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Searching for the Mango Princess

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Where is the Mango Princess?

Self Awareness and the Changes in Personality from Brain Injury

"Accidents divide things into the great Before and After...One day you and your family are hiking across a long, solid plain, when out of the sky comes a blazing meteor that just happens to hit one family member on the head. The meteor creates a huge rift in the landscape, dragging the unlucky one down to the bottom of the crevice it has made. You spend the next year on a rescue mission..." (Crimmins, 3)

On July 1, 1996, Cathy Crimmins' husband suffered a serious brain injury while on family vacation in Canada. "Alan's brain got ran over by a speed boat." (Crimmins, 5) This caused major traumatic brain injury which included seizures, coma, hemorrhage and paralysis. Not only was Alan a victim but through this memoir both Cathy and her daughter struggle on the road to recovery.

TBI is an out of the ordinary, unpredictable illness and its survivors say and do very strange things. Alan survived his accident which ultimately changed his life as well as his family forever. Symptoms of a TBI can be mild, moderate, or severe, depending on the extent of the damage to the brain.   Someone mild TBI may remain conscious or may experience a loss of consciousness for a few seconds or minutes. Someone with a moderate or severe TBI may show these same symptoms, but also have a headache that gets worse or does not go away, repeated vomiting or nausea, convulsions or seizures, an inability to awaken from sleep, dilation of one or both pupils of the eyes, slurred speech, weakness or numbness in the extremities, loss of coordination, and increased confusion, restlessness, or agitation. (2) In Alan's case damage was done his frontal lobes thus he lost many inhibitions. She talks about the issue with personality and personhood. Once someone's neuronal connections are cut or damaged what makes them who they are? The idea of self awareness and the connection to our discussion of the I-function tied in very well here. It seems as though Alan can no longer claim those actions as his own.

The frontal lobes play an important part and involve the ability to recognize consequences that may result from current actions, to choose between good and bad actions and restrain unacceptable responses, and determine similarities. It is involved in higher mental functions. (3) It also plays an important part in retaining long term memories which are memories associated with emotions derived from input. The frontal lobe modifies those emotions to generally fit socially acceptable norms. In Where is the Mango Princesss? Crimmins explains that when Alan was recovering much of this was gone and not controlled. Alan would curse, rage, smash things and even masturbate in public. Often times he would urinate in bed or act very erratically. The loss of inhibitions is intriguing because Alan entered a reverted stage of childhood where he had to be rebuilt. Things such as morals had disappeared with the old Alan and Crimmins had to become a mother to her husband. Many people experience the tension and stress of being a caregiver but Crimmins addresses this issue with humor and presents an anomaly to the 95% of marriages of people with severe brain injury that fail. Though Alan is no longer the same person with different frontal lobes and a different personality, he was eventually able to be warm and loving and in some ways more open and spontaneous.

Another issue addressed by Crimmins that does not directly relate to the brain but affects mental health very much is the struggle she encountered with her HMO. Money for mental health services in the U.S is not very much and health insurance does not cater to Crimmins and her family at all during this situation.  They are depicted as a villain that acts horribly by trying to deny payment at almost every stage of Alana's recovery process. They also go as far as to not reimburse for the rehabilitation cost. The disregard of the HMO causes everyone close to the victim even more issues. This is the reality of caregivers. The subtlety of Crimmins in putting forth this problem makes it just seem that much less advocated for. She evokes the message that insurance companies are not doing enough to care for those who suffer from mental illnesses.

The memoir addresses the issues of TBI and self awareness clearly while offering up information about the issues surrounding families of the mentally ill as well as caregivers. I feel as though Crimmins did a good job relaying the emotions as well as scientific background with her husband's situation by not making it too dramatic and adding humor when applicable. The spontaneity and randomness of TBI also speaks true through her story. I feel as though concepts talked about in class for example, Christopher Reeve who was paralyzed from the neck down. We discussed whether he could claim feelings his body felt from his neck down and the disconnect he had with the "I-function" or self system. This makes one wonder how similar Alan's situation is to Reeve's though not injured in the same way. Both seem to be unable to claim certain actions though they may be different. This memoir is a good continuation to explore trauma and the affect on the victim's family and personality versus personhood.

1.      Crimmins, Cathy. "Where is the Mango Princess?" Vintage Books. October 2001


3.      Kimberg, D.Y., Farah, M.J. A unified account of cognitive impairments following frontal lobe damage: the role of working memory in complex, organized behavior. J. Exp. Psychol. Gen. 1993 122(4):411-28



Paul Grobstein's picture

traumatic brain injury, the self, and personal responsibility

"It seems as though Alan can no longer claim ... actions as his own"

Maybe this isn't all or nothing?  Maybe each of us, with TBI or not, has some abilities and some limitations in this regard? ... "he was eventually able to be warm and loving and in some ways more open and spontaneous" suggests that.