In 1999, a professor of artificial intelligence named Clark Elliott suffered a concussion when his car was rear-ended, and the traumatic brain injury left his life in tatters. He opens his new book with a “quite common” scene: Having given a three-hour lecture on a cold winter night about two years after the accident, the exhausted Elliott can hardly marshal coherent thoughts. He makes his way across the street to his office and lies down to rest for two hours. Then he heads toward his car, five blocks away, but becomes disoriented; as his mental abilities start to dissolve, he tries to remember how to walk (“left foot forward . . . right foot forward”) and finally, past midnight, he just wants to collapse in the snow and die — but he can’t, because he has forgotten how to lie down.
Fortunately, “The Ghost in My Brain: How a Concussion Stole My Life and How the New Science of Brain Plasticity Helped Me Get It Back” has a happy ending. And — because intelligence, after all, is one of Elliott’s fields of expertise (he also has degrees in music and computer science) — it includes a remarkably informative discussion of brain injury.
Elliott describes his work with experts in cognitive restructuring and neuroplasticity. They do tests and exercises involving copying lines, connecting dots, looking through different-colored eyeglass lenses — with the goal of rerouting paths in his brain to the damaged parts. By the end of the narrative, he gratefully reports: “I was balanced, had clear logical thinking. . . . I felt normal.”
Elliott will be talking about his book at the Busboys and Poets location at 14th and V streets in the District on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m.