Beautiful Brains

My favourite movie of all times: “Awakenings” :

…love this clip.

I became interested in psychology while taking a course in high school (…20 years later…I’m still studying psychology) – and while at a conference recently, I was happy to learn about a dedicated group “TOPPS” (Teachers of Psychology in Secondary Schools) – perhaps I can get involved one day.

Ever since that course in high school, I have been fascinated with brain research – and even had the chance to dissect a sheep’s brain once in a 3rd year neuropsychology class!

Later, I became interested in the whole “brain-based learning” approach to classroom teaching – but still think it’s an odd label, given that learning is obviously ‘brain-based’ 🙂

But more recently, both the fragility and the resiliency of the brain have become more personal.

…I do love learning about brains but I love my family and their beautiful brains more! And so I wish to share the stories of 2 beautiful brains:

Last year’s beautiful brain story

Last year, my grandfather underwent 2 brain surgeries – at 87 years old. His surgeries were related to subdural hematomas. Through this experience, we learned that most people his age have a large subdural space because the brain shrinks with age. As the brain shrinks, the veins from the dura to the brain stretch, making them more vulnerable to tearing if the person experiences a fall. Once torn, a leak can create a hematoma.

He recovered well from each surgery!

And he recently celebrated his 88th birthday 🙂

This year’s beautiful brain story

Last summer, I took this picture as I entered an art festival.

But in the past 2 weeks my understanding of – and appreciation for – the right and left brain structures and functions has expanded greatly.

Two weeks ago, my sister-in-law had brain surgery – it was a complex and scary attempt to remove several aneurysms. Over the past few years, her life has been especially complicated and her health challenged…so this news was concerning – to say the least.

But it has resulted in quite a transformation!

Here is the wonderful update we received today:

May 5. 2012

It has now been two weeks since Barbara has had her stroke and what a change there has been. In the first week she could hardly talk, her vision was severely impaired and she was very angry when she discovered that her right side was paralyzed.

Then last Thursday something wonderful happened.

It was like she became a new person.

In her own words – “I just woke up and pushed the old person aside and went with the new one.”

Since that time she has not stopped talking although she talks in a southern drawl – Foreign Accent Syndrome (there are only 60 people in medical history who have experienced this phenomena…)

“This new person wanted to talk southern so I said that was okay the old person was a little boring anyway,” she said.

It seems like she is experiencing life for the first time; everything seems new and exciting for her.

“This is delicious.” She remarked when I helped her with her breakfast last Thursday morning. Every meal since then has been like a gourmet treat for her. I was amazed –

Hospital food – delicious?

It was only after I read a paper about Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor* that I figured out what was going on. Taylor who is considered a brain scientist had a stroke at age 37 when her left-brain suffered a stroke her right brain took over and at that time she had an epiphany; “You have this brain that brings you to the present moment, and in this present moment you experience a collage of sensory … You feel the temperature of the air. You feel the breeze in your hair. You can see the world. You smell scents you never smelt before…”

In Barbara’s case she loves the taste of food, she loves it when I brush her hair and this morning she became very excited as she saw the sun breaking through clouds. It seems like every day is a new adventure for Barbara.

She was so pleased when her vision began to improve and when she began to feel the right side of her face as the numbness caused by the stroke began to subside. The Dr. says that the muscle tone is coming back on her right leg. I witnessed her right toe push a beach ball just a few centimeters as the physical therapist ordered her to tell her foot to “push that ball.”

I had to leave Barbara for a few days this week and return to the US to do some business. When I got back this morning she looked like a new person.

She was sitting in her wheel chair with a big smile on her face.
She proudly showed me a note book in which was doing some writing exercises with her left hand and then showed me a children’s coloring book that had many pages colored perfectly between the lines as part of her left hand use exercise.

The most amazing thing was the colours she chose. They were very unusual and a very beautiful contrast.

“I would never have chosen these colours before,” she said.

Another example of the right-brain taking over.

Barbara’s stroke, which at first seemed like a terrible catastrophe has become an exciting adventure.

As I am writing this at 7:30 PM she sitting in her bed coloring in her book and humming a happy song.

Thank you for your prayers.

“Aren’t you going to give me some of that chocolate you brought daddy?”

“Yes dear I’ll get it right now. Can I have some too?”

Frank Durksen Sr. (Dad) –




And Present.

So, although this surgery has left her with new challenges, we are very thankful she can ‘live in the present’ now.

“…seems like she is experiencing life for the first time

Not having to ‘live in the past’ of left-brain memories.

What a gift – a ‘present’ – for her to receive after all her struggles.

What an ‘awakening!’

*If you are interested in viewing an amazing lecture by brain researcher Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor (mentioned above): Stroke of Insight – here it is
(Thank you to Jungmi for sharing this video)!

One response

  1. Wow! So glad to hear about both recoveries, but especially Barb’s! To now see everything in life as a gift and for her family to experience that alongside her is such a blessing! The brain is just an amazing organ with so much potential left to be unlocked! Thanks for sharing, Tracy!

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