If I only had a (half a) brain

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As someone who's never even broken a bone -- not even as a kid when I used to climb (and fall out of) trees, jump off swing sets and wrestle viciously with my friends -- it's tough for me to imagine undergoing major surgery. Brain surgery is about as major as you can get, if you want to get really radical, we can talk about the hemispherectomy, in which one half of your brain is removed. Imagine my surprise, then, to learn that hundreds of people have undergone this procedure, and not only lived to tell the tale, but can walk around and talk and do a lot of the things people with all of their brains can do. This left me with lots of probing questions, which Scientific American was only too happy to answer.

Q: If you have half your brain removed, can you keep stuff in the empty half?
A: No, the evacuated cavity fills up with cerebrospinal fluid within a day or so.
Q: Please don't talk about "evacuated cavities" anymore, it gives me the willies.
A: If you say so.
Q: So people who have this insane procedure done are, like, normal afterwards?
A: Well, not quite. You do lose the use of one hand and one eye on the side of your body opposite where the brain was removed.

Q: But not your opposing leg? So you can still run around and play field hockey?
A: You can still run around and play field hockey with one arm and no depth perception. So theoretically, yes.
Q: Why on earth would anyone have a hemispherectomy done?
A: Well, it's not like plastic surgery, silly. It's really a procedure of last resort, but it's been known to help serious seizure disorders, and sometimes it's the best way to treat brain cancer.
Q: Does removing half you brain make you ... hmm, how can I put this ... stupider?
A: No. Actually, some young patients have reported doing better in school after the procedure. (This might have something to do with their no longer having seizures for twelve hours a day, but still.)
Q: Are you a doctor or something?
A: This blogterview is over. But check out this article or this webpage if you want to know more.

May 25, 2007 - 3:28am
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