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Born in New Amsterdam, New York, in 1916 to immigrant parents from Russia, Issur Danielovitch, who adopted the stage name Kirk Douglas, quickly became one of Hollywood's leading men. Douglas starred in film classics such as 20,000 Leagues Beneath the Sea and Spartacus. Douglas also shrewdly acquired the rights to make hit films in which he did not star, such as One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Father of four sons who became famous in their own right, Kirk Douglas seemed to have everything going for him, until in 1980 he suffered a severe stroke.
Stroke took the famous actor's ability to speak. Douglas became despondent, and decided to end it all. As he put a loaded gun in his mouth, however, he hit his teeth, and decided suicide would not be painless, there had to be a better way.
Douglas took stock of just how good life had been for him, and even resumed public appearances, including a second bar mitzvah at the age of 83. This devastating illness, Douglas concluded, had been a "stroke of luck," helping him to realize just how much he had to live for--and he's continue to live past his 97th birthday without signs of slowing down further.
A Brain Researcher Gets to Do Up Close and Personal Brain Research
Actor Kirk Douglas is hardly the only person to discover that life can actually be better even after a stroke. Scientist Jill Bolte Taylor had become a brain researcher because she had a brother who had schizophrenia.
Taylor had dedicated her life to studying brain diseases when she realized that while she had the ability to make her dreams come true, her brother only had the ability to realize his nightmares. What was it about her brother's schizophrenia, she wondered, that made it impossible for him to connect his dreams to a common and shared reality so that they became delusion?
Dr. Taylor took at job at a psychiatric research lab at Harvard University. She joined a group of scientists looking at the question of what was different about the brains of people who had schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, and bipolar disorder, mapping the microcircuitry of the brain to determine which cells communicate with which cells in which ways. To Taylor and her colleagues it was very evident that the two sides of the brain operate in very different ways, the left side working as a kind of serial processor, if-then, if-then, the right side operating as a kind of parallel processor, responding to information and solving questions by tackling many aspects at the same time.
But when Taylor had her own stroke on the left side of her brain, she learned the difference between the two sides of her brain in a very personal way. As the left side of her brain ceased to function, she felt a sense of oneness with the universe. She felt her spirit surrender to her moment of transition, her mind suspended between life and death. She realized that when she was healthy she could choose moment by moment how she wanted to be in her world.