportunity to learn and understand. With enough effort, she was able to contact her colleague by calling him. Once he picked up, she recalled her voice sounding like a dog trying to desperately talk to a human. In her mind, she believed she was saying to him, “Help! I am having a stroke. Call an ambulance quickly!” Unfortunately, her words were not easily understood and similar to a baby effort at
speaking. By the time EMS arrived, her brain hemorrhage had spread all over the left side of her brain. While she was close to death, it was almost like a release, a let-go. Before falling into a coma she thought, “I said good bye to a lot in my life”.
A few hours later, Jill awoke in the ICU and found herself breathing. Her head ached intolerably. Everything around her felt loud and invasive. She felt as if she was squeezed into a small bottle with no escape. She did not want to come back to life. But for some reason, she was given a second chance at life through survival. She decided that she must report back to the world what it is like to experience a stroke. Similar to a newborn, Jill had to relearn how to talk, stand, walk and write. Many people came around her during this time to support her recovery despite the difficulties she encountered.
In addition to people’s support, one thing that helped her continue in her recovery was the experience she underwent with her right brain. She experienced a moment of chaos so vividly that her existence felt deeply connected to the bigger world. She felt the undeniable connection with herself and her surroundings along with the people around her.
In her TED talk she says that her right hemisphere knew she was fully connected at that time. While her left brain is extremely important for logical survival reasons, it is important to not forget how connected your right brain is to the world. She believes it is her life’s work to cherish both functions of the brain and appreciate it as a gift. Our brain is a miracle and it is a gift that we are all blessed with.
In 2009, Jill Bolte Taylor published her book titled My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey. Time Magazine also nominated Jill as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. I highly recommend listening to her moving TED talk linked below.