Earlier this year, in a London hospital on a dark afternoon at the end of winter, a neurosurgeon asked me to spell ‘world’ backwards. Behind him, an image of my skull floated on a monitor. On one side of it, there was a milk-white gob of tumour. It looked about as big as a golf ball. He wanted me to spell the word backwards because I am left-handed, and because I have a tumour lodged in my right temporal lobe. ‘Are you right-handed or left-handed?’ is often the first question a neurologist will ask. From the answer, it is possible to get an idea of how someone’s brain is organised – in particular, which hemisphere is dominant in certain aspects of language processing. Brain function is cross-wired: if I wiggle my left foot, the instructions are issued from the right side of my brain. The same is true if I wink shutting my left eye – what I then see through my open right eye is processed by the left side of my brain.
The full text of this diary is only available to subscribers of the London Review of Books.