For Stroke Patients

The tall neurosurgeon loped into the room where our son, whose scalp incision had herniated slightly, was waiting for his expert opinion. With longish, still thick, white hair combed back from his tanned, seamed face he might have breezed in from his yacht or the set of a James Bond film. His manner was casual, approachable. He flipped on a screen showing the CaT image of Eric’s massive left-brain bleed. “There it is. We almost didn’t bother to operate. The last thing we want is someone surviving in a vegetative state. If a stroke like that happened to you or your husband,” a nod to our less elegant white hair, “we would not operate.”

I thought about the anesthetic and the pharmacopoeia of drugs that had been pumped into Eric’s veins for two weeks in the ICU. Plenty to put him into a coma; if only the doctors understood the role of the tiny, chemically sensitive stapedius ear muscles in producing states of consciousness. And Eric has hypersensitive ears. Had the surgeon not heard of people being brought out of vegetative states with music? Did he know I had brought music to this patient for daily, amplified, high-frequency music stimulation? I thought about the elderly people recovering from Alzheimer’s with music. He probably hasn’t heard about Michael Merzenich’s research with elderly stroke victims, either. Why would someone of his erudition and status bother to read a popularized book on research on the neuroplasticity of the brain? Nevertheless, the vision I’d had, months before Eric’s stroke, of Jesus reaching down to hold onto him when he’d run out of toe-holds and hand-holds, must have touched this doctor’s mind in some way as he gazed on Eric’s unconscious body and decided to operate.

He took out a form and using his dominant left hand wrote with flourishes in its spaces. “A left-lateralized brain surgeon!” I remarked. Did he know that his lateralization resided in audio deficits in his right ear? Probably not. The doctor was pleased with Eric’s progress, although he does not expect Eric to recover completely. We do, but that belief falls into the vision category, outside his purview.

My husband made a remark about Eric’s brother having been schizophrenic until I healed him. “No one knows what causes it,” the doctor said, handing Eric a questionnaire and watching as our 30-year-old son pored over the questions, laboriously ticking off Yes and No answers with his non-dominant left hand. Seeing Eric absorbed in his task, I took the plunge, referred to Dan’s schizophrenia, and said that I had discovered a new principle of cerebral integration. The doctor leaned back in his chair, narrowing his eyes, listening intently as I launched into what I hope was my best-ever one-minute summary of my paradigm of right-ear-driven left-brain dominance. In this unique opportunity to speak to someone with his expertise, I was
fighting panic like a first-year med student. Before he could comment, although I am not sure he intended to, Eric needed help, imploring me with his eyes, and pointing to the question “Do you have significant memory losses?”

He lisped earnestly, “I don’t know my Facebook password. I changed it a couple days before my stroke.” While painfully significant to Eric, who had a superlative memory for numbers, math, letters, you name it, that’s probably not what the author of the questionnaire intended.

“No, Eric. Your memory is quite good, actually. And getting better. I think that answer deserves a No. You have integration problems that affect your short-term memory, but you are improving every day. You remember the important things already. You won’t have permanent, significant memory losses.”

“Could you write what you are thinking if your right hand worked?” asked the doctor.

“Yes!” Eric replied in a tone of relief that someone understood both the fullness and the limitations of his present state of brain function.

The surgeon says he will operate on Eric in the spring to replace the circle of skull bone that rests in a freezer somewhere in this part of the city. The surgery will be short and the recovery rapid. Complications are not anticipated.

At home, I contemplate sending the neurosurgeon my amateur neurological writing that is, nonetheless, groundbreaking science and careful scholarship backed by my lifetime of observing human behavior, including some of its most extreme aberrations. I not only healed Dan’s schizophrenia, I teach other people to heal their learning problems, mental illnesses, and related ear-based problems. I decide my humble offering is the least I can do for someone who saved our son’s life. Maybe my learning or even a footnote about advances in music therapy will tip the balance in the doctor’s brain for someone older and weaker than our strong, young son so that person, also, will be given a second chance at life. It’s worth the effort.