Memoirs and Biographies
Resources

 email page    print page

All Topic Reviews
"Are You There Alone?""How Come Boys Get to Keep Their Noses?""My Madness Saved Me"10% Happier365 Days49 Up56 UpA Beautiful MindA Beautiful MindA Beautiful MindA Book of ReasonsA Can of MadnessA Child's Life and Other StoriesA Dangerous LiaisonA Fight to BeA First-Rate MadnessA Good Enough DaughterA Heartbreaking Work of Staggering GeniusA Lethal InheritanceA Lethal InheritanceA Life ShakenA Life Worth LivingA Little PregnantA Message from JakieA Million Little PiecesA Numerate LifeA Pocket History of Sex in the Twentieth CenturyA Slant of SunA Special EducationA Tribe ApartAbout FaceAddicted Like MeADHD & MeAEIOUAgainst Medical AdviceAgents in My BrainAileen - Life and Death of a Serial KillerAlgernon, Charlie and IAll Out!All Seasons PassAlphavilleAlzheimer'sAn Anthropologist on MarsAn EducationAn Unquiet MindAngela's AshesAngelheadAnna Freud: A BiographyAnnie's GhostsAnother Bullshit Night in Suck CityAnthology of a Crazy LadyApples and OrangesApproaching NeverlandAre You There, Vodka? It's Me, ChelseaAs I Live and BreatheAs Nature Made HimAt Home in the Heart of AppalachiaAt the End of WordsAvalancheBad BoyBad GirlBeautiful BoyBeautiful WreckBecoming AnnaBen Behind His VoicesBequest and BetrayalBereftBertrand RussellBlackoutBlanketsBloodlettingBodies in Motion and at RestBoneBorn on a Blue DayBoyBoy AloneBoyleBrain on FireBreaking ApartBreaking the SilenceBrokenBulimics on BulimiaBuzzCamus and SartreCharles DarwinChasing the HighCheeverCherryCity of OneCluesClumsyComfortComplications Compulsive ActsConfessions of a Cereal EaterConfessions of a Former ChildConfessions of a Grieving ChristianConfessions of the Other MotherConfidingConquering the Beast WithinContesting ChildhoodCrackedCrazyCry Depression, Celebrate RecoveryDamned to EternityDancing at the Shame PromDante's CureDaughter of the Queen of ShebaDavid Sedaris Live at Carnegie HallDays With My FatherDefeating the VoicesDementia Caregivers Share Their StoriesDepression and NarrativeDescartesDetourDevil in the DetailsDiagnosis: SchizophreniaDirty DetailsDirty SecretDivided MindsDivine MadnessDon't Get Too ComfortableDown Came the RainDress Your Family in Corduroy and DenimDrinkingDriving My FatherDrunkardDryEarly Embraces IIIEinsteinEinstein and OppenheimerElectroboyElegy for IrisElijah's CupElliott Smith and the Big NothingElsewhereEnough About YouEpilepticEvery Girl Tells a StoryEverything In Its PlaceExamined LivesExiting NirvanaFaces of Huntington'sFamily BoundFast GirlFearless ConfessionsFind MeFinding Iris ChangFirst Person Accounts of Mental Illness and RecoveryFirst Person PluralFixing My GazeFlanneryFolie a DeuxFor the Love of ItFortress of My YouthFranz KafkaFraudFree RefillsFreudFreudFriedrich NietzscheFrom Joy Division to New OrderFumblingFun HomeFuriously HappyGalileo Get Me Out of HereGirl in Need of a TourniquetGirl Walking BackwardsGirl, InterruptedGirl, InterruptedGirls on the VergeGoing BlindGoing Through Hell Without Help From AboveGraysonGrowing Up JungGuttedHalf a Brain Is EnoughHardcore from the HeartHead CasesHeal & ForgiveHeal & Forgive IIHeavier than HeavenHeinz KohutHeinz KohutHello from Heaven!Hello to All ThatHer HusbandHer Last DeathHigh PriceHole in My LifeHolidays On IceHolidays on IceHope's BoyHouse of Happy EndingsHouse of Happy EndingsHow I Stayed Alive When My Brain Was Trying to Kill MeHow to Lose Friends & Alienate PeopleHow to Make Love Like a Porn Starhow to stop timeHumeHunger Makes Me a Modern GirlHurry Down SunshineI Feel Bad About My NeckI Never Promised You a Rose GardenI Remain in DarknessI'd Rather Eat ChocolateI'd Rather LaughIf I Die Before I WakeImagining RobertIn Search of FatimaIn the Realms of the UnrealIn the Wake of SuicideInside TherapyInternInvisible No MoreIt Happened to NancyIt Takes a Worried ManJack Cole and Plastic ManJean-Paul SartreJohn Stuart MillJourneys with the Black DogJust CheckingKafkaKantLa SierraLab GirlLast Flight OutLearning to FallLet Me Make It GoodLife As We Know ItLife InterruptedLife ReimaginedLimboLincoln's MelancholyListening in the Silence, Seeing in the DarkLittle PeopleLive For Your Listening PleasureLive Through ThisLiving in the Shadow of the Freud FamilyLiving With SchizophreniaLiving with SchizophreniaLockeLonelyLong ShotLook Me in the EyeLooking for The StrangerLoose GirlLosing Mum and PupLosing My MindLove Is a Mix TapeLove SickLove Times ThreeLove Works Like ThisLove You, Mean ItLuckyLudwig WittgensteinLyingMad HouseMad PrideMadame ProustMadnessMagical ThinkingMalignant SadnessManicMarcel ProustMarcus AureliusMary BarnesMaverick MindMe Talk Pretty One DayMeaningMelanie KleinMemoirMemoirs of an Addicted BrainMemoirs of My Nervous IllnessMen-ipulationMisconceptionsMiss American PieMockingbird YearsMomma and the Meaning of LifeMommies Who DrinkMonkey MindMore, Now, AgainMortificationMy Age of AnxietyMy Body PoliticMy Brain Tumour AdventuresMy DepressionMy Father's HeartMy First Cousin Once RemovedMy Flesh and BloodMy Horizontal LifeMy Life Among the Serial KillersMy Sister LifeMy Stroke of InsightName All the AnimalsNeural MisfireNietzscheNietzsche: The Man and His PhilosophyNinety DaysNo Hurry to Get HomeNo Impact ManNo More ShavesNolaNotebooks 1951-1959NothingOdd Girl Speaks OutOedipus WreckedOf Spirits & MadnessOn Being RapedOn the Edge of DarknessOn the MoveOne Hour in ParisOne Hundred DaysOphelia SpeaksPagan TimePassing for NormalPeople Who Eat DarknessPerfect ChaosPerfect ExamplePermanent Present TensePersepolisPlanet of the BlindPlaying with FirePlease Don't Kill the FreshmanPoisoned LovePollockPOPismPortraits of Huntington'sPoster ChildProzac DiaryPsychiatrist on the RoadPsychosis in the FamilyPuppy Chow Is Better Than ProzacQuitting the Nairobi TrioRaising BlazeReasons to Stay AliveRebuiltRecovered, Not CuredRelative StrangerRescuing JeffreyRestricted AccessRevengeRewind, Replay, RepeatRichard RortyRiding the Bus With My SisterRobert Lowell, Setting the River on FireRoom For JRosemaryRough MagicRunning After AntelopeRunning with ScissorsScattershotSchizophreniaSchopenhauerSecond OpinionsSectionedSeeing EzraSeeing the CrabSet the Boy FreeSex & Single GirlsSex ObjectShakespeareShe Bets Her LifeShe Got Up Off the CouchShut the DoorSickenedSilencing the VoicesSimone de BeauvoirSinging in the FireSkin GameSlackjawSlut!SmashedSome Assembly RequiredSome Kind of GeniusSometimes Madness Is WisdomSongs from the Black ChairSongs of the Gorilla NationSoren KierkegaardSpeak to MeSpeaking Our Minds: Revised EditionSpecial SiblingsSpentStandbyStick FigureStill LivesStretchSunset StorySurviving OpheliaSwing LowTales from Both Sides of the BrainTales of PsychotherapyTalk to HerTellingTelling Tales About DementiaThe Accidental BillionairesThe AddictThe Anatomy of HopeThe Anti-Romantic ChildThe Bastard on the Couch CDThe BeastThe Bell JarThe Best Seat in the HouseThe Body SilentThe Boy on the Green BicycleThe Boy Who Loved WindowsThe Buddha & The BorderlineThe Burn JournalsThe Camera My Mother Gave MeThe Cancer Monologue ProjectThe Center Cannot HoldThe Chelsea WhistleThe Churkendoose AnthologyThe Day the Voices StoppedThe Devil WithinThe DisappearanceThe Discomfort ZoneThe Doctor Is InThe Eden ExpressThe Family SilverThe Farm Colonies: Caring for New York City's Mentally Ill In Long Island's State HospitalsThe Fasting GirlThe First Man-Made ManThe First TimeThe Geography of BlissThe Glass CastleThe Good DoctorsThe Hillside Diary and Other WritingsThe Incantations of Daniel JohnstonThe Last AsylumThe Last Good FreudianThe Last Time I Wore a DressThe Liars' ClubThe Lives and Loves of Daisy and Violet HiltonThe Lives They Left BehindThe LobotomistThe Long GoodbyeThe Looked After Kid: Memoirs from a Children's HomeThe Loony-Bin TripThe Madness of Our LivesThe Making of a PhilosopherThe Making of Friedrich NietzscheThe Man Who Couldn't EatThe Man Who Shocked the WorldThe Man Who Tasted ShapesThe Marvelous Hairy GirlsThe Maximum Security Book ClubThe Me in the MirrorThe Memory PalaceThe Mercy PapersThe Mistress's DaughterThe Naked Bird WatcherThe Naked Lady Who Stood on Her HeadThe Night of the GunThe Noonday DemonThe Notebook GirlsThe NursesThe Only Girl in the CarThe Orchid ThiefThe Other HollywoodThe OutsiderThe Philosopher's Autobiography The Philosophical Breakfast ClubThe Philosophical IThe Pits and the PendulumThe Pornographer's GriefThe Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner The Professor and the MadmanThe Psychopath TestThe Quiet RoomThe Red DevilThe Rescue of Belle and SundanceThe Ride TogetherThe Rules of the TunnelThe Secret of LifeThe Shaking Woman or A History of My NervesThe Shared HeartThe Shiniest JewelThe Siren's DanceThe Statistical Life of MeThe Story of My FatherThe Strange Case of Hellish NellThe Summer of a DormouseThe SurrenderThe Talking CureThe Thought that CountsThe Three of UsThe Vagina MonologuesThe Velveteen FatherThe Winter of Our DisconnectThe Woman Who Walked into the SeaThe Years of Silence are PastThe Yellow HouseThe Yipping TigerThick As ThievesThinTiger, TigerTits, Ass, and Real EstateTo Redeem One Person Is to Redeem the WorldTo Walk on EggshellsTransforming MadnessTrue CompassTruth & BeautyTruth Comes in BlowsTuesdays with MorrieTweakTwitch and ShoutUltimate JudgementUndercurrentsUnholy GhostUnlikelyVoices of AlcoholismVoices Of Alzheimer'sVoices of CaregivingVoices of RecoveryVoluntary MadnessWaiting for DaisyWar FareWashing My Life AwayWastedWaveWe're Not MonstersWeather Reports from the Autism FrontWeekends at BellevueWhat Did I Do Last Night?What Goes UpWhat I Learned in Medical SchoolWhat's Normal?When a Crocodile Eats the SunWhen Breath Becomes AirWhen Do I Get My Shoelaces Back?.....When It Gets DarkWhen the Piano StopsWhen You Are Engulfed in FlamesWhere Did It All Go Right?Where is the Mango Princess?Where the Roots Reach for WaterWhile the City SleptWhile They SleptWho Was Jacques Derrida?Why I'm Like ThisWildWill's ChoiceWinnicottWinnieWish I Could Be ThereWith Their EyesWomen Living with Self-InjuryWomen, Body, IllnessWrestling with the AngelYou Must Be DreamingYour Voice in My HeadZeldaZor

Related Topics
Still LivesReview - Still Lives
Narratives of Spinal Cord Injury
by Jonathan Cole
Bradford/MIT, 2004
Review by Elizabeth McCardell, Ph.D.
Dec 10th 2004 (Volume 8, Issue 50)

English is a funny language. It can take a single word with a single spelling and make two or more meanings from it. A person with a spinal cord injury is still living, still breathing, still feeling, yet to many observing her, she looks like a still life, a disorganized body in a wheelchair. The title does not merely describe two aspects of a subject that is subject and object in one, but has the flavor of activism too. Thus Jonathan Cole, consultant neurophysiologist, encapsulates both narrative experience and misconstrued social perspective of those with spinal cord injury but also stretches the understanding of the reader to propose that we look upon all others without a knee-jerk prejudice as to capabilities, needs, and use of resources.

Still Lives is a highly readable book that incorporates valuable and necessary neurophysiological knowledge about various levels of spinal cord injury with the narratives of those having to live without sensation and movement in the body. He sought these accounts by asking twelve people with spinal cord injuries (tetraplegia, or quadriplegia as it is known in the US) the question of what it is like to live with such an injury. The responses are various: "Enduring," "Exploring," "Experimenting," "Observing," "Empowering," and "Continuing", each describing also the six main sections of the book. Each of these book sections concludes with a commentary and speculation on the broader issues raised.

Cole is a rare breed of doctor who develops a phenomenology of the body with his neurophysiological insights. Thus his work attracts interest from a broad range of readers such as philosophers, cognitive scientists, neuroscientists, social scientists and activist theorists alike, as well as the interested layperson. Indeed, his work, like that of Oliver Sacks, stimulates musings upon what it is to be human, what is necessary for a sense of self, when elements of the usual criteria of humanhood is removed.

A book review of Still Lives cannot exclude some account of the levels of spinal cord injury, for to do so would make it strangely shallow. It would unflesh lives into a mere husk of book assessment. A book review should encourage or discourage readers. I want very much to encourage readers to this most excellent book.

Spinal cord injuries impact on the physical body in many ways. I would have liked to quote Cole on this in length, but must instead be succinct. Spinal cord injury at any vertebral level impacts on many physical functions: 'Some with a C4 level may be able to breathe unaided using the diaphragm, though he or she (and anyone with a level about T9 or so) will still have lost chest wall movement and have reduced expansion of the lungs. A C5 lesion will allow some movement of the shoulders and of biceps, allowing elbow flexion, but no power to straighten the elbow.' (p.14) 'The functions of the cord are reflected in the neurological impairments following damage to it. These may be divided into movement or motor function, to voluntary muscles as well as to the breathing system, gut, bladder, and blood vessels, and sensory function to skin, muscles, and internal organs. Because different sensory and motor nerves pass in and out at each level and because the cord is the relay of fibers to and from the brain, the level of injury is crucial.' (p.14)

Spinal cord injury is not confined to loss of movement, it affects a whole range of functioning, including the sensory changes of touch, temperature, pressure, proprioception, and balance problems. 'Temperature regulation can be a problem in tetraplegics, because they cannot shiver, sweat, or control blood vessels' dilation and constriction below their level.' (p.15) Physiology must turn on its heels to become experience. Still Lives is rich with the experiences of others. We find, for instance, that of sensory changes, loss of balance is perhaps the most unnerving.

Balance difficulties are shared by all tetraplegics, which can badly interfere with the use of a wheelchair and thus everyday life. Depending on the level of lesion, sitting in a wheelchair can be absolutely precarious. Deborah, having alesion on the cervical vertebrae 5/6, has no control over her posture. She says,

"The first time in a wheelchair I felt like I was on a horse with no saddle and no reins. Not to sit in a chair I hook on with my arms round the back of the pushing handles initially, and I sit straight and balance as best I can. I am still more stable leaning forward with my arms on a table. I also wear jeans, to give a little support in the stomach." (p. 129)

Paralysis may mean deadening of muscular activity, but it can also mean muscles spasm in a huge response to innocuous stimuli. Ian says,

"[Spasms] used to throw me out of bed, or out of the chair, ."

"Watching your legs in spasm when you have no control, like someone else is doing it, whether you try and try or not and I do try and there is a slight tingle down there at times watching you legs do that is really peculiar. I recognize them as my legs, but I cannot control them." (p.83)

Pain is present in roughly 60-65 percent of people with spinal cord injury, and in 20-26 percent it is severe (p.16). It is pain, ironically, that sometimes gives such a person a sense of having a body. As one narrator in the book puts it: 'The pain does actually give me a semblance of my lower half. I don't like it when it's nagging away, but it would be very strange to be without any feeling whatsoever below the level of my lesion. You could stick a needle into me and I wouldn't have any idea, but I feel the pain as being there in the legs.' (p. 75)

The presence of pain and thus some sense of body at least situates the body in the world. This is not say that those without body sensation, and movement, do not experience the bodies phenomenologically; they do, but as objects needing close scrutiny, for not to do so, risks injury and a loss of sense of embodiment. The still life must be observed for the life to still live.

The mind can fill in the absences to a certain degree and thus permits the person a glimpse of normalcy.

Graham related, "Now I can almost kid myself that I can feel something when I sit in a chair, even though I know I cannot. It feels exactly the same sitting in a chair now to before I was injured. It can't but it does. My mind tells me so. My mind makes me think I am like you over there. It learns what is the norm for this body. It tells me there is nothing wrong, so I feel comfortable and correct. Remember, I have been longer disabled than abled. In a relatively short time things become a norm. You almost forget how it was before."

The perceptions of others, however, can limit any sense of being normal. Many abled do not seem to be able to include the disabled at a normal, unconscious, level. People pour pity and assess the injured as one without dreams, without self-esteem; yet with community empathy and education a better understanding of spinal cord injury and the injured themselves offers a more substantive understanding and possibility of social integration of all levels of (dis)abled being.

Still Lives encompasses the narratives of those at the forefront of disability rights, those so terribly depressed that they regularly contemplate suicide, to those who let go and actively seek wild sporting adventures, such as skiing and watersports: people, like all people, exploring the levels and limits of their strengths and weaknesses.

Jonathan Cole, in the time-honored tradition of a good storyteller, takes the reader of this book from the dark and into the light of possibilities and creative solutions. In this way, he offers us all a new way to reflect upon what it is to be human.

 

2004 Elizabeth McCardell

 

Elizabeth McCardell, PhD, Independent scholar, Australia.


Share

Welcome to MHN's unique book review site Metapsychology. We feature over 7700 in-depth reviews of a wide range of books and DVDs written by our reviewers from many backgrounds and perspectives. We update our front page weekly and add more than thirty new reviews each month. Our editor is Christian Perring, PhD. To contact him, use one of the forms available here.

Can't remember our URL? Access our reviews directly via 'metapsychology.net'


Metapsychology Online reviewers normally receive gratis review copies of the items they review.
Metapsychology Online receives a commission from Amazon.com for purchases through this site, which helps us send review copies to reviewers. Please support us by making your Amazon.com purchases through our Amazon links. We thank you for your support!


Join our e-mail list!: Metapsychology New Review Announcements: Sent out monthly, these announcements list our recent reviews. To subscribe, click here.

Interested in becoming a book reviewer for Metapsychology? Currently, we especially need thoughtful reviewers for books in fiction, self-help and popular psychology. To apply, write to our editor.

Metapsychology Online Reviews

Promote your Page too

Metapsychology Online Reviews
ISSN 1931-5716