His final column

Could you help yourself by indulging in what may be pure fantasy, imagining that your damaged functions might be ‘rewired’ to other, undamaged, brain sites?

Professor Philip’s do-it-yourself brain fix (photo credit: TNS)
Professor Philip’s do-it-yourself brain fix
(photo credit: TNS)
When the medicos tell you, “There is no cure,” no matter what your personal situation, some back quadrant of your brain probably responds, “But there will be.” Whatever the depredations of the business end of medicine (and Israelis should give thanks daily they’re not Krank in Amerika), our faith in the inevitable progress of medicine remains strong. So many miracles yet to come.
But when the medicos tell you, “We don’t know where to start,” and they’re talking about a condition that has bedeviled you for decades, another set of perceptions kicks in. And sometimes you become, in your own non-medical/unscientific way... pro-active.
I’ve written about this matter in this space before. This month, I offer a précis, a tale of frustration and an alternative of sorts that I’ve found, based upon an undisputed scientific fact:
The neurons that play together, stay together.
In March 2017, I got bored with my multiple-relapse chronic lymphocytic leukemia and decided to have a small stroke. When the doctor showed me the CT scan of my brain, he commented, “You know, you’ve already had one stroke.”
“News to me. When?”
“Can’t say. But it’s old.”
A couple months later, we went over the MRI. Several prior strokes and a TBI (traumatic brain injury), plus some other stuff, none of which I’d known anything about.
This got me thinking about my past, and what the effects might have been. Inevitably, I was led to a question. What might have been the interaction between this brain damage and pre-existing thought and behavior patterns? Since the question was not of present clinical concern, Clalit was hardly going to pay for expensive brain scans and other diagnostics. But as I pieced together alternative time lines of my life, and assessed the possibility that the brain damage might have contributed to a rough couple decades, the interaction between damage and personality became, if not certain, then certainly possible, even plausible.
I decided to investigate the data. I found virtually nothing publicly available. One reason for the lack was obvious. “Volunteers wanted for a study. Must have brain damage but not know it.” Another reason was the demise of the extended “talking cure” in psychotherapy that might have opened some windows. Yet another appeared to be massive indifference among pastoral counselors and various support groups. Sure, everybody knows about major strokes and brain damage, the kinds that leave you paralyzed, mute, unable to function. But minor damage that might, over, time, exacerbate your OCD or depression... who knows? You get a klopf on the kopf and two days later, you feel fine, that’s the end of it.
But maybe not.
So what to do? The US government estimates that 10% of middle-aged Americans have had a “silent stroke” and millions more are probably walking around with TBI, capillary bleeding, etc. What to do when conventional medicine rightly devotes itself to the serious damage and lets the minor (or maybe not so minor) sufferers fend for themselves?
One obvious answer is increased patient awareness of the possibilities. Another might be a CT brain scan at the age-40 physical that should be mandatory for everyone. And yet another might be self-help: unmedical, unscientific, but endlessly interesting and occasionally fun.
Welcome to Professor Philip’s Do-It-Yourself Brain Fix.
It is true that the human brain can rejuvenate, repair and rewire throughout life, although these abilities drop off mercilessly with age. Still, the Internet is cluttered with games purporting to “rewire your brain” if you play them (Neurology notes that the only improvement seems to be skill in playing the game). But it got me to thinking: Could you help yourself by indulging in what may be pure fantasy, imagining that your damaged functions might be “rewired” to other, undamaged, brain sites? It happens naturally. Can the process be, maybe, a little bit nudged along?
Professor Philip’s Do-It-Yourself has, to date, four parts:
• Mull Your Skull. What think you amiss?
• Plan A Head. What do you want?
• Brain Drain. Out go the bad thoughts...
• Site Unseen. The transfer of function.
I’ve been playing with it for a couple months. Results to date: one limerick. I was lying in bed, half-asleep, when I had the sensation that I was watching my brain write a limerick, a skill I’ve never mastered. In five minutes, it was done. Then the muse or whatever vanished.
If you train your young hippopotamus
To sit straight upright on his bottom-ous
The feat would be splendid
Unless he’s upended
For then his mood might turn onimous.
I was intrigued. Then I realized. Some people get divine revelations. Some get messages from space aliens. Me? I get limericks about hippopotamuses.
Ah, well. Science, no doubt, will someday find a cure. If not for unknown brain damage, perhaps for limericks.
– Philip Gold