Have you ever wondered just how amazing your brain is? How can something so small hold so much power and knowledge? Different fields such as neurology and psychology join forces to solve the mysteries of the brain.We don’t often think about our brains getting damaged because we do not know people who have brain-related conditions. It might come as a surprise to you, but many exceptional cases all lead back to a brain tumor or head injury.Dr. Oliver Sacks, the author of this book and a neurological expert, wrote about his extraordinary encounters with his patients. These stories are so odd that you’ll probably scratch your head while reading the patients’ condition.Follow through and further read to be amazed by how powerful the human brain can be.
The Man Who Mistook His Wife for A Hat
Imagine if you can’t remember people’s faces. You can look at a person’s face, smile at them, even talk to them, but the minute you look away, you forget their facial features entirely. The person you just spoke to seconds ago becomes another stranger to your eyes.Specific individuals live with this kind of condition because their optic visual processing is flawed. These patients can’t process a face; instead, they rely on distinct features to recognize someone, such as dimples on both cheeks or a mole on the tip of the nose. That could be a result of a head injury or trauma to the head.Mr. P was a well-known musician and teacher. He would treat non-living things such as fire hydrants and doorknobs as people, as he would even talk to them. He could never recognize students by their faces but by their voices; they brushed it off as they considered his actions as part of his weird sense of humor.
Mr. P. suffered from diabetes; therefore, he went to an ophthalmologist as he feared he would go blind. After the examination, the ophthalmologist said that there aren’t any issues with his vision. Still, he suggested that Mr. P should consult a neurologist instead. Mr. P. went to Dr.Sacks for an evaluation; at first, Dr. Sacks did not recognize any abnormalities. However, as they communicated further – Dr. Sacks realized that Mr. P. was studying every facial feature.Starting from his left to his right eye, then moving towards his chin but could never recognize his face as a whole.Dr. Sacks became unsettled, yet he continued to conduct the regular examinations on Mr. P concerning muscle strength, coordination, and reflexes. These exams required Mr. P to remove his left shoe and put his shoe back on, though, after a few minutes, Mr. P’s left foot remained bare.Dr. Sacks offered to help, but Mr. P. responded that his foot is already inside the shoe. Furthermore, Dr. Sacks pointed out that his left foot is still bare, only when Mr. P realized it. He said, “Ah! I thought that was my foot”, referring to Dr. Sacks’ foot.
Apart from that unusual interaction, Dr. Sacks didn’t recognize anything absurd. Moreover, Dr.Sacks then took out a magazine and asked Mr. P. to describe the pictures. Mr. P. would point out colors, shapes, or any little detail on the page, but yet would never recognize the image as a whole.Afterward, Dr. Sacks asked him to describe the picture of the Sahara Desert. Mr. P replied that there is a river and a little guest house, even though there was no such thing!Dr. Sacks was astonished, yet as Mr. P. turned around to leave the clinic, he thought that the doctor got impressed by him. His wife was sitting on a chair waiting for him.
Suddenly, Mr.P. looked around for his hat but couldn’t find it. He held his wife’s head to lift it off to put it on his head, as he confused his wife for being a hat! To continue the examinations, Dr. Sacks visited Mr. P. at his house; Dr. Sacks then realized that Mr. P. could recognize shapes and cartoon characters. However, he failed to name the people in the pictures all over his apartment, including himself, his co-workers, and students.If someone were familiar with him,Mr. P would identify the person because of a distinct feature such as a square jaw. He looked at things through clues and unique features, not for what they are as a whole.
The Man Who Fell Out of Bed
We often forget just how complex our brains are. That complex organ inside our skull can hold hundreds of memories, names, and anything you can imagine. It doesn’t seem like much, yet you can always rely on your brain whenever and wherever. Although it’s easier to recognize what’s wrong in our brains today than 100 years ago, there are still so many secrets alongside mysteries when it comes to our minds.If your brain suffers from a blood clot or an air bubble inside a blood vessel, it could produce destructive consequences. Even if the injury source is a minute part of your brain, it can affect your body’s rest because your brain is connected to everything. Let’s also not disregard that our brain acts as the central control of our whole body.
Once, Dr. Sacks was called to a room that held a patient—a young man—who seemed okay before taking a nap. The young man got admitted because another doctor claimed he had a “lazy” left leg. When he woke up, the young man lay down on the floor and refused to go back to bed. He was staring at his left leg the whole time.Dr. Sacks asked the young man if he could return to his bed. The mere suggestion caused the patient to shake his head furiously, claiming that a severed human leg was on the bed. He was freaking out because it was such a shocking scene.Before Dr. Sacks could say anything, the young man exclaimed why there was a cold and weird-looking leg on his bed. He said that it must be a joke done by a nurse with a dark sense of humor. Since it was New Year’s Eve, the nurse might have drunk too much and decided to make fun of him.
The nurse must have taken out the severed leg and placed it on his bed. The young man looked proud and pleased with himself because he solved the mystery of the portion.However, suddenly the young man threw the leg out of bed. As his lips trembled, he declared that the leg was chasing him because now, it is attached to his body. He panicked and then tried to remove his leg from his body while shouting over how sickening and horrifying it is.The young man kept beating his leg until Dr. Sacks intervened by saying that it was his leg and not just a random person’s leg. The young man also thought that Dr. Sacks was making fun of him.Afterward, it took him a while to realize that it was indeed just his leg.The young man then explained that it didn’t feel like it was his leg because it felt so foreign. Dr. Sacks then asked the young man if it wasn’t his leg, then where is his real leg?The young man looked like he was on the verge of fainting, but he still managed to reply by saying that his leg had disappeared and nowhere to be found.
On the Level
We all know that we have five senses. Yet, there’s an additional one that’s unconscious and automatic. Some even call it our 6th sense; it helps one know that our arms are resting at our sides, our legs are at the lower part of our body, and finally, our body is adequately aligned.This 6th sense is called proprioception.Often we take such things for granted because it’s so apparent and candid; we don’t ever give it a second thought. However, without proprioception, our bodies won’t feel like it’s our own. Proprioception is often an unconscious and taken-for-granted sense because we don’t have any incentive to pay attention to it. Solely, only when it’s missing, we realize how significant it is, for instance, such as not being able to breathe suddenly properly.
Dr. Sacks met Mr. MacGregor in a neurology clinic of a retirement village. Mr. MacGregor complained that other people assume that he is leaning to the side while he walked, even though he is absolutely sure that he is walking straight as a stick.To determine who was right, Dr. Sacks asked Mr. MacGregor to walk in a straight line and told him that they would record a video of him. Dr. Sacks noted that even though he was 93, Mr. MacGregor was still alert and didn’t look like his age.Mr. MacGregor confidently stood up and did as the doctor informed him.Dr. Sacks then realized that Mr. MacGregor didn’t certainly walk straight, as he was leaning towards the side repeatedly. As what other people observed was true.Mr. MacGregor was shocked plus surprised when he saw himself in the video. He even stated that he still doesn’t feel that he was leaning to the side at all.Dr. Sacks explained to the older man about proprioception. Mr. MacGregor gave an example to make sure that he understood the concept. The old man said that other people have a small voice inside their head that tells them, “Don’t lean to the side! Walk straight!” but he doesn’t have that little voice
Dr. Sacks confirmed that he got the idea.Mr. MacGregor also related it to his former job as a carpenter; they use a spirit level tool, which tells carpenters if a surface is leveled or not. It looks like a bar with a water tube in the middle. When the body is balanced, the water bubble gets steady in the center. However, when the surface is tilted on one side, the drop goes somewhere else.Due to his Parkinson’s Disease, Mr. MacGregor’s natural body “spirit level” was destroyed.Dr. Sacks and Mr. MacGregor united forces to solve the older man’s difficulty.Then they attached an extended horizontal level to each side of Mr. MacGregor’s glasses so that he would observe if he is leaning towards a side or not.It wasn’t easy at first because Mr.MacGregor had to continue monitoring the levels each time. But soon, he grew used to it.Eventually, at last, the older man finally walked as straight as a stick.
It’s quite challenging to treat conditions such as the Mr. MacGregor case; because such patients are not aware that something is wrong. It would be best if you worked collectively to comprehend such out. It would help if you convinced the patient to solve the problem and develop the best solution, a tool, or a technique that the patient can quickly adapt, including turning it into a habit.Believe it or not, some people can see through only one eye. It’s not because they are blind but because their brain’s section that compromises vision is damaged.If the patient wants to see the other side, they need to turn 360 degrees to see the whole room. For example, a CCTV camera can also help people with this condition to see everything around them, even though they only have one functioning eye.
Mrs. S suffered from a terrible stroke that affected her right cerebral hemisphere. Hence, she couldn’t see with her left eye. She often complained to the nurses that the tray they always delivered didn’t contain the dessert cup, even though the dessert was still on the left side.The nurses had to keep reminding Mrs. S that it was there. They also told her that if she turns her head to the side and uses her right eye instead, she would see it.Due to the stroke, Mrs. S cannot perceive anything on her left. When she puts on make-up, she only does the right side of her face. The other side remains naked.Eventually, Mrs. S has adapted the “turning in circles” technique to see things on her left. Yet, still, there are moments where she forgets to do so. All of her impulses automatically favor her right side.When Dr. Sacks set up a video camera for Mrs. S, she finally saw the left side of her face. Except she became upset, then refused to look at it.
The President’s Speech
Aphasia refers to the inability to understand and/or comprehend words; that also means that someone who has aphasia cannot understand what is told.Diagnosing aphasia is a long, tedious process. Neurologists have to examine the patients by speaking and behaving oddly.Odd in a sense that the patient doesn’t talk with any expression or emotion whatsoever.Some aphasics even talk with a robotic voice.Since many aphasics cannot understand words, they rely on non-verbal cues. They depend on the tone, body language, and facial expression of the individual they’re talking to.Due to that, aphasics can quickly determine if the person is lying or not. They immediately recognize if a person is genuine or just pretending.There is another unique condition called agnosia; it is the complete opposite of aphasia. People with agnosia understand words and only words. They don’t consider the tone and/or the feeling behind the sentences, as they cannot process non-verbal cues.
The hospital ward was filled with laughter as the aphasia patients watched the President’s speech on TV. They observed how the President spoke and thought that he is unauthentic.They cannot understand what he is stating. Still, it is evident to the aphasiacs that the President is just pretending.Aside from that, agnosia patients are also there attending the speech. Emily is a former English teacher; she was diagnosed with agnosia. Hence, she does not appreciate the President’s tone or body language, and facial expressions.Emily said that the President’s speech was terrible. She is unimpressed. She said that maybe the President has brain damage, or perhaps he is concealing something.
Unfortunately, there are several ways to damage a brain, such as; through a major accident or a degenerative disease like Parkinson’s. Even though countless research is conducted about our brains, there are yet still many factors that remain a mystery.The brain is so complex that if any part of it is damaged, there will be a striking consequence in the human body. For instance, if a human brain’s frontal lobes are covered with cancerous tissues, it can change a patient’s personality, as it is a condition that cannot be treated.Mrs. B was a former research chemist who would suddenly shift from an entertaining then to an impulsive then a superficial mood. Her unusual, severe mood swings gave her friends the impression that Mrs. B no longer cared about them. They did not know that a brain tumor caused these abrupt shifts in Mrs. B’s personality.
One day, Dr. Sacks met Mrs. B., but she addressed him as “father” or “sister” or “doctor.” When asked for an explanation, Mrs. B said that Dr. Sacks’ face and beard reminded her of a priest, yet his clothing reminded her of a nun. She only called him a doctor because of the stethoscope that was hanging around his neck. She also further explained that she knows the differences between the three terms; and doesn’t think of it as a big deal.Mrs. B’s outlook is that; nothing matters to her because everything she perceives is the same. Additionally, she mentions that this idea doesn’t bother her either.
Imagine that there’s an upcoming exam.; you’re nervous because it will make or break your grades for the next semester. Subsequently, you try to study, though you can’t comprehend what you’re reading. All you do is overthink failing the exam; this fear causes difficulties in concentration. You cannot do anything else but overthink; that showcases how powerful your thoughts can be.If you believe that you cannot achieve something, you will never succeed.Meanwhile, as you convince your mind that you can’t, then your body will learn to limit itself.Madeleine is a 60-year-old woman that is blind furthermore has cerebral palsy. Aside from that, both of her hands move involuntarily; therefore, she cannot use them. Since the day she was born, her family has been looking after her.Due to her condition, Madeleine couldn’t learn and/or read using Braille. Thus, she relies on other people to read for her. Dr. Sacks was astonished when he found out about her condition, as he thought that Madeleine’s hands were not that severe.
Madeleine could sense slight sensual touch, pain, and temperature with her hands. However, she couldn’t identify objects by using them. As such, that puzzled Dr. Sacks because he believes that if Madeleine could feel some sensations, she should recognize objects as she touches them.Dr. Sacks realized that perhaps Madeleine did not learn to use her hands because her family performed everything from the very beginning. Nevertheless, all of them believed that Madeleine’s involuntarily stimulating hands are incompetent. Due to their belief,Madeleine never considered exploring her abilities.Contradicting what you believe in can be remarkably challenging. Moreover, Madeleine felt for many years that her hands are useless. As such, Dr. Sacks formed a developed simple plan; he suggested that the nurse should “accidentally” leave Madeleine’s food tray slightly out of reach. Meanwhile, as Madeleine progressively became impatient and hungry, she began to reach out for her food.For the first time in 60 years, Madeleine was able to use her hands. Over time, she started to improve significantly after this practice.Hence, soon she was able to create clay sculptures of faces, heads, including other figures.
There are several things you can learn from this book:
1. The brain is such a delicate yet compelling, influential part of our body.
2. If the brain gets negatively affected, there is an immense possibility that other parts of the body will be affected.
3. Even slight damage in the brain can cause disastrous consequences.
Lastly, studying uncommon, rare conditions can improve our understanding of patients who suffer from them. Their life is complicated; therefore, the least we can do is to be thoughtful and attentive by offering our support.Just because one has a condition and/or disease, that doesn’t mean that they live a tormented life; there are still several ways to be happy and prosperous. Specifically, if they are surrounded by individuals that understand moreover support them.