What is that thing? That thing inside your head? That thing supposed to house your consciousnes?. That thing from whence your intelligence is said to emanate? That big morel or gyromytra suspended in syrup within the vault of your cranium? That fragile friable sulci strewn blob? It sure doesn’t look like much. What is that thing?
Why, that is your brain. A magnificent organ of electric impulses which is the one thing that sets us apart from the other animals, so they say. No offense to the opposable thumb intended. Nor to the form and function of our jaw, mouth and vocal chords that facilitate speech. Let’s give the brain its due. It coordinates the basic functions of life, but at the same time stores your memories, produces original thought, is capable of logic and reason and abstract imagery. For some wizards it is capable of higher math. (Leave me out of that club). For some, beautiful art. For some the stringing together and juggling of words that inform and move the reader. Imagination is the juicy stuff that your brain is capable of. It is where you gather the ether that emanates from nowhere and everywhere and manipulate it according to your own impulse and inspiration.
When you injure that thing, that brain of yours, all kinds of bad things can happen. To varying degrees, depending on the nature and severity of injury and the area injured, your ability to process information can be disrupted, even annihilated. Your ability to coordinate gross and fine movements of your limbs. Tactile, visual auditory senses can be affected. Access to language can be lost. Emotional regulation that protects you from ungoverned outbursts can be utterly washed away. You may not be able to comprehend what is said to you. Or you may know exactly what you want to say, but be unable to produce the words. There’s something called “Word Salad” where a person is speaking, thinking they are conveying clear thoughts, but what the listener is getting is a jumble of random words and sounds in no particular order and with no discernible meaning.
Concussion to penetrating trauma to cerebrovascular accident, they alter your mental functioning. One of the first questions you often hear asked in assessing neurological function is, “What Day is it?”. I rue this question. And I’m not the only one. But we still ask it. We’re trying to establish the person’s orientation to time (the way we gauge it anyway). Here’s the irony, and it comes from working a nurse’s schedule. I never know what day it is myself! So when I’m asking a patient what day it is in order to assess their neuro function I don’t know the answer without checking! Doesn’t that just bugger all? I mean it. It’s embarrassing! Does this make me a charlatan? I like to think not. I know where to instantly find the answer to the question, which is as good as knowing.
There’s a range of questions to answer and actions to perform that paint the clinical picture of what and where the problem is, what part of the brain is affected. But the imaging studies CT Scan, MRI, MRA really seal the deal, provide a picture of that brain of yours and pinpoint the anatomical , structural insult. Maybe your high blood pressure went untreated for too long. Maybe you were riding your bike or your skateboard without a helmet and stacked. Maybe your blood thinner worked a little too well and you just bumped your head ever so lightly. Maybe you have had a vascular malformation since birth, a slight defect in the vessels supplying blood to your brain that suddenly reached its terminal limit and ruptured. Maybe a bullet entered your brain, and maybe you chose to put it there. Maybe it was meant for someone else. It’s so easy to lose so much so fast without warning and be completely changed. A different person. But the same person. Who is that person?
When our brains are healthy, how much are they like each other? We each project our imagined reality based on our experiences and sensory inputs don’t we? Is it not true we each inhabit a world of our own creation which intersect the worlds of others as they are creating theirs simultaneously? Or are we all jumbled and crammed into one reality? Who makes that reality then? And do we, as individuals have any power, any authority to alter its velocity, its speed and direction?
As I write this there is a humming bird zipping from Salvia, to Peruvian Lily, to Jasmine in the courtyard where I sit. It’s making tiny rapid clicking noises as it sips nectar and with each short flight it makes that familiar Light Saber sound with the beating of its wings, that humming that , even with my limited hearing I can enjoy. The air feels slightly cool as we enter the middle of September and my mind wanders to the little stack of firewood I have outside in the yard and to the thought that I will need to get more. It would be nice to get it split and stacked and covered before the rains begin. My mind goes to my friends who also heat with wood and have trees down in their yards who have offered to get together and split it and divide it up so all can be cozy and warm this winter.
That’s the way my mind is wandering. Is that what is happening in the minds of the people around me drinking their espressos? Where are they coming from and where are they going…in their minds? And how about that Humming Bird? How much intersection and mingling of our perceived realities is going on right now?
Don’t ask me.
I don’t even know what day it is.