FQ: You begin the chapter “When Your Face Turns against You,” with: “We are programmed for symmetry.” The word programmed is very specific in this case. Can you generally define what you mean by programmed, and is being programmed also directly correlated to both self-consciousness and identity?
FQ: As a follow-up, many chapters of your book focus on your patients’ faces, as well as what you observe about your patients when they first come into your office. Can you speak more about how the art of observation plays a role in neurology?
GONDOLO: As a neurologist it is important to make observations related to the patients, particularly their physical appearance, their affect, the way they walk and express themselves. For instance, patients affected by Parkinson’s disease have an emotionless expression and accentuated hand tremor during ambulation. Stroke can paralyze the lower contralateral face and Bell’s palsy causes weakness of the complete hemiface...
FQ: Many of your chapters are a mixture of storytelling, artistic expression, and medicine. From your perspective, how do you see the three connecting with one another?
GONDOLO: Every patient is a story, not just a case study. Giving medical care is not just obtaining tests or prescribing drugs. The most successful way to treat patients is to apply the hard facts of science in a compassionate and sensitive manner that takes into consideration their human feelings and hopes.
FQ: Based on the essays/narratives in Fifty Shades of Gray Matter, would it be safe to say that, when it comes to your field of work, that everything is explainable even if not explained?
GONDOLO: In our imperfect understanding of the human brain there are some diagnoses that we can explain as neurological facts whereas others can only be explained as neurological conjecture.
FQ: You present to readers a multitude of fascinating stories, and we learn a great deal about a variety of neurological disorders throughout your book; what went into the picking of these particular stories, and were there stories that you wished you could have added but decided to reject? For what reasons?
GONDOLO: I specifically chose unusual cases because the field of neurology is not just about strokes and headaches. I wanted to attract the reader’s curiosity with a description of very unfamiliar diagnoses. I could have added more stories but the book was already voluminous enough. Perhaps in Volume 2 (lol).
FQ: Many of the stories in Fifty Shades of Gray Matter speak not only to the patients’ experiences but to the patients’ families’ experiences as well, and I was astonished to see how many family members seem to lack empathy towards those who are sick and, at times, dying. What do you see as being the contributing factors to this lack of empathy, even when the family dynamic is seemingly solid?
GONDOLO: I believe that feelings of hopelessness, desperation, frustration and mental and physical stress may be the factors causing some families to give up on their relatives or significant others.
FQ: The writing-style choices made for this book are very traditional, meaning that it reminds me of books by psychiatrists, psychologists, and neurologists written in the early 20th century. Who are some of your influences as it pertains to your writing? As it pertains to your medical practice?
GONDOLO: I was inspired by the famous and renowned author Oliver Sachs. My father, who was a famous and dedicated physician, also contributed to my medical philosophy. My writing styles were greatly influenced by my classic studies in Italy that included ancient Greek, Latin and all the famous Tragedies and philosophical theories.
FQ: Your book at times delves into religious faith and the supernatural, but in such a way that somewhat subtly undermines the two. Do you see the two as being of detriment or a hindrance to the way you work with your patients? In more basic terms, do you see the two as getting in the way of you providing realistic, sound medical advice?
GONDOLO: In my approach to patients, I always evaluate the scientific facts relating to each illness in a purely cognitive fashion, without influence of religion, the Supernatural or personal inclinations. When I converse with patients regarding their illness, I always keep in mind their humanity and psychological needs. Many of my patients have profound religious beliefs and I am happy to offer them a more spiritual and hopeful view of their medical situation.