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Where is the Mango Princess Book Commentary

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Book Commentary: Where is the Mango Princess?

    Cathy Crimmin’s “Where is the Mango Princess” is an account of her journey through her husband’s, Alan’s, brain injury.  After Alan was hit on the head by a speedboat, he suffered from traumatic brain injury (TBI).  While he did eventually awaken from his coma, his recovery took his wife and child on a roller coaster ride of emotions.  “Where is the Mango Princess?” explores the heartbreak and frustrations of a caregiver to a patient recovering from TBI.  Crimmins uses slight humor and honesty to engage the reader into her suddenly chaotic life of caring for her husband.  This book also focuses on educating the reader about TBI and the effects of severe brain damage on a patient.

    With any type of injury, people often look for a physical symbol to associate the severity of the wound.  For example, a paper cut would be covered by a band-aid but a broken bone would be casted, making a broken bone more severe than a paper cut.  Throughout Alan’s recovery, Crimmins had a difficult time explaining to neighbors and friends that Alan’s brain injury was a physical condition.  After Alan woke up from his coma, his friends were expecting the old Alan.  They did not understand the extent of Alan’s brain damage and what that would entail.  All they saw was that their friend had woken up from a coma and that he was physically on his way towards a full recovery.  As one of Alan’s therapist, Crystal Mangir, explained: “If Alan were in a wheelchair, or had a cast on his leg, people would understand that something happened…but no one can see a broken brain” (Crimmins 199).  This mentality would explain why after Alan regained mobility, the insurance companies decided they would no longer pay for Alan’s rehab therapy since he no longer needed it.  Based on these “physical” checkpoints, relearning how to walk and regaining mobility are the final steps on the path to complete physical recovery.  This misunderstanding of brain injury was what Cathy Crimmins hoped to shed light on throughout this book.

    Even though Alan had recovered physically from the accident, his mental recovery was still an on-going process in which rehab was definitely required.  Crimmins describes Alan’s behavior as very erratic and childlike, consisting of exposing himself in public and shouting swear words at the top of his lungs at any given moment in time.  Aside from behavioral differences, Alan was also affected in a couple different ways due to the brain damage he sustained.  He experienced chills even when it was ninety-five degrees outside in the summer heat.  He not only perceived the chill but he also felt it and shivered constantly due to the rapid temperature change that had occurred in his body (Crimmins 133).  An explanation for the chills is a damaged hypothalamus which regulates temperature and appetite in the body.  When the hypothalamus is damaged, it can trick the body into thinking it is very cold outside or that one has already eaten a meal.  It is interesting to see how damage to the hypothalamus can bring about certain perceptions of the body that one cannot control at all.  This instance sheds new light on brain damage in the sense that we are very much at the mercy of our nervous systems. 

    Throughout Alan’s recovery, Crimmins mentions how his “self-awarness” has not been the same since the accident.  In the context of Biology 202, we have talked about self-awareness or consciousness in the sense of the I-function.  So if Alan’s I-function is not working properly, that means he is probably not interpreting or experiencing situations as everyone else sees them.  In several instances throughout the book, Crimmins yells at Alan for doing something wrong, such as yelling at their daughter Kelly, only to have Alan yell back and claim that he was not yelling but merely talking.  So what exactly is causing Alan to have misperceptions of daily life? Since our I-functions only receive hints from our nervous system in a healthy brain, our I-functions are already “out of the loop” most of the time, so what happens in a patient who has suffered from TBI?  Does this mean the I-function becomes even more disconnected from the nervous system than before? So Alan’s inability to interpret situations can be explained by a severed connection between the I-function and the brain.  Does this connection then heal with time?

    If his I-function is not working properly, how does this affect Alan’s ability of interpretation and memory?  In class, we have discussed the pictures in our heads in relation to vision.  So whenever we see something, the picture in our head is a story and a construction of the brain which we use to interpret what we see.  A similar parallel to this type of story creation is confabulation which is a common side effect of brain injury.  Alan’s confabulations were a result of his brain taking bits and pieces of what was left of his memory and compiling a narrative out of them (Crimmins 129).  A possible explanation for this is that during the brain’s healing process, it holds on to any sort of information that it can get and Alan interprets that as something he currently experienced or as experienced in his life.  Since Alan can interpret these memory fragments and narrate them to friends, does this mean his I-function was not involved in the interpretation? Or had the connection between the I-function and the rest of the nervous system healed enough so that what Alan though were his memories could be interpreted to an extent?

    Cathy Crimmins’ detailed account of her husband’s recovery was emotional, heartwarming, and didactic in the topics surrounding TBI.  Even though Alan was not the same person he was before his accident, he ultimately made a full recovery compared to many other cases of TBI.  Crimmins’ memoir gives hope to all the other caregivers of TBI patients that their loved ones can make a full recovery as well.  Her exploration of TBI raises awareness about brain injury and the different ways our bodies are ultimately connected to the nervous system. 

Crimmins, Cathy. “Where is the Mango Princess?” New York: Vintage Books, 2000.