Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Lisa Genova


 When I was in graduate school, I took a course called Cognitive Communication Disorders. In this class I learned all about right hemisphere brain damage and its related disorders. One of the most interesting disorders was called hemispatial neglect or more commonly, "left neglect." I'll never forget how interested I was in it. Left neglect is caused by some sort of trauma to the right hemisphere of the brain be it a stroke or traumatic brain injury. The right hemisphere controls the left side of the body. That is why it is called "left neglect." A person suffering from left neglect has little to no awareness that there is a left at all. People on their left sides are not in their field of vision, food on the left side of the plate might as well not be there, and the left leg is basically nonexistent because the person cannot knowingly control it. Patients with this condition must be retrained to know that there is a left side of the world. I took this course as part of my adult speech-language pathology courses. I have decided to pursue my career to be a pediatric speech-language pathologist... my only experience with adult patients is 1-2 hours a week (sometimes not even that much). My professor would be so disappointed to know that my only experience with left neglect is through a novel.

Sarah and Bob have a wonderful life. Two fast paced rigorous careers, a fantastic house in the suburbs, a vacation house near the slopes in Vermont, plenty of money, and 3 thriving children. Sarah works 80 hours a week and is lucky to see her kids off to school and put them to bed; her only complaint in  life. One day on her way to work she is in a terrible car crash and is lucky to leave with her life. When she wakes up in the hospital over a week later she learns she has suffered a right hemisphere traumatic brain injury resulting in left neglect. She enters an inpatient rehabilitation center and received therapies to help her regain her independence... both occupational and physical therapies. I was very disappointed that there was no mention of a speech-language pathologist. The book talks about her journey back to life... a very different life. 

The novel was entertaining. I enjoyed listening to it on the way to and from work in the car. My only complaint is that it became cheesy towards the end with how it delivered its message; Don't let work take over your life.

Personally, I enjoyed her other novel better. I read this one a few years ago:


Alice, similar to Sarah in Left Neglected, is at the height of her career. She is a professor of neurology at Harvard. Her students love her and she loves her job. At age 50, Alice develops early-onset Alzheimer's Disease. Knowing full well about the disease, Alice narrates her mental decline as she and her husband are hit head on with the side effects of the illness. What starts off as simply forgetting her keys quickly turns into Alice not remembering the 5 minute drive to work. This story was keenly told from Alice's first person point of view. The author wants the reader to get an inside view of how the mind changes as the disease progresses. 

If you choose to read only one of these books, I would recommend Still Alice although both are worth the read. For anyone who is interested in neurology, these books should be on your list!