Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry

, Volume 39, Issue 1, pp 121–133 | Cite as

Coming Back to Oneself: A Case of Anoxic Brain Damage from a Phenomenological Perspective

  • Elisabeth L’orange FürstEmail author
Original Paper


Struck by a cardiac arrest that lasted 3/4 of an hour, a 53-year-old man suddenly collapsed one day at work. The result was a serious anoxic brain damage that developed into dementia. This essay presents the process of ‘coming back to himself’ while it questions what this concept might imply. The descriptions and analyses rest upon an ethnographic study of his life, at hospitals and then at home, assisted by his wife, who is also the author of this article. Theoretically, the analysis depends on Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology of perception and is also based on the therapeutic use of music in treating people with dementia championed by Oliver Sachs. It is argued that the field of medicine has much to learn from the anthropological method of long-term observation, as well as theories of embodiment that see the body as simultaneously being an object and a subject.


Anoxic brain damage Dementia in young people The phenomenological “bodysubject” Music therapy Rehabilitation 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Social AnthropologyUniversity of OsloOsloNorway

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