Anyone who has either experienced neurological difficulties or works in stroke or brain injury rehabilitation knows exactly what I’m referring to when I say, “visual neglect”.
This “neglect”, also known as hemiagnosia, hemineglect, contralateral neglect, hemispatial neglect, etc., is a common occurrence after stroke or brain injury that is characterized by the survivor being unable to attend to half of his or her body. It can affect either the left or the right side, depending on where the damage has happened in the brain, and it can occur in many gradations, with milder cases missing only the occasional stimuli, and severe cases missing everything that is on the neglected side. (For a more complete definition of visual neglect, I invite you to click here.)
Visual neglect is something I see often in my work as a Speech Pathologist/Therapist. A patient with a severe left neglect, for instance, may start writing on the far left side of the page, and write in a single word column. I often see the frustration on their faces at the apparent “narrowness” of their page. In reading, this same patient may confuse words such as run/fin/fun/gin/gun, as they will likely see the “u” as an “i”, and won’t see the first letter at all. When asked to read a sentence, it is common for the first few words to be left off completely. The patient with visual neglect may not see you if you stand too far to the affected side, and in severe cases, they may not even attend when you speak to them from that side. There may also be significant spillage from the affected side of the lips during meals.
This kind of neglect can be even more pronounced physically. This patient may run into people or objects on the affected side, and we might see the arm on the affected side getting caught up in the wheel of their wheelchair. This can also cause what is known as “pusher syndrome”, where the patient, being completely unaware of the affected side, will push harder with the unaffected side, thus “pushing” him/herself towards the weaker, neglected side. You can imagine the difficulties that can create with such simple activities as sitting up, toileting and walking.
The most interesting part of visual neglect, however, especially in cases where the neglect affects the left side, is that the patient may be completely unawareness of the problem. It’s awfully hard to correct something you don’t even know is there!
Recently I had the privilege of meeting a new patient with severe left neglect. My student was working with him from his right side, and he was completely unaware of my presence on his left. As I observed the assessment, it occurred to me that the majority of Christianity has neglect–“spiritual” neglect! We are aware of Jesus’ gift of Salvation. We give lip service to the presence of the Holy Spirit; yet we neglect the richness of the spiritual life God has in mind for us.
The apostle Paul warns us about this in his 2nd letter to Timothy: “…having a form of godliness but denying its power.” (2 Timothy 3:5 NIV).
And just what is this “power” so many are denying?
“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe (Eph 1:17-18 NIV) (see also Eph. 3:14-19)
We are denying the immeasurable greatness of God’s power, and this causes a “spiritual” neglect. We may call upon the name of the Lord, but we will deny the power of that name. Some may even go so far as to deny that the gifts of the Spirit are for us today, completely forgetting the prophecies of Joel 2:28: “And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.” (NIV)
Just like there really is a left (or right) side to that piece of paper for that patient with visual neglect, and just like that sentence really doesn’t begin on its 5th word, God’s Spirit really has been poured out upon us (remember Pentecost? See Acts 2). Our problem is that we don’t pay attention to Him, and maybe we aren’t even fully aware of His presence. We live our lives as if God doesn’t love us enough to heal us and He doesn’t care enough to foretell the future. When we read God’s Word, we don’t understand half of it, and as a result, we go through our lives spiritually malnourished, having no concept that the spiritual food God has given us is simply “spilling” away. Worse still, because we can’t see or feel our spiritual nature, we come to believe God has abandoned us.
I want so much to help my patients see and understand that if they would look towards the affected side of their bodies, they would discover a whole new world waiting for them. In the same way, I want so much for all of my fellow followers of Christ to understand that when we have “spiritual neglect”, we are missing half of what the Christian life is meant to be!
Lord, remove our “spiritual” neglect! Help us to see, help us to believe in “the other half”, in Your sweet Spirit that has already been poured out upon us. Help us to stop denying the power that has been given to us by Your precious gift at Calvary! In the precious name of Jesus, Amen.
In His love,
Lynona Gordon Chaffart, Speech-Language Pathologist, mother of two, Author — “Aboard God’s Train — A Journey With God Through the Valley of Cancer”, Author and Moderator for The Nugget, a tri-weekly internet newsletter, and Scriptural Nuggets, a website devoted to Christian devotionals and inspirational poems, with Answers2Prayer Ministries. Follow Lyn on Twitter @lynchaffart.