“Still Alice” written by Lisa Genova and Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor’s “My Stroke of Insight”, give readers an insider’s view of the brains of people with Alzheimer’s and stroke patients.
“Still Alice” is the story of Dr. Alice Howland, who struggles to overcome early-onset Alzheimer’s. The story describes Alice’s daily life, her relationship to her children, and her role as Columbia professor. As the story continues, Alice slowly forgets little details. She associates this with postmenopausal symptoms. She begins to forget more frequently and seeks medical attention. There, she is tested and found out that she is a carrier of the early-onset Alzheimer’s gene. Alice and her entire family are faced with difficult decisions. The author does an amazing job using words to illustrate how Alice feels about Alzheimer’s disease. The severity of the disease is made clear when Lisa Genova begins to change the names of characters to the correct nouns. My Stroke of Insight explains the progression of strokes using common terms, but doesn’t go into detail about the scientific aspects. Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, a neuroanatomist, describes her stroke experience and the effects on her brain. Taylor is a neuroscience expert so she included a section that explains the subject in more detail.
The books helped me understand more the needs of future patients by acknowledging themes such as loss of independence and frustration, as well future planning. While the main points in both books are different, there is a common thread that runs through them all. One theme is that of losing independence. Jill as well as Alice have grown up able to function independently. Jill, a neuroanatomist with a great reputation, is an accomplished linguistics professor. Alice is also a well-respected professor. Jill had a much quicker stroke and Alice suffered from a more gradual onset. However, both women lost their independence. Jill and Alice became dependent upon others in order to make it through their days. Alice started to depend on her husband and her daughters to remind her what she needed to do. Her husband was forced to stop her from running alone. She had promised her she would not and it was hard for her to believe. But she could forget. Jill knew that she wouldn’t be able do the same things she was before her stroke. She says she is like an infant, comparing herself to a baby. The brain was not working! She knew she would have to be dependent on her doctor for independence. Both characters find out that they are not able do tasks they’d normally be able.
I know from personal experience that it would be difficult for me to lose my independence if they were in my shoes. Jill may have found it easier to accept the fact that she is a neuroanatomist. She knows that independence will be temporary. The theme of frustration is another that connects both books. Jill, Alice and their frustration with each other in part of the book made them very angry and frustrated at each other. They couldn’t believe what they were seeing. Both Alice and Jill felt frustrated at losing their independence. They couldn’t do the same things they used to do. Alice was frustrated that her husband wasn’t always there for her when she needed him. She understood that it wasn’t easy to understand. She was very angry lately. She wasn’t sure if it was a sign that her disease was progressing or a valid response. She did not want a treadmill. He was her desire. Perhaps she shouldn’t have been so stubborn. She might have been killing herself. “
Alice was frustrated by her husband’s insistence that she wait until he ran. But when he wasn’t available, it was when the anger began to show. Jill loses patience with energy conservation. Or else, she’ll burn out and have to choose which activities she does each day. “I had no choice but to choose between my cognitive and physical efforts. I was exhausted. I was still unable to think in terms past and future, so it took me a lot time trying to put together the present. As Dr. Bolte points out in his novel, it takes a lot to recover from a stroke. Due to her ability to accomplish a lot in a given day, she found it frustrating that she had to choose which things to use energy for. Both of these women are clearly frustrated by their circumstances. It is something that they have never experienced before. They aren’t used the “new reality” in which they are trapped. It’s all new and scary.
I was most impressed by the theme of futuristic planning and thinking ahead. Alice will begin to become more aware and make plans for her future. Alice decided to make this plan for herself, despite how sad it is. She needed a plan to commit her future self to the suicide she had arranged now. She needed a test she could self-administrate every day. She created a list with 5 questions. If she had any problems, she would open “Butterfly” file on her computer. Each day was answered by the questions. Alice realizes she cannot answer her questions and decides to take matters into her hands. She didn’t want her family to feel like a burden. Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor set herself goals for recovery and motivation. She knew that the road ahead was long because she is a neuroanatomist. Jill knew that she was a burden but she continued to fight for independence. She realized that she would be unable to live alone for the time so her mother moved in with Jill. She felt she was able to help her child with her neurological trauma. G. G. converted all of her frustration over not being capable of healing my brother’s schizophrenia to a plan for my recovery. Jill’s mom, G. G., accepted the challenge. Even though it’s hard for her to consider, she was determined to plan for her future recovery to help her regain her function and get on with her day. Although I found it disappointing that Alice was willing to commit suicide once she could not answer the questions, she chose to help her family instead. Jill was grateful for the support of her mother, as she understood what she needed to do for her future success.
Both of these books were enjoyable, and both have a positive impact on my practice. Both books helped me to see the person through their eyes. “My Stroke of Insight,” which is a play by-play of the brain’s effects on stroke victims, gave me an overview. Jill Bolte Taylor’s explanation of the brain’s changes made it possible for me to empathize and sympathize. “Still Alice”, which illustrated the progression and symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, helped me prepare for what I might see in a patient. It was difficult to imagine Alice’s frustration and the fear she felt. These books allowed me to empathize with stroke patients and Alzheimer’s patients. I was able to get a first-hand understanding of each condition. It also helped me consider the potential populations of patients with which I may be able to help. I was also able to see what to expect from patients who have had strokes or Alzheimer’s. It allowed me to understand the brains of each patient.