Reading as an Occupation: What I read in June.

My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey by Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D.

Publisher: Penguin Books (May 26, 2009)

A small part of me wishes that instead of textbooks, we can have non-fiction biographies written by neuroscientists to help us understand the neurological system! The layout of the second and third chapters of this book was a great refresher on brain anatomy, circulation, and function.  If one can take away anything from A Stroke of Insight, it would be the clear lesson on how the brain functions in 2 very short chapters. Once I got through those chapters, Dr. Bolte Taylor had my attention!

As the book continues, we are brought along on the day of Dr. Bolte Taylor’s hemorrhagic stroke at the age of 36. This stroke was due to the rupture of an arteriovenous malformation (AVM) that Dr. Bolte Taylor was not aware she had. Her description of the stroke was so vivid and insightful. What struck me was the complete understanding of what she had to do, which was call for help, but the incapability of completing that task due to what was going on in her brain.

Dr. Bolte Taylor’s description of the right and left-brain function on the day of her stroke to differentiate the function of each side of the brain and they way they work separately and together to function, was a remarkable lesson. It was interesting to learn that she knew she was having the stroke on the left side, leaving her right brain in charge affecting her ability to complete the rational task of calling for help.

There are many chapters on the recovery process after getting to the hospital that was also insightful for me as a therapist. She mentioned the importance of respecting the client’s needs to help the healing process. The way we deliver therapy really counters what she felt she needed to help her brain heal. Whereas, the medical model provides a client with a stroke maximum therapy minutes, Bolte Taylor’s view is more one of, let me rest, and then I can do what I can to get stronge,r and then I have to rest again.

I definitely had a paradigm shift in how I view strokes and both sides of the brain. I even got a different view of being a “right or left brain” person and implications for interaction and expectations, which was well explained by Dr. Bolte Taylor.   I am not sure if I had a full paradigm shift in how I view stroke recovery. It would be interesting to hear the thoughts of others on Bolte Taylor’s view of stroke recovery to learn if my view is limited.

Dr. Bolte Taylor’s Ted Talk: Jill Bolte Taylor: My stroke of insight | TED Talk

Rating: 3.75 out of 4. I highly recommend this book to any healthcare professional who wants a better understanding of the brain, what occurs during the stroke from a neuroscientist that experienced it, and the stroke recovery process.

Every Note Played by Lisa Genova

Gallery/Scout Press; Reprint edition (January 29, 2019)

Grab the tissues when reading this book. Also, place yourself in a headspace to look at your own life—past, present, and future. So many life lessons in this book! After reading Still Alice, by the same author, I was eager to read another Genova novel. Genova is a neuroscientist, and this is evident in the quality of the description of the main character’s neurological condition. In Every Note Played, we follow the life of Richard Evans, a world class pianist, who was diagnosed with ALS at age 44.

As an occupational therapist, I have always struggled with providing interventions for individuals with degenerative neurological diseases, not because I did not understand the condition. My struggle was because I saw the client for a snapshot in time and always had a difficult time with determining how to best support the client with a condition that does not get better.  Every Note Played, provided a window into the full, day-to-day progression of ALS, a learning experience that I think would be beneficial to all individuals working in healthcare.  This view allows healthcare professionals to learn how to best prioritize interventions for a client with ALS.

Every Note Played provides insight into the many issues that are faced by clients who have ALS—the cost of healthcare, the multitude of equipment needed, home health coverage, caregiver access, and caregiver burnout. From a medical perspective, there is the uneven, rapid progression of symptoms, the client’s cognitive status, and its impact on the client’s mental health, and the pervasive feeding and breathing issues that occur incredibly early into the condition.  

After I finished Every Note Played, I felt that my ability to support clients with ALS grew considerably. I am not naïve to think that the learning process ends with this book. It is just the beginning. Some important lessons learned:

  • Recognize that providing intervention is not about what the therapist wants, it is about what the client wants.
  • Don’t expect savior status for doing your job because each modification that is made can be a reminder that function is being lost and the condition is worsening.
  • Being functional doesn’t have to be pretty. If it helps the individual be more independent and is safe, go with it.
  • Don’t forget the number one members of the team (a tie): the client and the caregiver. A close second is the home health aide.
  • Recognize the impact of food on a person’s psyche and think of ways to safely include the client in activities that involve food.

Beyond the insight into ALS, Every Note Played is just a beautifully written book. Genova is an efficient and effective writer. When you learn of all that was involved in writing this book, it is clear that this was a well-researched and much reviewed book. The characters help you look at your own world view within this frame of having someone who has ALS. One of the most powerful quotes that struck me was, “He didn’t live the life he intended and there is no way to do it over.”

Genova’s website can be found here: Lisa Genova

Rating: 4 out of 4. I highly recommend this book to any healthcare professional who wants a better understanding of neurodegenerative disorders, not just ALS. I would recommend listening to the book to appreciate the speech patterns of the main character as a good method of conceptualizing his functional ability.

Finlay Donovan Is Killing It: A Mystery by Ellie Cosimano

Publisher: ‎Minotaur Books; 1st edition (February 2, 2021)

If you are a person that watches shows like Law and Order and CSI, this book is not for you. If crime TV series are not your thing, continue reading this review. This is the story of Finlay Donovan, a writer of mysteries that is struggling financially. Finlay is mistaken for a hitman (hitperson?) during a conversation with her literary agent in a Panera.

Due to being mistaken for a hitman, she receives a letter and $50K to complete a hit. She decides she needs the money and goes on to visit her mark, just to see and not to, according to her, actually complete the job. She includes her babysitter on this journey and the story continues down this path and actually has many more layers than what I just presented.  I do not want to provide any spoilers for those interested in this plot. Also involved, Finlay’s ex-husband, his fiancé, and a host of other characters.

I have to say that part of me was intrigued by this unique storyline. But, I watched all 19 seasons of Law and Order and all 15 seasons of CSI and this was not a storyline that I believed or enjoyed for many reasons. Maybe a good book club book? This is part of a series and book 2 will be coming out in February 2022.

Rating: 2 out of 4. This was not a storyline that was for me. This is definitely a book that will lead to spirited discussions! So, maybe a book club pick.

What was on your June reading list? Did you have books that must be read or ones that were not what you expected?

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