Friday, November 26, 2010

The Naked Lady Who Stood on Her Head

The Naked Lady Who Stood on Her Head: A Psychiatrist's Stories of His Most Bizarre Cases
© 2010 Gary Small & Gigi Vorgan
267 pages

In the summer of 2006 I read a fascinating book by V.S. Ramachandran called Phantoms of the Brain, in which the author-neurologist described his attempts to understand the biological causes of mental phantasms like phantom limbs. The book incited an enduring interest in psychology in me, and this collection by Gary Small seemed right up my ally. It's an altogether different book from Ramachandran, who used his patients as the jumping off point for chapters on the brain and nervous system. Instead, Small simply writes about his stranger cases, his attempts to help the patients, and their impact on him.

The fifteen cases discussed are certainly fascinating: the most notable for me involved a woman who thought Small was having sex with her with his eyes and  the man who felt as though his left hand belonged to someone else and certainly had no place on his body. The young lady who fell into a diabetic coma and reflexively adopted one of her favorite yoga postures to relax was also interesting. Though most of the patients  in this book were diagnosed with emotional neurosis of one form or another, others resulted from body chemistry. Though the cases are used more for entertainment than education (not exclusively, though), Small discusses his case history with perfect respect.

Because of Small's writing style and the fact that the cases recorded here span thirty years of Small's life,  the reader also follows the career of a psychiatrist. In his reflections -- typically including discussion of his private life -- Small reveals how he slowly grew into his role as a psychiatrist. The intimidated intern in chapter one grows into an accomplished, veteran doctor with patented PET-scan variants and various medical foundations by book's end.

Worth reading if you're interested in curiosities of the mind or in human-interest stories in general.


  • Phantoms in the Brain, V.S. Ramachandran
  • The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (and Other Clinical Tales), Oliver Sachs
  • The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist's Quest for What Makes Us Human, V.S. Ramachandran. Not that related, but it's scheduled to be released in January and it sounds like a must-read. 

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