An exploration of the current medical research on brain health and the consciousness of patients who suffer catastrophic head trauma.
Throughout a fascinating multidecade research study, renowned neuroscientist Owen (Cognitive Neuroscience/Western Univ., Canada) probed the mysterious and uncharted shadowlands of the so-called “gray zone,” the middle ground between brain death and neural cognitive alertness. His interest was triggered after a former partner suffered a brain aneurysm and was left in a vegetative state, though the author often wondered if some sort of brain activity resided within her. Owen spotlights clinical case studies he monitored in which critically injured patients became “trapped in between in the minimally conscious state” yet demonstrated brain activity; some even returned to full consciousness. With each patient experiment and experience, the author and his fellow researchers expanded their scope of knowledge and pieced together cohesive theories and conclusions about brain function, memory commitment, and conscious awareness. Continually aided by revolutionary brain scanning technology in which “we connect with these brains, visualizing their function and mapping their inner universe,” his research has also incorporated many different aspects of life as well. Owen wrestled with issues such as a patient’s right to die and the difference between a human brain understanding speech patterns presented to it versus simply experiencing them. With remarkable clarity, Owen punctuates his findings with concise dispatches on the human condition and the disparities between what is considered quality of life and what some consider an inhumane, dysfunctional existence. In an engrossing and intensive narrative, the author shares his findings that 15 to 20 percent of the diagnosed vegetative-state patients he interacted with were actually partially to fully conscious, though their bodies were unable to physically respond to outward stimuli. By calling attention to this neurological phenomenon, Owen advocates for improved therapies and further experiments to more fully understand these “intact minds adrift deep within damaged bodies and brains.”
A striking scientific journey that draws hopeful attention to how the brain reacts, restores, and perseveres despite grave injury.