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Jonathan Cole

Jonathan Cole, D.M., F.R.C.P., is Consultant in Clinical Neurophysiology, Poole Hospital, and at Salisbury Hospital (with its Spinal Centre), a Professor at Bournemouth University and a visiting Senior Lecturer, Southampton University.

Titles by This Author

Narratives of Spinal Cord Injury

In writing Still Lives, Jonathan Cole wanted to find out about living in a wheelchair, without having what he calls "the doctor/patient thing" intervene. He has done this by asking people with spinal cord injuries the simple question of what it is like to live without sensation and movement in the body. If the body has absented itself, where does the person reside? He describes his method in the first chapter: "I have gone to people, not with a white coat or a stethoscope...[but] to listen to their lives as they express them," and it is the candid and powerful narratives of twelve people with spinal cord injuries that form the heart of the book.

Asking his simple question, Cole discovers that there is no single or simple answer. The twelve people with tetraplegia (known as quadriplegia in the US) or paraplegia whose stories he tells testify to similar impairments but widely differing experiences. Cole employs their individual responses to shape the book into six main sections: "Enduring," "Exploring," "Experimenting," "Observing," "Empowering," and, finally, "Continuing." Each concludes with a commentary on the broader issues raised. Still Lives moves from a view of impairment as tragedy to reveal the possibilities and richness of experience available to those living with spinal injuries. More universally, it offers new perspectives on our relation to our bodies. In exploring the creative and imaginative adjustments required to construct a "still life," it makes a plea for the able-bodied to adjust their view of this most profound of impairments.

What is special about the face, and what happens when neurological conditions make expression or comprehension of the face unavailable? Through a mix of science, autobiography, case studies, and speculation, Jonathan Cole shows the importance not only of facial expressions for communication among individuals but also of facial embodiment for our sense of self. He presents, in his words, "a natural history of the face and an unnatural history of those who live without it."

The heart of the book lies in the experiences of people with facial losses of various kinds. The case studies are of blind, autistic, and neurologically impaired persons; the most extreme case involves Mobius syndrome, in which individuals are born with a total inability to move their facial muscles and hence to make facial expressions. Cole suggests that it is only by studying such personal narratives of loss that we can understand facial function and something of what all our faces reflect.

At the age of 19 Ian Waterman was suddenly struck down at work by a rare neurological illness that deprived him of all sensation below the neck. He fell on the floor in a heap, unable to stand or control his limbs, having lost the sense of joint position and proprioception, of that "sixth sense" of his body in space, which we all take for granted. After months in a neurological ward he was judged incurable and condemned to a life of wheelchair dependence. This is the first U.S. publication of a remarkable book by his physician, Jonathan Cole. It tells the compelling story, including a clear clinical description of a rare condition, of how Waterman reclaimed a life of full mobility against all expectations, by mental effort and sheer courage. Cole describes how Waterman gradually adapted to his strange condition. As the doctors had predicted, there was no neurological recovery. He had to monitor every movement by sight to work out where his limbs were, since he had no feedback from his peripheral nerves. But with astonishing persistence Waterman developed elaborate tricks and strategies to control his movements, enabling him to cope not only with the day-to-day problems of living, but even with the challenges of work, love, and marriage.