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Stroke Smart Magazine


March/April 2009
SURVIVOR INSIGHT

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Balance Rest, Rehab
Insights From a Stroke Triumphant

By Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor

When Oprah Winfrey asked me if I felt that I was a “stroke triumphant” I answered with enthusiasm, “absolutely!” I remain a loud advocate that our beautiful brain is capable of recovering lost function. When a stroke happens, the brain cells are traumatized and lose their ability to function normally. Depending on the region of the brain that is affected and the level of tissue damage, the brain cells might become unable to perform their function.

After I experienced my hemorrhage, my brain was exhausted and all I wanted to do was sleep. Light burned my brain like wildfire and sounds were so loud and chaotic that I could not pick a voice out from the background noise. My energy reserves were drained and I craved sleep. My mother was my primary caregiver and we agreed that as long as I was not sleeping because of depression, we would allow my brain to sleep as much as it wanted. We viewed nap time as healing time. When asleep, my brain was given a chance to file and organize all the information I had absorbed during the day. We found that when we allowed my brain to sleep until it awoke naturally, I was more alert and capable of learning more and performing better during my rehabilitation.

It was extremely important for me to challenge my brain as quickly as I could after the stroke; before the neurons forgot what they were designed to do. And finding the balance between getting enough sleep and challenging my systems with rehab was one of the most important things we did. If we simply worked me very hard for rehabilitation but didn’t bother to let me sleep to process the information, we found that I tended to be irritable, weak and groggy, and my recovery did not progress well. However, when I was permitted to follow my own sleep schedule, we found that I could perform amazingly well from one day to the next.

Our brains are designed for recovery and the connections between the different cells are changing constantly. In addition, neuroscientists have discovered that our human brain can grow some new neurons.

Had I not been given the chance to sleep as much as I needed, between intervals of rigorous rehab, I would have spent more time feeling weary and less time doing what I needed to do to recover.

I wish you all the very best along your journey.

Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor was young, healthy brain scientist at Harvard Medical School when she suffered a devastating stroke. After eight years of dedicated work, Taylor is completely recovered and teaching at the medical school level. She is a powerful spokesperson for stroke survivors and brain recovery and has authored the national bestseller, My Stroke of Insight.



 

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