Thursday 7 April 2022

A. J. Lees, "Brainspotting: Adventures in Neurology"

A. J. Lees was born in St Helens and qualified in medicine from The London Hospital, Whitechapel in 1970. He trained in neurology at University College Hospitals, London and La SalpĂȘtriere in Paris and was appointed to the staff of the National Hospital, Queen Square at the age of 32. He is one of the three most highly cited Parkinson’s disease researchers in the world and was responsible for the introduction of apomorphine therapy as a treatment for advanced Parkinson’s disease. For his contributions to medical education and his research achievements, he was elected a member of the Brazilian Academia Nacional de Medicina in 2010. 

His first book to be published by Notting Hill Editions, entitled Mentored by a Madman, described how the writings of William Seward Burroughs helped him to operate effectively within the complex milieu of UK medical research and inspired some of his research. Several of his books, including Ray of Hope and The Hurricane Port, grew out of  a deep love for the port of Liverpool. His last book, Brazil that Never Was, described a yearning for an idealised adolescent past, in which he had dreamed of losing himself in the Amazon forest, inspired by the adventures of Lieutenant Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett. His new book is Brainspotting: Adventures in Neurology, published jointly by Notting Hill Editions and New York Review of Books. 

About Brainspotting:  Adventures in Neurology

This is a collection of essays explaining the making of a neurologist. An interest in bird watching as a child taught Lees the importance of observation and the need to record precisely what one sees, skills which gave him a head start when he began his training in neurology. In another chapter, he explains how the methods of crime detection used by Conan Doyle’s fictional detective Sherlock Holmes were a valuable introduction to the  diagnostic method of neurology, but in order to relieve suffering it needed to be combined with the humanity of Dr Watson. Lees believes that people can be trained to see things their mind does not yet know, and that attentive listening not only gives neurologists the diagnosis in two-thirds of cases but, like touch during the physical examination, can be a transformative healing ritual. In the last chapter, while extolling the miracle of modern neuroimaging, he warns that when used inappropriately or as a substitute for clinical training brain scanners can become weapons of mass destruction.

You can see more details about Brainspotting on the publisher's website here. Below, you can read three short excerpts from the book.


From Brainspotting, by A. J. Lees

When I tell people I am a neurologist, very few have much idea of what I do. Common reactions are: "Isn’t that the same as Gregory House?" or "How wonderful it must be to study the human mind?" When I reply that I make the blind see, the lame walk and can calm the shaking palsy, many assume I must be a brain surgeon. The media prefer to call me a "leading neuroscientist" even though I spend no time in a laboratory and carry out no research on the healthy brain ...

My mother, who sometimes used birds to tell fortunes, conserved my bird journals for many years. After I had qualified as a doctor she handed them back to me, reminding me how as a twelve-year-old I had felt the need to name every little brown bird that came into view. She then said, "Do you remember when you found that dead blue tit unmarked in the garden and how you buried it under the laburnum marking its resting place with an ice lolly stick?" At the time she had told me that when sailors were lost at sea blue tits carried their souls to heaven ...

Soulful neurology has realistic expectations that allow me to reduce the burden of suffering through my understanding of life as well as my scientific credentials. It embraces anecdote, cordial laughter and tacit knowledge but never lapses into sentimentality. It insists that mistakes in medicine are inevitable, but when they are admitted and taken to heart  become future friends. It expects me to talk unhurriedly to my patients as if they were my close relatives and to try to be kind and nuanced when forced to give bad news. It reminds me that neurological disorders can rupture aspirations and dreams and lead to frustration, loneliness and a profound sense of hopelessness ...

No comments:

Post a Comment