Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Book Review: Head Case: My Brain and Other Wonders by Cole Cohen

A memoir about an odd medical condition is going to get to the top of my TBR list every time! Cole was always odd. Growing up, she had learning disabilities, spacial disabilities, and an unusual level of not understanding math and science for someone who was obviously gifting in writing and language. She and her parents always knew that she wasn't stupid--after all she had straight As in some subjects with barely Ds in others--but they had no idea there was an explanation for all her problems, even if it was a bizarre explanation. When she wanted to go away to Los Angeles, car country, for graduate school, she was determined to finally learn how to drive even though she'd attempted it multiple times before and always failed. Her mother called a local occupational therapist office for help, and based on her description of Cole, they recommended she see a neurologist. The doctor and his intern were fascinating as they thought Cole had some rare syndrome, but an MRI revealed a much simpler explanation--her parietal lobe is gone. There is a hole in her brain the size of a lemon, where it ought to be. It could have happened in utero or at birth, but they know it had happened by the age of five, which was when Cole could not learn to tie her shoes, which turned out to be the first sign of this problem.

Cole goes back to her old school records and tracks every diagnosis and supposition and treatment plan she's been given over the years. In retrospect, it is obvious that she had something more serious wrong when ADD or a learning disability, but the truth was so odd and so improbable, it makes sense no one ever considered it. Meanwhile, even with the diagnosis, there's no cure. She can't regrow her parietal lobe. All she can do is cope. And she does get a Master's, she has a boyfriend, and eventually she even manages living alone (it's harder than you might think if you can't manage even simple math, to pay your bills.) She does sometimes feel sorry for herself, and she certainly has a lot of anger. She does write smoothly and occasionally even comes out with a perfectly apt and unique description which made me pause and wonder at her language. But overall this book felt a little self-indulgent, which is not a word I use with memoirs lightly (by nature they all must be somewhat self-indulgent, so I give a lot of leeway.) It was a short and fast read (I really read it in about 3 hours) and if you enjoy medical memoirs, it's a good one. But it's not profound. It does give you good insight into what someone with this bizarre medical problem go through, and she does have impressive coping techniques for what must be very frustrating limitations the rest of us never think about. Overall, I enjoyed it, but it could veer towards whiny at times.

A friend gave me this ARC.

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