The tall neurosurgeon lopes into the room where our son, whose scalp incision has herniated slightly, is 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 is remarkably casual, approachable. He flips 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 recall the surgery anesthetic and the pharmacopoeia of drugs pumped into Eric’s veins for two weeks in the ICU. Enough to keep him comatose. If only the doctor understood the role of the tiny, sensitive stapedius ear muscles in producing states of consciousness, perhaps that chemical assault on the ears could be minimized for stroke patients. Eric has hypersensitive ears, which probably gives him a low tolerance for drugs. Has the surgeon heard of people being brought out of vegetative states with music? Does he know I brought music to his patient for daily, amplified, high-frequency music stimulation? I recall elderly people recovering from Alzheimer’s because they are lucky enough to receive music therapies. He probably hasn’t heard about Michael Merzenich’s research and rehabilitation of elderly stroke victims. Why would someone of his erudition and status bother to read Norman Doidge’s book popularizing research on the neuroplasticity of the brain? What touched this doctor’s mind as he gazed on Eric’s unconscious body and decided to operate?
He takes a form from the desk and using his dominant left hand writes with flourishes in its spaces. “A left-lateralized brain surgeon!” I remark. Does he know that his lateralization resides in audio deficits in his right ear? The doctor is pleased with Eric’s progress, although he does not expect Eric to recover completely.
My husband makes 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 pores over the questions, laboriously ticking off Yes and No answers with his non-dominant left hand. Does the doctor appreciate that his own prowess with his left hand derives from emotionally coloured learning in his right-brain? Seeing Eric absorbed in his task, I take the plunge, refer to Dan’s schizophrenia, and say that I have discovered a new principle of cerebral integration. The doctor leans back in his chair, narrowing his eyes, listening intently as I launch into my best one-minute summary of my paradigm of right-ear-driven left-brain dominance. Before he can comment, although I am not sure he intends to, Eric implores me with his eyes and points to the question “Do you have significant memory losses?”
He lisps slowly and 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 intends.
“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?” asks the doctor.
“Yes!” Eric replies in a tone of relief that someone understands both the fullness and the limitations of his 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 behaviour, 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 offering is the least I can do for someone who saved our son’s life. Perhaps my learning or even a footnote about advances in music therapy will tip the balance in the doctor’s brain towards greater left-brain balance so that someone older and weaker than our strong, young son also will be given a second chance at life. Or perhaps he will forget this intrusion into his field of expertise. I’ll not take that risk.