A Trivial Post for Serious People

Today’s stories are linked by aphasia. I’ve mentioned quite recently that, while I received a bunch of speech therapy both as an in-patient and from the visiting nurse service, this wasn’t connected to speech issues as such:


Regular readers will recall that my home speech therapy stopped abruptly in the wake of my extended soliloquy to the visiting nurse therapist regarding continuity issues in Doctor Who.

Michael Grade enumerates the reasons for cancelling Doctor who in the '80s
“His speech therapy wasn’t cancelled. Just put on ‘hiatus’.”
(Image from kasterborous.com)

It seems I was spared because aphasia tends to be an issue that arises pursuant to left-brain, rather than right-brain, injuries. The National Aphasia Assocation tells us that “Aphasia is an acquired communication disorder that  impairs a person’s ability to process language, but does not affect intelligence.” However, because of the related communication problems, some people may jump to incorrect conclusions. It doesn’t help that, for example, “250,000 people in the UK have aphasia, and yet many people have never heard of it.” I’m guessing they think that aphasia is the subject of unrequited love in a Dickens novel, or a character in a Victorian farce. The Importance of Being Earnest, perhaps.  Which, I was tickled to find while researching this post, is subtitled A Trivial Comedy for Serious People.

Oops, vicar, is that your dick?
“Aphaisa, this is Apoplexy…
Apoplexy, meet Aphasia.”

Possibly as a result, people with aphasia, in my experience, tend to be disproportionately active in raising awareness of their condition and what it means. A number of the folks from my young stroke survivors’ group here in New York give talks on the subject. If you are touched by aphasia, I’d encourage you to go along to one and make contact (click through for the flyer):

Aphasia Awareness at OZ 24-Apr-13

There’s also an aphasia group on Facebook called Aphasia Recovery Connection (ARC). Yesterday, ARC’s co-founder, Christine Huggins, posted a video marking the second anniversary of her stroke and her subsequent “rebirth”. It’s a positive message, while it also acknowledges that the post-stroke life can be hard. Including the comments, the collected wisdom in the post strongly makes the point that people with aphasia have complex and insightful points to make, even when they struggle to find exactly the right words to express them.

There was a good bit of excitement on the ARC page yesterday: an interview with Gabby Giffords and her husband was to be one of the featured stories on Anderson Cooper 360, and the piece trailing the item on CNN specifically mentioned aphasia. Of course, Gabby’s aphasia is the result of a very different type of brain injury, but I still thought it would be a good idea to sit down and watch the second part of the interview. As a Brit and a Scot, I wouldn’t necessarily agree with all of the Giffords’ thoughts on the fabness of guns and responsible gun ownership, but the personal insights ring true. “She looks like her old self”, but when asked if, in her recovery process, she wants to find the old Gabby Giffords, she indicates that she wants to find a “stronger, better, tougher” self. Humour is noted as a vital part of how the couple are dealing with the new normal.

Cartoon — Woman to partner: "Anything you can do, I can do better. I can do anything better than you. You know why? Because you had a stroke."
Stroke humour:
the iPad lock screen i chose while in hospital

There are some good changes in the wake of the shooting, like the Giffords living and working together after having a commuter marriage. Her previously strained relationship with her mother is much improved. Giffords has her moments of anger and frustration, but calls herself “happy” and is described as “optimistic”. The work that she and her husband, gun owners each, are doing with respect to gun control reform is “helping with her progression”.

Returning to the ARC post, one of the comments directed to Christine Huggins that struck me as particularly insightful ran as follows:

We can’t avoid feeling sad about our own or our loved one’s strokes and/or aphasia. But when you’ve fought hard and made much effort to get back what has been lost, that effort and probably the wisdom that comes along with such a setback, bring positives to you and those around you.

When life-changing events — particularly of a negative nature — happen to people, they ignite a human urge to bring some meaning to these events, up to and including finding them to be part of god’s plan for us. I’m hardly likely to go that far, but Christine Huggins talk of rebirth and Gabby Giffords’ optimism stuck a chord. I’m still experiencing more discomfort than I would like, and mental multitasking tends to end in disaster, but while I would never wish a stroke on anyone, much less myself, I like the New Ricky. He seems more mindful and compassionate than his prior incarnations, with a reordered set of priorities more in tune with the person I aspire to be. As I said to my therapist the other week, “What’s the point of having a stroke if you’re not going to get some benefit from it?” But a person doesn’t need a traumatic brain injury to make positive changes. These individual epochal events give us a push, but we have second chances every day when we wake up, to make the best of our lives. Exciting, isn’t it?

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