Gifty remembers watching a surgery that stimulates neurons in the brains of people with Parkinson’s disease to improve motor functions. The patient is kept awake during the procedure. Stimulating the right area of the brain slowed the tremors in his hands. But when the doctor moved the electrode slightly, the patient began to weep. Gifty reflects on the short distance—just one-tenth of a centimeter—between “pretty good and unimaginable sorrow.” Optogenetics, the technology of her work, targets individual neurons better than DBS (deep brain stimulation).
Gifty’s memory of the deep brain stimulation surgery illustrates how challenging her research is: there’s a fine line between “fixing” someone’s brain and potentially causing harm. This further points to how fragile the brain is in general: the line between a normal brain and an addicted or depressed brain, this passage seems to imply, is equally thin.
Parkinson’s reminds Gifty of Mr. Thomas’s funeral, although she’s not sure if her memories of the day (she was three) are accurate. She thinks she remembers her parents fighting about whether they should go, and one of Mr. Thomas’s children apologizing to her mother for how awful Mr. Thomas was. On the way home, Gifty’s mother, horrified by the sin of speaking ill of the dead, made the Chin Chin Man pull over so the family could pray on the side of the road for Mr. Thomas’s soul and for the family’s protection.
As elsewhere in the book, one of Gifty’s memories links to other memories of her childhood. In this case, the link is the brain disease, Parkinson’s, that united the deep brain stimulation patient and her mother’s first long-term home-health client, Mr. Thomas. Gifty acknowledges the unreliability of her memories here (since she was three at the time), and this offers readers a pointed reminder that Gifty’s memories of childhood are shaped by the rest of her life experience and shouldn’t simply be accepted at face value. Her parents’ fear that speaking ill of the dead would put them at spiritual risk highlights the distinctly Ghanaian way her parents understood their Christianity, which was in contrast to the way most of the American members of their church practiced their faith.
That prayer, like all the others of Gifty’s childhood, ended with the words, “In Jesus’s name, amen.” Some of those prayers were offered at Nana’s soccer games. The Chin Chin Man loved soccer for its dancing elegance and precision. Gifty remembers one game, where a father on the other team loudly admonished his son, “Don’t you let them niggers win.” Nana played the second half with pure, consuming fury, winning the game. Gifty remembers the joy of his win, despite the white man’s hate. But she also learned that she has something to prove and must do so with “blazing brilliance.”
The words “in Jesus’s name, amen” link all of the prayers of Gifty’s childhood together, because sacred words like these help people make meaning out of their lives. Unfortunately, the harsh words of parents at Nana’s soccer games also illustrate the values of many in the community in which Gifty and Nana grew up. Thus, Gifty learned early on in life that she needed to disprove others’ racists beliefs about her abilities.