Meaghan's Reviews > A Journey Round My Skull

A Journey Round My Skull by Frigyes Karinthy
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's review
Jul 25, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: memoirs, medicine, read-in-2010

People interested in medicine and the history of medicine will enjoy this memoir by a middle-aged man who had a benign brain tumor removed in 1936. Karinthy, a Hungarian writer and journalist, was a bit of a celebrity in his native country and it was thanks to his social connections that he was able to be operated on by one of the best brain surgeons in the world. But the operation and Karinthy's recovery are only a small part of the book; he also covers in detail the months leading up to the operation, beginning when he first experienced symptoms. What followed were visits to many different doctors who misdiagnosed him and pooh-poohed his concerns. (Sound familiar?) Karinthy actually diagnosed himself long before his doctors did.

The tumor skewed Karinthy's perception and he often hallucinated noises, images and even entire events. The way he writes about these periods, the reader is often unsure as to what is real and what is not. It makes for a somewhat jarring experience, but also helps the reader see just what he was going through.

Certainly this isn't for the average reader, but those who like works by people like Oliver Sacks (who wrote the intro to this memoir) will enjoy A Journey Round My Skull.
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Quotes Meaghan Liked

Frigyes Karinthy
“My head ached. I was thinking of the pain, and wondering how it was possible for physical agony to be so intense. I had never imagined that such a torture could be endured. Yet here was I, both conscious and able to think clearly. And not only to think, but to observe the process and make calculations about it. The steel circle round my skull was closing in with faint cracking noises. How much farther could it shrink? I counted the cracking sounds. Since I took the triple dose of pain-killer, there had been two more. …I took out my watch and laid it on the table.

“Give me morphia,” I said in a calm, hostile, icy tone.

“You mustn’t take morphia! You know perfectly well. The very idea! And what are you doing with that watch?”

“You will give me morphia within three minutes.”

They looked me uneasily up and down. No one moved. Three minutes went by. Then ten more. I slipped the watch calmly into my pocket and rose unsteadily to my feet.

“Then take me to the Fiakker Bar. They say it’s a good show, and to-night I want to enjoy myself.”

The others jumped up with a feeling of relief.

I never confessed the secret to anyone, either then or afterwards. I had made up my mind at the end of those three minutes — for the first and last time in my life — that if my headache had not stopped within the next ten I should throw myself under the nearest tram.

It never came out whether I should have kept to my resolve, for the pain left with the suddenness of lighting.”
Frigyes Karinthy, A Journey Round My Skull

Reading Progress

July 25, 2010 – Started Reading
July 25, 2010 – Shelved
July 25, 2010 –
page 37
July 25, 2010 – Shelved as: memoirs
July 25, 2010 – Shelved as: medicine
July 25, 2010 – Shelved as: read-in-2010
July 26, 2010 –
page 108
July 27, 2010 – Finished Reading

Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by Will (new)

Will Byrnes It certainly does make one think of Brain on Fire. It is amazing how much is not known about our own bodies.

Meaghan Will wrote: "It certainly does make one think of Brain on Fire. It is amazing how much is not known about our own bodies."

Ironically, Karinthy's problem with getting diagnosed was that he was a little TOO well-connected. All the doctors he consulted knew him socially, and they didn't want to give their friend what was essentially a death sentence. In the 1930s, before all the fancy machines, you had to diagnose a tumor by symptoms alone, and so Karinthy's doctor friends frantically grasped at other diagnoses, ANY other diagnosis, other than the obvious.

If I recall correctly, he basically tricked them into diagnosing him finally. He went to an optometrist to say he needed glasses. He was going blind by that point, but he knew glasses wouldn't help; it was the tumor. But the optometrist, as part of the examination, looked into his eyes with the flashlight and basically saw the tumor back there -- that is, saw the brain bulging out where it shouldn't be bulging. And the doctor was like "Holy crap!" and Karinthy was like "Oh, what's wrong?" And the doctor was like, "Um, probably nothing. Just take this piece of paper and go to the hospital. Like, right now."

message 3: by Will (new)

Will Byrnes What a great story!

I suspect that a fair bit of what ails us today has to do with the immense variety of unpleasant products meandering through our earth, air and water, and who knows what effects from all the radio waves, microwaves and other forms of energy blasting through the environment. With so many variables, the potential for complex interaction, resulting in medical unpleasantness is probably infinite.

Meaghan You're probably right. And it's much worse in developing countries where they have to prioritize and simply can't clean up their toxic wastes. I know China has "cancer villages" where basically everyone who lives there gets cancer due to environmental factors. I wrote an article for a blog a few years ago about milk (also from China) that was tainted with a totally inedible and toxic chemical used in plastics and fertilizer. The milk made its way to like a dozen countries before they caught on to what was up, and 600,000 people got sick. One of the major dairies responsible tried to keep unhappy customers quiet by giving them free milk, which of course was also poisoned.

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