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The Yipping TigerReview - The Yipping Tiger
and Other Tales from the Neuropsychiatric Clinic
by Perminder Sachdev
Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010
Review by Sue Bond
Jul 20th 2010 (Volume 14, Issue 29)

There are many popular books on neurology, neuroscience and psychiatry, including those by the well known neurologist Oliver Sacks, and the wildly successful title The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge. When he visited Australia recently, Doidge's sessions at writers' festivals were filled to capacity, and it was not difficult to see why: his own speaking style was professional but warm, he could answer any question, and he was offering the hope of our brains being more 'plastic' than we thought, and able to heal from stroke and injury.

Having read some of this material and being fascinated by the topic myself, I came to Perminder Sachdev with some enthusiasm. And to a large degree, I enjoyed his book, which is a fairly straightforward account of a number of neuropsychiatric conditions: the 'yips' or dystonia; the alien hand syndrome; the coprolalia of Tourette's syndrome; the Mozart complex; head injury causing frontal lobe disorder; eating disorders; depression; obsessive compulsive disorder; phantom limb; and memory. The patients are not straightforward at all, but a fascinating group of people who largely present with disturbing symptoms, and Dr Sachdev, who is a professor of neuropsychiatry at the University of New South Wales in Australia, outlines a history of each condition, and what can be done about it.

It is written clearly and all the terms are explained, in a way which makes it supremely approachable for the general reader, even if they have little or no previous experience with the subject. Sachdev has an appealing way of presenting the cases as if he is having a conversation with the reader, and makes the patients (who are, of course, all unidentifiable) come alive with their own questions about the brain and what is going wrong. What he does particularly well is situate the patient within a context, of family, work and everyday life, rather than present them as floating free of any of these concerns.

His OCD patient comes to him because he has become fixated on women's breasts, and his interactions with women are made enormously difficult because of it. This is a different presentation from the familiar hand washing or checking, although this patient also did a lot of the latter. His relationship with his girlfriend was affected, and he felt a sense of shame. Sachdev recounts how this patient asked him questions that he could not always answer, something that happens with other patients as well.

The pathos of Robert, who had severe epilepsy that paralysed his life, is well described; he has neurosurgery to severe the corpus callosum, as nothing else has made much difference, and his life is miserable. The author goes on to describe what happens after the surgery, as Robert experiences 'alien hand syndrome', a disturbing but fortunately temporary condition. He recovers well and his life is vastly improved. As Sachdev poetically concludes, 'there is hope for every fractured human soul' (50).

He often digresses in each chapter, on to subjects related in some way to the main topic, and he also explores the psychoanalytical approaches to each brain dysfunction. All in all, this is an enjoyable introduction to the wonders and mysteries of the brain for those without much experience of such material.

 

© 2010 Sue Bond

 

 

 

Sue Bond is a writer, reviewer and editor with degrees in literature, creative writing and medicine. She lives in Queensland, Australia


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